Season Reviews / Union

Hackworth after one year: An assessment

Photo: Earl Gardner

Author’s note: This post takes a big picture look at John Hackworth’s performance during his first year as Union manager. For an evaluation of his on-field tactical management, read Adam Cann’s accompanying post.

To say that John Hackworth inherited a troubled Philadelphia Union club one year ago today is a bit of an understatement.

After making the playoffs in 2011, Peter Nowak’s club started the 2012 season 2-7-2 and sat in 9th place after losing to the league’s worst and only winless team in his final regular season game. Nowak had inexplicably demolished his roster over a five-month stretch, discarding his only reliable scorer, starting goalkeeper, starting center back, and No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft. Philadelphia received one player and allocation money in return. Nowak replaced them with a group of mediocre and overpaid players from Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica, all but one of whom has washed out of MLS. The controversial dismissals of popular veterans Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Califf cut a rift in the fan base that the Union are still repairing, and in a locker room divided by language, Nowak had removed the English and Spanish-speaking veteran leaders (Califf and Faryd Mondragon) who had captained the team.

Hackworth inherited this mess. His team lacked veteran leadership. They couldn’t score goals. The roster was bloated with unproductive and overpaid journeymen. Some of his most promising young players, Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney, had requested trades due to growing frustration.

Photo By Earl Gardner

Jack McInerney became a star after Hackworth gave him the chance. (Photo: Earl Gardner)

Today, Hackworth’s Union have a winning record and sit in third place in the Eastern Conference. They boast one of the league’s best corps of forwards, none of whom was a Union regular a year ago, including the league’s leading scorer (McInerney) and leading assist man (the reacquired Le Toux). Their starting back line is one of the league’s better ones and includes just one player over 23 years old. There are more Delaware Valley natives on the roster and coaching staff than ever. The dead weight players are gone. And the Union are coming off their most impressive win of the season.

One year after taking over the Union’s manager job, Hackworth has the Union moving in the right direction.

No, he hasn’t been perfect. The Union don’t always play attractive soccer and have yet to beat a good team this year. Their midfield is a mess. Hackworth’s game management and tactical acumen remain debatable. (See Adam Cann’s accompanying post.) Wednesday’s loss to D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup certainly wasn’t pretty.

But in the big picture, Hackworth has done what was asked. He has taken a club that had become a train wreck and turned it into something respectable despite clear fiscal limitations.

Let’s take a look at how.

Remaking a weak roster

Dropping dead weight

To rebuild a weak roster, Hackworth first had to cut the overpaid underperformers. He has done that. Jorge Perlaza and Lionard Pajoy departed last season, followed by Gabriel Gomez, Porfirio Lopez and Josue Martinez in the off-season and Freddy Adu and Bakary Soumare this year. The seven combined last year to take up about half the Union’s salary budget. Of them, only Soumare shows signs of ever performing in MLS at a level deserving what he was paid last year. (Center back Carlos Valdes also left on loan, but his departure was independent of these moves.)

In their place, Hackworth brought in proven MLS veterans Le Toux, Conor Casey, and Jeff Parke, who have each had a more positive impact upon the Union than the aforementioned seven players did last year. Danny Cruz arrived in a trade that sent Pajoy to D.C. United, and Kleberson joined Philadelphia on a season-long loan (with an option to renew) in exchange for Adu.

Building the strike corps

Combined with the moves for Le Toux and Casey and insertions of McInerney and Antoine Hoppenot into the regular rotation, Hackworth has practically built his stable of forwards from scratch.

McInerney and Hoppenot were already with the club when Hackworth ascended to the head job, but McInerney had nearly left via trade after not playing for weeks under Nowak. Hackworth reversed course, inserted McInerney in the lineup for his first match as manager, and a star was born.

As for Hoppenot, the rookie had just gotten his first extended playing time in a U.S. Open Cup match a week before Nowak’s firing. More playing time may have been on the horizon, but he was not yet a regular. Certainly, he was still an unknown.

