Can we keep blaming Nowak?

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

A few months back, a hypothetical man was hit by an imaginary car. Today, the hypothetical man is still undergoing imaginary physical therapy and has a hard time running. He ran (well, walked) into his imaginary friends from his hypothetical rec league. They asked him why he hadn’t been at practice lately.

“I can’t run,” we can imagine he said.

“Why not?” retorted the team.

“I was hit by a car a few months ago, remember?” A timid imaginary smile crept across whatever his face might have looked like.

“Pfff,” said the team, still responding in unison for some reason. “You can’t keep blaming that car.”


Here we sit, comfortably for the moment, on six of the nine possible points the Union could’ve taken so far. As good as those points look on paper, and as precious as they might turn out to be down the road, no Union fan who’s been paying attention can breathe anything resembling a sigh of relief. Not yet.

The wins came, as so many have pointed out, ugly. Hackworth would characterize it as “Philly tough,” but it’s not ugly that way, like a hard-nosed but loveable bulldog. It’s ugly the way the lovechild of Franck Ribery and Steve Buscemi would be. Moments of brilliance aside, the team is struggling to understand their respective roles, to put together plays, to finish (as always) — to do everything but win … barely.

As for matters off the pitch, the Freddy Adu “situation” (which may or may not have been resolved in a way that’s favorable to the U) and the recent revelations brought to light by PSP concerning Bakare Soumare have caused other grumblings.

Consequently, there’s no small amount of flak being sent in the general direction of the new head coach. From the home opener, for which his starting lineup was oddly short of starting players, to the present, John Hackworth has been under some fire.

Hackolytes defend the man at the helm with two simple words: Peter Nowak. The Poli-garch left a mess behind, and Hack is trying to clean it up while simultaneously campaigning for a season that doesn’t leave us all embarrassed. In the end, he can only do so much with what he’s inherited.

You can’t keep blaming Nowak.

Sure you can. No one likes excuses, but the problem with excuses is that they’re occasionally valid. Hackworth isn’t Jose Mourinho, and there are legitimate criticisms worth pointing out, but there is a certain handicap that ought to be considered before we loose the slings and arrows.

Any problems, like those concerning Adu and Soumare, don’t ever stop being Nowak’s fault, any more than an imaginary limp stops being the fault of a hypothetical driver sending an imaginary text at a fantasy intersection. What was his fault then will be forever and eternally so, as will the effects thereof. And because of Nowak, the Union is starting from scratch.

It’s almost as if they haven’t had three years to come together as a team, almost as if whatever the team was on its way to being was broken apart by a slew of weird trades combined with an unhealthy dose of Peter’s pet players and whatever random South Americans answered Diego Guittierez’s Craigslist ads. It’s almost as if key players had never really had their roles defined, and Hackworth is figuring out where best to deploy them on the fly, based on experience rather than autocratic whim.

Our new coach has his shortcomings. If there isn’t a marked upswing in consistency concerning both the positions and performances of the players over the next several weeks, he must answer for them. But so far, the ghost of Nowak still haunts the team, from the front office to the pitch. Bearing that in mind, cut Hack some slack … for now.


  1. WilkersonMcLaser says:


  2. Couldn’t agree more. Nowak took a playoff team, put them on a bus, and had Guittierez drive it off a Latin American cliff. Hack is trying to mend wounds and pick up the pieces. Haters need to stop acting as if Hack took over that playoff team. He is doing his best with what he was left with – a decapitated (Califf & Le Toux), crippled team. Hell, 6 out of 9 points aint too shabby (we’re above NY, DC, KC). Let’s wait a little while longer, strange lineups and all, before we start calling for his head.

  3. Simo Dollaz says:

    After Nowc’s firing, Hack did change players rolls. Jack Mack started, not a bench player, Adult was sat more. It isn’t a surprise that he put players he wanted bench players on thenpitcj

  4. Hackworth might not have taken over a playoff team but since he has been coach the team has continued to make the same bad business and tactical decisions they did when Nowak was coach.

