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PSP roundtable: On Hackworth being named permanent Team Manager

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

The timing of the news that John Hackworth had been named permanent manager of the Philadelphia Union caught many by surprise. Reaction to the news on social media has been varied. Below are the initial reactions to the news from the PSP writing staff. Feel free to share your own reaction and answers to the questions below in the comment section.

In one word, what’s your reaction to the news that Hackworth has been named?

Dan Walsh: Relief.

Ed Farnsworth: Rebuild.

Eli Pearlman-Storch: Acceptance.

Adam Cann: Smart.

Mike Servedio: Surprised.

Greg Orlandini: Timing.

Sean Doyle: Hopeful.

Jeremy Lane: Stability.

Chris Luczkowiak: Forward-looking.

Was this the right move (and why)?

Dan: Yes. It brings needed stability to a team that still has a solid young core of players. It’s become increasingly clear that Nowak’s vision of building a team with youth was really Hackworth’s vision. It also means the Union don’t have to add another contract to the books for a new coach, because Hackworth is already under contract, likely for far less than Peter Nowak made. Regardless of what anyone says, this is clearly a team with financial problems.

Ed: My heart says yes and my head says not yet. I understand the desire to give both the players and the fans a sense of stability looking ahead to a season that is essentially over with ten games still left to be played and in terms of openness and communication, Hackworth has been a revelation. That he is generally well like by his players (especially the young American ones) and that the locker room is a happier place is apparent. But lately his roster and tactical decisions have made me doubt my initial flush of enthusiasm. In the end I give him the benefit of the doubt because his options with in the squad are so limited.

Eli: Hackworth clearly has the backing of his players, but over the past two months has failed in his task of putting a consistent, quality product on the pitch. His tactics have been ineffective and his substitutions have failed to make his team better. For all the good he does off the field, and there is plenty of it, he is still very green as a manager at the highest level. Still, he is working with someone else’s roster and coping with a team who has been led into a ditch by a despotic egomaniac. With Nowak gone, handing the keys to a player’s coach like Hackworth makes sense, but if the Union limp out of the gates in 2013, the rumblings will certainly come fast and furious.

Adam: Yes. Having a coach that players and fans can trust is vital for the Union right now. Hackworth may not be a tactical genius, but at the very least he is a great spokesman for the club, recruits players that fit his system, and has an understanding of his squad. Is he the most adept at implementing a plan? So far it hasn’t seemed that way. But even the best coach available last offseason – Martin Rennie – has struggled to impose his style in Vancouver. Hackworth deserves time. 

Mike: No. Hackworth came into a situation where the team needed to learn how to be a team. There are rumors that Nowak divided the team, played guys against each other, and kept players in the dark about their standing in the squad. Hackworth came in and was immediately more of a “player’s coach” and the team responded right away with both an upgrade in play and in morale. But now that the sheen has worn off, Hackworth has come across as a man who isn’t quite there yet in terms of tactics and personnel decisions.

Greg: I think so. He has some catching up to do as far as the tactical end of things, but he has an eye for talent and will bring along many of the young guys we already have. Seems like he has a clear idea what his system is and he stabilized the team when he took it over. Plus, I really don’t want the Union the have three coaches in under a year. That is not the mark of a good franchise.

Sean: Ultimately, yes it was the correct move for the Union. Hack has experience developing young players at the youth national team level. I believe he has the ability to mold MLS’ youngest squad into a formidable unit that will challenge for MLS Cup in the next two to three seasons.

Jeremy: This was the right decision, because the last thing this team needs is more upheaval. What it needs is someone who relates well to the players and who has a consistent message and set of expectations. Hackworth checks those boxes.

Chris: This was the right move. While Hackworth hasn’t produced the same results as he did when he first took over the reins, we can see that he is managing with purpose and consistency. Unlike under his predecessor, you don’t feel like the Union’s starting XI isn’t chosen based on which side of the bed coach wakes up on.

What does Hackworth have to do to turn this team around?

Dan: Continue weeding out the dead weight imported by Diego Gutierrez, sign a quality, good character, veteran striker with some size to pair with Jack McInerney, and convince Freddy Adu to renegotiate his contract. If the latter can’t be done, consider cutting him loose if Hackworth determines Adu isn’t going to get with the program or be a top line contributor in 2013.

Ed: Convince ownership to open its wallet to buy a couple of quality veteran offensive players. And if Freddy Adu isn’t going to be cut loose, get him the best sports psychologist in the land.

Eli: He needs to get back to starting players based on form. Realistic form. Gomez and Lahoud are not cutting it, and with eager players on the bench, he must do a better job of rotating his squad down the home stretch to make sure he gets a full look at all the weapons he has at his disposal. Also, he needs to support his striker and deploy at least one other true forward. The conservative approach taken over the past two matches has been inconsistent with both his message and the Union’s need to develop a viable offense.