Meanwhile, some mistakenly viewed Casey as washed up after a 2011 injury lingered into 2012 and left him seemingly half the player he once was. Hackworth got him for nothing in the Re-entry Draft, the MLS version of free agency, and at a salary less than half what he used to make. Casey has been very good for the Union on the whole.

Then there’s Le Toux, the Union fan favorite who carried the club on his back for its first two seasons until Nowak exiled him to Vancouver last year. Some have criticized his acquisition as little more than public relations, designed to get the Union right with their fan base after Nowak’s hugely unpopular move. Le Toux’s unselfish and productive play has proved that wrong. He leads the league in assists and has played striker and winger – basically, wherever Hackworth asks.

Playing the trade market

Hackworth has worked the trade market well and come out on top in most of his seven trades. Here’s a closer look, including an assessment of whether the Union came out better or worse than the other team in the trade.

InOutVerdict
Danny CruzLionard Pajoywin
Jeff Parke2013 3rd rd. pick (Will Bates), allocation moneywin
Sebastien Le TouxJosue Martinez, allocation moneywin
2014 conditional draft pickChandler Hoffmanunknown
Jose KlebersonFreddy Aduwin
2014 first round pick, allocation moneyGabriel Farfaneven
2014 second round pick, allocation moneyBakary Soumarelose

The variable in evaluating trades in MLS is always allocation money, the amounts of which are kept secret by league policy. So in each trade, let’s assume somewhere between $75,000 and $150,000 in allocation money.

Photo by Earl Gardner

The Kleberson-Freddy Adu deal showed the Union’s creativity in the trade market. (Photo: Earl Gardner)

The trades for Le Toux, Parke and Kleberson clearly come out in the Union’s favor. Parke fell into their lap, and they got him for a song. To get Le Toux, Hackworth dumped a player he didn’t want (Martinez, who New York has already waived) and allocation money. Then Hackworth patiently waited out Adu and eventually pulled off an innovative deal that not only got the Union out of Adu’s bloated contract but brought back a creative player from another league, the kind of multi-league trade that rarely happens in professional soccer. The only drawback is how much Adu’s buyout might have cost the Union.

On the other hand, the Union likely came out on the losing end in the trade that sent Soumare to Chicago. Soumare’s departure provided fiscal relief, but not as much as they would have liked, since they’ll pay part of his salary to play for another team.

The Gabriel Farfan deal looks about even unless the Union received an unusually large amount of allocation money. Outsiders say the Union got a steal because they received a likely top 5 pick in the amateur draft along with allocation money for a player who didn’t start regularly. But the fact that Farfan wasn’t starting regularly is one of Hackworth’s missteps, and this trade compounds that. Hackworth got good value for Farfan, perhaps because Chivas USA has no need for allocation money or draft picks due to its apparent plans to send its best players to Chivas Guadalajara before MLS leadership takes control of Chivas USA and moves it to Orlando. ([/speculation]) Still, Farfan is exactly the sort of  young, talented player that Hackworth wants to build around.

The Hoffman trade was quietly controversial to some. Why trade a talented young player when the league is paying his salary as part of Generation adidas? Still, Hoffman was no better than fifth on the depth chart at forward — sixth if Aaron Wheeler surpassed him. Considering Hoffman’s salary would eventually hit the payroll at a rate likely over $100,000, the decision to trade him may have been wise. Time will tell.

Finally, the Cruz-Pajoy deal was a trade of like for like: Two tough, athletic, and frenetic players with questionable touch.  On the field, the trade looks even. Off the field, the edge goes to the Union. Cruz is nine years younger and makes 60 percent of Pajoy’s $205,000 salary.

Between trades, cuts and loans, nearly half the roster has turned over in the last year. The replacements are generally more affordable and/or more productive than the departures.

The wild card

The wild card in these personnel moves is what role Union chief executive Nick Sakiewicz plays. Hackworth, assistant Rob Vartughian and Sakiewicz all play a part in player transactions. It’s probably fair to presume that Hackworth takes the lead in determining who to acquire, with Vartughian in his new technical director role playing a significant role in locating players. Sakiewicz likely signs off on a deal or does not.