    • Which makes me wonder why Nick Sak seems to get off blame-free. I’m curious how many of Hackworth’s (and Nowak’s) ‘decisions’ were actually made by Nick Sak, but left for the coach to ‘wear’.

      • Southside Johnny says:

        +1. The buck stops at the top. Ownership’s role in new franchise development is critical. if he hasn’t been involved, he should have been.

  5. “It’s ugly the way the lovechild of Franck Ribery and Steve Buscemi would be.”
    I hate you so much for that…
    But great article and hit the nail on the head in regards to the “Poli-garch!”

  6. “But so far, the ghost of Nowak still haunts the team, from the front office to the pitch.”

    Um…how exactly? We seem to be very selective in our memories. He’s haunting us with the just cleared cap space from the Adu deal. Is MacMath bad? The Farfans? Jack? That Okugo guy? Daniel? Carroll? You know, the other players Nowak brought in. I agree, it is time to stop bitching about the pride of Wilmington youth soccer and start focusing on this year’s results. It’s worrying when this team has a gap in midfield in terms of moving from possession to attack in the final third, they bring in a world class player to address it, and Hack says “he’ll have to work to get onto the pitch.” Really? We’re going with that bs team first, we’re all equal in the dressing room pap? You’re telling me Danny Cruz or Keon haven’t done the math and realize they are now bench players (or USOC starters)? This is where we find fault with Hack, true he’s more lineup consistent than Nowak ever was, but who makes that XI is sometimes maddening.

    • Here’s how. By the end of Season 2, the Union were thisclose to turning Philly into a legit five-sport town. There was growing interest from non-soccer people, a little because the Union were successful, but a lot because the personalities on the team (le Toux, Califf) were so … Philly. They were about to do for soccer what the Broad Street Bullies did for hockey in this town. Then, Nowak (or maybe Nick Sak) threw that all away in a fit of pique. That opportunity to turn the whole city on to the Union will never come back. Those players you mention are all good players. But none of them is the kind of personality that will lift the Union from being a niche sport in this town. Even if Zac MacMath becomes a 15-yesr starter and MLS All-Star, in this town his legacy will be closer to Dallas Eliuk than Bernie Parent. That’s how Nowak’s ghost will haunt the team, possibly forever.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Let’s be real. That was a stroke of luck, making the playoffs. I loved it but it was lucky. We made the playoffs on Ruiz’ back (early) and came close to blowing it. Strong defense allowed us to get in, along with Faryd Mondragon (Oh what a difference a goalkeeper makes).

        Nowak didn’t do EVERYTHING wrong. I think that ownership would be the main culprit, if we could dig that far. Peter Nowak is the epitome of scapegoat.

      • Totally agree with everything you said. My point is that they had the opportunity to capitalize on that lucky run, and really turn Philly into a soccer town. And they threw it away.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I agree. They should have moved to build upon that early success.

      • Nowak definitely didn’t do everything wrong. He did a lot right. What he did wrong had lasting consequences though. He’s not a scapegoat. He earned his rep through and through.

        But ownership created the environment in which Nowak could do that.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Hackworth has been the manager of the club for a year and a half. During that time he has made some questionable calls. A great deal of Hackworth’s ineptitude is being written off as ‘the Ghost of Nowak’s Iron Fist’. Some of that could be justified, to some extent, but Hackworth needs to shoulder his share of the blame. As for purging Nowak from the Philadelphia Union; there is no bigger Nowak guy than #7. Does Carroll get a pass? He is the biggest of the Nowak Gang and somehow our Skipper. An argument could be made that Carroll is the greatest of Nowak’s decisions, that have been holding the club back…but that dead horse has been proper flogged. I’m not defending Peter Nowak. I am stating that John Hackworth has been no better, yet he gets selectively excused because of the Pol.