Adam: Continue to bring in players that suit his style and that he trusts. And he has to bring in an assistant coach who can work exclusively on tactics and positioning. Nothing against Rob Vartughian, but there has to be a young guy or an old wizened guy out there who can come to the club and insist on more from this team tactically.

Mike: He must learn to adapt during games. Too often the formation, personnel, and strategy has become stagnant during a match and Hackworth hasn’t been able adapt his game plan to his opponent. And experienced offensive player and some more size must be brought in in the offseason as well.

Greg: In short term… Find the right combination to get the team scoring again. Work on MacMath’s confidence. In the long term, get the right players for his system. And one way or the other settle this thing with Freddy.

Sean: Get the mess that is set piece defending sorted out immediately. This club has dropped too many points because of mental errors on set plays. Young teams make mistakes, but they should be learning from those errors. The Union’s execution on set plays has regressed, which is the technical staff’s failure.

Jeremy: This season? Might not be possible. But with the benefit of an offseason to make moves and craft a team, as opposed to a random collection of players, he’ll need to show he can create a balanced side that gives openings to our prodigious collection of young talent, but also has a little more guile and creativity than is currently on display.

Chris: I think Hackworth is on the right path and that only time and experience will turn this team around. Instead of attempting to use journeymen as band-aids to solve the Union’s changing woes, Hackworth seems to realize that there are no quick fixes and that a team needs the be grown, not built.

What do you expect to happen during the remainder of the season?

Dan: Hackworth will evaluate who’s worth keeping and who’s not. That means playing nearly everyone who’s hovered near the 18, possibly in unusual positions (such as Gabriel Gomez’s recent turn in the attacking midfield), to answer those questions. It also means starting to cut ties with some of those players, such as Porfirio Lopez, who clearly aren’t in Hackworth’s plans.

Ed: Draws and losses interspersed with the occasional satisfying win. It’s evaluation time if you are a Union player. The result will be a team core that is more unified than ever. The team will need to do a very good job communicating what it is trying to do to maintain fan support.

Eli: The Union will continue to struggle for goals now that Hack seems gun shy to play with more than one striker. He had everything to play for in two vital clashes with RSL and Columbus and came away with a solitary point after crippling the Union attack by playing a holding midfielder at forward along with a new signing who is still developing chemistry with his new club. With such a young attacking core, he does every one of those young players a disservice by not giving them time to grow together on the pitch. That means Hoffman, Martinez and even Roger Torres getting starts, and preferably a string of time in the team to prove their worth.

Adam: Freddy Adu will become increasingly frustrated or will start playing two-touch soccer. The rest of the team will start to understand that movement is key, but until Hackworth figures out how to partner his movement-based philosophy with an understanding of what smart movement is, the team will look convoluted.

Mike: It will continue to be a tryout for 2013. Guys will look to seize starting positions for next season as well as the opportunity to stay with the club. It’s already becoming clear who Hackworth sees in the future of the club, but there are a few fringe players that still need to prove themselves.

Greg: I think they tread water from here on out. They aren’t really deep enough to make a big push for the playoffs. I think they can win a few games, but there I don’t see them having enough time to catch the other teams in the hunt.

Sean: With the pressure of the playoffs lifted off the young players’ shoulders, I expect to see the Union to play very positive and attacking soccer. Players know they are now playing for the privilege of pulling on our club’s blue and gold kit next season and beyond. Look for some of the veteran players to get rested while the young guns are given the opportunity to prove they are worthy of their roster spot.

Jeremy: The rest of the season is a tryout—the squad has to show its worth; whoever makes the grade stays, and that’s it. Hackworth will evaluate the remains of the Nowak era, and see what’s worth keeping.

Chris: The young guys will get even more minutes. While veteran presences like Gomez or Carroll are important for in-game decision making, I think Hackworth will give the youngsters even more time on the field to see who’s potential can be realized and who the team can build around for seasons to come.

The offseason?

Dan: Hackworth will clear salary room in hopes of signing quality veterans to build a stronger foundation for the Union’s young talent. The team lacks leaders and players in their prime.

Ed: It will be Fall cleaning time. Tracking player acquisition rumors will take up entirely too much of my time. I’m curious to see what the fruits of Hackworth’s international contacts might be. I expect moves to happen sooner than later because the fans will need to be rewarded for their faith in Hackworth and the team and to create positive momentum heading into the 2013 season.

Eli: The core is in place, but it is still a couple years away. Before he can build his team back up, Hack must trim the remaining bruised spots off of his apple. Ineffective players like Lopez and Gomez, as well as youngsters Martinez and Torres have no reason to be here if Hackworth doesn’t rate them. Completing the Nowak-Gutierrez purge will provide cash and roster space to bring in some quality veteran talent to help mentor the Union’s young stars. That means, at minimum, an established midfield playmaker and a true target striker. Drafting for size will also be important for Hackworth who can look to use what will be a high pick in the draft hopefully on another big bodied young striker, or defender to groom. The Union must resist the urge to go out and acquire more young players to develop for the future. They have those players in rich supply and now must work to build an infrastructure into which they can fit and grow.

