After a freshman season that saw him make only five appearances while his team marched to the College Cup, Philadelphia Union Academy alumnus Morgan Hackworth will be back in the area looking to impress his coaches in front of friends and former teammates in a friendly with Bethlehem Steel FC on Sunday.
"It's going to be really exciting just to be back in the area first of all because it's been a while," Hackworth said in a phone interview after a morning training session Thursday. "It's going to be exciting to see some of the Academy players that are getting called up as well and seeing my boy Derrick Jones. It will be fun to see him and play against him."
Jones, the first player signed to the Union's USL club, played in the U18 midfield with Morgan during the 2014-15 season. Hackworth played in a number 8 role for the team and wore the captain's armband but struggled for playing time in his first season with the Orange. After a start in the first game of the season on the road at Hofstra, he made just five more appearances.
"It's all just more motivation to work harder," said Hackworth, whose dad is former Union head coach and current U.S. U17 coach John Hackworth. "It was a great learning experience. I mean we had an incredible team last year and it was awesome to learn from the older guys and take in as much experience traveling with them as I could."
That experience included being on the sidelines when his teammates lost a penalty shootout to Clemson in the national semifinal after a scoreless draw in Kansas City.
"It's awful," he recalled. "To take advantage of that game and play as well as we did and not get a result is heartbreaking but that's the beautiful game."
Hackworth has been playing as a right back in training and is expected to start there on Sunday for Syracuse's first game in a spring exhibition slate that includes USL team Rochester Rhinos, New England Revolution, and Canadian club team Vaughn FC.
"I really like it on the wing," he said. "I've got a lot of room and with my athleticism I can just run down the field nonstop."
Syracuse head coach Ian McIntyre said the spring season will offer a chance for Morgan and other young players to show what they can do.
"I'm a big Morgan fan," McIntyre said. "He's an intelligent player. He's a wonderful young man to coach and he's a smart guy that picks things up very quickly. I think he has a very big upside."
Hackworth's Syracuse teammates Chris Gomez and Kenny Lassiter also have ties to the Union. Gomez and Hackworth played on the U16s for half a season in 2013 and Lassiter and Hackworth were on a Union Generation adidas Cup team together.
McIntyre said all three will play Sunday. Their presence in the lineup will give the road team plenty of support. Gomez is from Jamison, Pa., and Lassiter grew up in Narberth.
"I've got all my family, all my friends, and a couple teachers coming out for support," Hackworth, a 2015 Strath Haven High School graduate, said. "There will be a lot of orange there."
Bethlehem Steel FC has a Syracuse connection of its own through defender Nick Bibbs, who played at Syracuse from 2010-12 and spent time at Union PDL affiliate Reading United AC in 2010.
"He was a big part of that recruiting class that helped us take some positive forward steps," McIntyre said of Bibbs, who has been working through an injury and is questionable for Sunday's game. "Nick developed into a very solid player for us in a group that finally got ourselves into the national tournament and winning some games."
"We know that any time a college team can measure themselves against a very good pro setup the guys are excited and it's good for us," McIntyre said. "They've been working hard as a group but there's no substitute for playing against another team."
The match, scheduled for noon on the training fields outside Talen Energy Stadium, will be the second in Steel FC's short history after a scrimmage at YSC Sports they won 5-1 over local NPSL club Junior Lone Star on February 26.