  7. neck label says:

    yup. im still trying to wrap my head around the draft

  8. I agree that Novak still has thing to answer for that Hack is dealing with. And have and still are a Hack supporter. But I also agree that there are things that frustrate me. Like saying Garfan is the starting LB and then play Gaddis at LB so far every game this year, I’m in favor of Gaddis being there, it allows Garfan to move to LM, and I’m willing to deal with the growing pains the will come that people seem to forget we went through with Garfan, but he should have put Gaddis there all preseason to allow him to start that process. And moving Marfan to the left to allow Cruz to play RM is weird, unlike some people I don’t think Cruz is a scrub, I think he is a great sub and fill in guy when needed but to play someone out of position to play a lesser player seems backwards. Like I said, I think he is doing an ok job and needs time, but I do still have some things along those lines that I think should be kept in mind.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Good points, Steve. I, also, like Gaddis and think that he will come to form as a LB. I like having Garfan available for the midfield, though I don’t think that he is a starter. He is far too undisciplined. Cruz is a great hustler. Unfortunately, he has cinderblocks for feet and that renders him pretty useless, given that there are better options within the club.

      As for Hackworth, I agree with the comments of Hackworth deserving time. However, I am afraid that after his allotted time at the helm, Hackworth will still be a developmental coach and not a professional manager. There have been some tremendous gaffes during his short time. The greatest of which being his decision not to address the clubs weaknesses. Goalkeeping remains questionable. LB remains questionable. Midfield remains atrocious. All three of these were, and still are, glaring problem areas for the entirety of Hackworth’s management.

      I think that Kleberson will help the midfield, if deployed in the right way. He is a proven talent and players will learn from him. Hopefully, he is taking his loan seriously. The last thing we need is another prima donna.

      • I agree with you about Kleberson, I only hope that we are not making the same mistake Novak kept making with bringing in over priced people to fix over priced problems that will only lead to more over priced problems being solved with more over priced problems down the road ( I know run on sentence) my reason for Garfan at LB is he plays wide ( something we ar in short supply of) and we know he could help cover for Gaddis’s definciancies while he learns. Although heart an would have been a great signing it would have never happened because then fans would have been crying for Macmath to be replaced, but I would have liked to see some one to mentor Macmath brought in.

      • Heartman stupid ipad

      • The Black Hand says:

        Hartman would have been a great move, for the club. He is a proven keeper, who could have taught MacMath a lot about what a goalkeeper should and should not do. MacMath needs to learn. He is not, at this point, a professional quality keeper.

      • I agree it would have been a great move, but the U would have never done in fear that Macmath would loose his job. The union see him as to valuable to not star him.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Recognizing and assessing talents and needs is a huge part of managing. Hackworth’s ability is questionable, in both areas. A goalkeeper should have been brought in to the club, in case MacMath doesn’t progress as needed. MacMath’s progression has been marred by repeated mistakes. I don’t think MacMath has the stuff.

      • +1 Garfan is an acceptable sub, but isn’t XI quality. Similarly with Cruz. Danny is very athletic but the quality is missing as well. There are better players on the roster. Swapping Gaddis was the best decision Hackworth has made so far this year. Hopefully, the Kleberson pick-up will pan out successfully.

      • While I wouldn’t rogue with you too much, I think Garfan is acceptable at LM, I understand the complaints, but I’m more worried about how he keeps moving Marfan to make room for Cruz and lahoud who I think are subs more than Garfan, and hope fully kleberson solves the riddle of who to put in the middle next to Carroll, who I don’t think is as bad as people are making him this year ( that’s not to say I don’t think he’s on the tail end of his career, but hey calif is the same and people are still pining for him) the problem is that Carroll isn’t going to give you much going forward, he will be hoss roaming and staying deep to help defend, but if you have a player like that you put some next to him that does the opposite, not some one who does the same *caugh, caugh, lahoud, caugh* and like I said, of the others that he keeps trotting out to play Garfan is the least of my concerns. But like I said at the start, hopefully with some time theses things will iron out, time will tell.