Adam: Wingers and a big ol’ striker. 

Mike: The team needs an experienced offensive player, whether a striker or an attacking midfielder. Hackworth has a good idea of the formation he prefers and he needs to find players that can play in that system. Right now he is trying to adapt a squad that was handed over to him by Nowak to his own system with varying degrees of success.

Greg: They need size up front. A strong forward that can fight in the air, make a difference on set pieces and hold up the ball. Also, I want to see what he does with the coaching staff. Burke is his number two right now, but would be interesting to see if he brings in a more nuts and bolts tactics guy.

Sean: Three things must happen this offseason. First, find this club a proven veteran goal scorer. Second, young players need a leader and it’s up to Hackworth and the scouts to find a fierce, vocal presence (see Faryd Mondragon, 2011) to lead the team on the field and in the locker room. Lastly, sort out the Freddy Adu circus. Does he want to be here or not and figure out what is the right position on the field for Freddy to realize his potential.

Jeremy: I expect several departures, and just as many arrivals, but importantly, unlike in years past, I expect any moves made to be done with an eye toward complementing and maximizing the potential of the players we have that are effective; not simply gathering more bodies. I also expect player decisions to be made for on-field reasons, not personality clashes.

Chris: I think Hackworth will go out not to find just good players who fill holes in his game day lineup, but rather players who can serve as role models to those who will be the future of the team.

Aside from Hackworth, who are the winners and who are the losers with this announcement?

Dan: The Union’s young American core of former US youth internationals are the winners here. They get some stability and the chance to progress under a coach who will give them real opportunity. The losers are clearly the Latin American veterans found by Diego Gutierrez. Hackworth probably never wanted anyone, and that could for Bakary Soumare as well.

Ed: The winners are the young Americans and those who believe in youth development as the path to a club’s long term success. The losers are anyone associated with Nowak/Gutierrez whose last name isn’t Valdes. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Roger Torres.

Eli: Anyone associated with the former regime loses big. He wants to distance himself from the nonsense that took place in the past offseason and the beginning of 2012 and if Lionard Pajoy, arguably the most productive piece of last summer’s dealings can be shown the door, there’s no reason to expect there won’t be more moves. As far as winners, anyone who is young and American and came up under Hackworth. So, the majority of the Union’s young core players. Hopefully Hack casts a larger net when searching for established talent to bring in, because it is hard to find a top MLS program succeeding with such a heavily American roster.

Adam: Winners: Union fans, who have a coach that will speak his mind and be honest. The Union’s young fringe players, who will always have a look in. Losers: Anybody who wants the Union to start looking good now or in the first 5 games next season. The changes will take time to sink in, but continuity should help. Also: Freddy Adu.

Mike: The young players on the Union. Hackworth seems to have an eye for good, young talent, and a track record for motivating them and getting the best out of them. The losers are the leftovers from the Nowak/Gutierrez who have already been pushed the periphery of the team.

Greg: Winners: Jack Mac, Hoppenot, Hoffman, Amobi, Marfan. Losers: Keon, Gomez, maybe Roger (seems like Hack doesn’t have a place for him, at least not yet)

Sean: Player and Youth development are the big winners with Hackworth’s confirmation as manager. I don’t see this team splashing the cash on designated player types. There’s just so much potential in the Union locker room that is just waiting to be unleashed on the league, I just don’t feel the club is ready give up on the investments made in young players. If I had to point to who may be losing out as Hackworth ditches the interim tag, it would be the players from Latin America. The dumping of Diego Gutierrez was an early signal that Hackworth had plans for a roster makeover. Lio Pajoy and Jorge Perlaza have been shown the door and minutes have been hard to come by for Josue Martinez, Porfi Lopez, Gabe Gomez and Roger Torres.

Jeremy: Jack Mac, Amobi, and Marfan are certainly winners, but mostly, I think this is a win for fans. Whether or not John Hackworth is the best coach for the Union in the long run, with the team in such a strange, mixed-up state in the wake of Peter Nowak, this appointment provides a calm hand to lead the U back from the cliff’s edge. Switching coaches when the roster needs surgery, too, strikes me as too much change. The losers are likely the remaining Gutierrez acquisitions, like Gabriel Gómez and Josué Martínez.

Chris: The young players are definitely the winners. Hackworth has shown a commitment to the Union youth in a way that Nowak never did, which is especially important given the talent and potential on this squad. At the beginning of the year Philadelphia was the team with the greatest representation in Caleb Porter’s Olympic camps, and for good reason. If Hackworth continues to give these young players the attention they deserve we could one day see a World Cup squad filled with Union alums.



  1. DarthLos117 says:

    Offseason: Goalkeeper, Left Back, Playmaker Midfielder, Speedy Midfielders, Stikers

  2. Not far off from my ideas, Los. My Needs:
    – GK (veteran, may or may not start. Freidel or Hanhenmann are perfect)
    – LB (get Gabe back to winger where he belongs, cement our defensive prowess even more. I wouldnt mind a DP here, a veteran here could help out Zac as well)
    – Striker (a targetman who can compliment Jack)
    I am hesitant on calling for more midfield help as I am not sure of our formation moving forward nor am I even sure about our current players and their roles.

  3. Reins. Please. PSP is too good to keep getting this one wrong.

  4. Dan, what do you mean “this is clearly a team with financial problems”? With no “official” DP’s other than Freddy, so many young players with low salaries, a good number of sponsors including a shirt sponsor, the Union Store at PPL Park packed before every game, and so many home sell-out’s, I would think the team’s in pretty solid financial shape.

    • Yeah it looks that way. But otherwise, it appears that the ownership group is stuffing their pockets without reinvesting in the on the field performance.

    • They have been dropping salary left and right, they brought in new minor investors last year, nowak is suing them over money, and they are trying to weasle out of paying chester what it owes and cried bloody murder when they tried to tax them a little.
      Either the team is in finacial trouble, someone is looting the team of equity or their top secret plan is far more complex than we ever imagined.

      • Yeah, what he said. Particularly the paying Chester thing. I don’t mean they’re broke, but this is probably a lower mid-tier MLS club financially.

        (Also, they’ll likely lose the Nowak case. One of these days, maybe I’ll actually get around to writing the column I spiked around the All-Star Game, but long story short, the language of the contract is very clear that Nowak gets paid everything upon if he’s fired. Nowak’s salary is equal to a DP.)

      • Too bad. Because all indications is that they are doing well. Stadium sold out and merchandise is moving etc… more of the same to come then.

  5. A big shopping list for most here. I don’t think we will see too much change. They will simply not open their wallets. I think Hackworth was chosen partly because he will go along with this program without much complaint.

    Ideally, however, I would like a veteran keeper, DP striker or two, a good attacking midfielder, and more depth (and size) in the back. Realistically, I will settle for a veteran keeper and a DP striker. We’ll see if we even get those positions filled.

  6. I don’t see a future for this team if it is built around former Bradenton academy players.

    We need an american base but cannot ignore latin american talent. Lopez and Gomez are busts, but for every Lopez we have a Valdes, a Mondragon (as a leader more ). Gutierrez brought some underachievers this year, but his services will be missed if he’s gone. That is a huge advantage to have a latin american pipeline where you can get affordable all-star caliber players at 1/4 the price of washed up european veterans.

    • You’re right about the Latin American pipeline. The question is whether you sign the right guys. The Union did, for the most part, until the end of the 2011 season. Then something changed. Right now, it’s looking like they struck out on every one since then.

  7. I think there’s been an aversion on this team for too long to picking up proven MLS veteran talent from other teams. Nowak used to talk as if it lowered the quality of your club to trade for other MLS players – I think some of our answers in the offseason probably lie within the league. I’m not in favor of assembling a team of cast offs, but discovery signings only get you so far. A veteran keeper is something we ought to be able to figure out without having to invest DP money or sign a foreign player. And I’m only looking for someone to push MacMath – I still think he can be the guy next year.

    I like picking up Danny Cruz and its obvious that Hackworth hasn’t bought in to several of the Latin American imports. I bet on the trade block that we could get a useful piece for Gabriel Gomez. Lopez has proved that he really can’t keep up in the league and probably has little to no value in trade. I’m still holding out hope for Torres – I don’t think he’s fully recovered from surgery yet and there’s still time. I don’t have enough time watching Martinez to know one way or the other – no need to be hasty and dump attacking/wing potential. With the freeze approaching in two weeks and a few clubs looking for talent / a boost heading toward the playoffs, we are a good candidate to be sellers.

    There’s nothing wrong with being a Bradenton pipeline. Most of the best talent in the US goes through the academy and if you have a team where those players can come with existing chemistry and a desire to play there, than that is an advantage over other teams (just as Gutierrez represented an advantage in recruiting Latin American players). We can’t be JUST that, but having that as a recruiting pipeline shouldn’t be seen as bad.

    I’m hopeful that the Union can find a player in the offseason, DP or not, that is consistently goal dangerous. Don’t really care if its a target forward, AM, or someone else slotting in an attacking role, but the Union misses someone who will put up 10G, 10A the way Le Toux did. The offense needs a player capable of making everyone around them better and someone who attracts the attention of opposing defenses just enough to give Jack or Marfan an extra step toward goal.

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