    • I totally agree with you.

  9. Brutal Diego Gutierrez burn in there.

  10. I hope that Hackworth is a stop gap. He is not a pro manager. I don’t think he has what it takes to make the Union a consistent playoff team. I am still dizzy over this past draft. Adu is a 23 year old man with a 14 year old’s maturity. Hackworth was not the guy to manager that mess. Can anyone? I also don’t think Hackworth can manage veteran MLS talent. Time will tell how he works with Le Toux Casey, Parke, and Kleberson. This thing with Soumare is a joke. Hackworth is learning to manager at the pro level which means matching wits with the Arena’s and Schmid’s of the league. The team has 6 points and that is great, but it’s also deceiving. Hackworth got schooled over 90 minutes by Peter Vermes in the SKC game. The schedule has been kind thus far. Hackworth had better figure out a way to utilize the proven talent on this team as well as the young talent on the team. MacMath needs a mentor who can push him. He is still too shaky in Goal. IMHO:-)

  11. Bleed Blue and Gold sopped up with Bimbo Bread says:

    I love how everyone wants to question Hackworth. He took over in the middle of a season. That means the time he had last year counts as proof of nothing. It’s so difficult to take over mid season. Now we are 3 games into a season he’s had time to prepare for with 2 wins, and people think he brings nothing to the table. Jury is still out and just sat down to deliberate. There is no evidence to show he’s bad, good, or great. 2011 was a fluke. We road an experienced and vocal goalie with our defense to tie after tie to limp into the playoffs. We have a young group of players, and a manager who has experience coaching young players. They can grow together. The MLS elite they bring in will only have a mindset that will help Hack and the team. They aren’t going to bring another Adu in to the team. We are still digging out of the Nowak hole. We will be until the summer transfer window closes. At that point the Nowak excuse is over.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I agree with you. I have been extremely outspoken, in regards to my disapproval of Hackworth. He does have 6 points. He hasn’t had a ton of time at the helm. That said, his tactical and personnel choices have been suspect, for the entirety of his management, leading me to question his abilities as a professional manager. This offseason was prime Hack time, to make necessary adjustments and I think he slipped up by not taking advantage. Although, Parke was a great acquisition and I commend Hackworth for getting that done. Goalie, LB and midfield…now thats a different story. My main concern is that Hack can’t cut it and the Union will remain stagnantly positioned at the bottom of the table. That coupled with an ownership that seems reluctant to open their wallets, could lead to frustrations. Kleberson will be the first real measuring stick for Hackworth’s management.

  12. My biggest fear is that we will trot out the next however many weeks with a midfield of Daniel, Carroll, Lahoud/Cruz and Marfan, with Torres, Garfan and Kleberson rotting on the bench.
    I’m 100% not a Daniel fan, but hey I can see why people suggest he stay in. The lineup, for now anyway, but there is absolutely not reason Cruz should start. He’s all hustle and speed, but no skill. Which is great, but not when you don’t have the creativity elsewhere. And only one of Lahoud and Carroll should start, we don’t need 6 defenders. If we’re tied to Carroll as captain, then Lahoud should only play late in a game when we have the lead or as an emergency sub at defense.
    Nowak still has some lingering stink, but the open window that a new season presents is going to quickly make that stink dissipate. Hackworth, at the very least, needs to be questioned about: 1. offseason (non)acquisitions at areas of concern, 2. Lineup/tactical choices, and 3. Substitutions. Of those, only the offseason moves even remotely relates to Nowak.
    I don’t think enough has been made about Hackworths poor in game tactics and substitutions. Were it not for the brilliance or Hoppenot, it would be even more glaring. And bringing on the defensive sub in the CO game before the goal was a miracle.
    All this being said, preferred lineup:
    Macmath, Williams, Okugo, Parke, Gaddis
    Marfan, Torres, Lehoud, Daniel
    Letoux, Macinerney

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