This is speculation. Logical speculation based on what I’ve heard, but still speculation.

What is clear is that the framework of the club has been established by Sakiewicz. Whether Sakiewicz is a barrier or a boost to Hackworth is known only by team and league officials. You do the math.

The amateur draft
Photo By Earl Gardner

Is Don Anding the future answer at left back? Hackworth hopes so. (Photo: Earl Gardner)

It’s still too early to evaluate Hackworth on the 2013 draft.

After finding multiple contributors in each prior draft, only two of the seven amateurs drafted this year made the roster. Second round pick Don Anding is impressing in Harrisburg, but he has yet to show what he can do in MLS aside from 20 very solid minutes against D.C. United on Wednesday. Sixth round pick Leo Fernandes has looked decent in limited duty and could be a steal, thanks to his time at Union affiliate Reading United.

Note there was no first round pick among the group. The Union traded that pick to Vancouver for the right to sign Soumare.

Hackworth probably deserves most of the credit for prior Union drafts, with a helping hand from assistant Brendan Burke, who doubles as Reading United’s head coach and is likely most responsible for the Union drafting former Reading players Raymon Gaddis and Leo Fernandes. McInerney, Okugo and Michael Farfan all played for Hackworth as youth internationals prior to the Union drafting them. When your manager is someone who coached dozens of former youth internationals, proficiency in the draft is expected.

The acquisitions Hackworth didn’t make

He didn’t sign a true veteran left back.* He didn’t get a veteran goalkeeper. Where’s the depth?

You can only do so much when you’ve maxed out your salary budget and have no allocation money.

Bottom line: Hackworth hasn’t acquired these players in part because he couldn’t.

The best veteran the Union could afford at left back was a journeyman, like former Columbus Crew left back Shaun Francis, who trialed with the Union in training camp but didn’t make the cut. A popular name bandied about earlier this year by critics was Tyson Wahl — the same Tyson Wahl who Le Toux smoked so badly last week that he was replaced at halftime. (The Union certainly could have drafted a true left back, rather than a left winger to convert to left back, such as Don Anding. More on this Friday.*)

At goalkeeper, only the Union know why they didn’t sign veteran Kevin Hartman, who was available and eventually signed with New York at the league minimum salary. Was it worth adding a 39-year-old goalkeeper who might have a year or two left at a time when Zac MacMath was already in the lineup? Were there other alternatives?

Certainly, there wasn’t much money. That limits everything.

Turning morass into morale

Last year, the Union locker room wasn’t the happiest place. Top players were leaving under questionable circumstances. Young talents wanted out. The manager would later stand accused of abusing and mistreating his players in training.

Whatever else you might think about the Union, that environment no longer exists.

The mood is different around PPL Park than it was a year ago. (Photo: Mike Long)

The mood is different around PPL Park than it was a year ago. (Photo: Mike Long)

Off the field, many Union fans were turning away from their club, angered by Nowak’s moves. Hackworth’s team has brought many back, but a sense lingers among many Union fans that their team is poorly managed on the whole. Some criticize Hackworth, but their ire turns hotter toward Sakiewicz. Beneath it all is a frustration that the team operates like a small market team with limited funds, despite being based in one of the nation’s largest media markets.

But operating within those limitations, Hackworth has made definite progress in putting the franchise back on solid ground with its fans. Whereas Nowak was harsh and exclusionary, Hackworth welcomes fans to see the club. The face of the team is completely different. It smiles rather than scowls.

Managing people

Hackworth’s greatest success has been in turning young players into prime contributors. The rapid rise of Okugo and McInerney from benchwarmers to U.S. National Team contenders is directly attributable to Hackworth. His first significant personnel move after taking over as manager was to insert McInerney into the starting lineup. Hackworth also chose to keep Okugo in the starting lineup at center back after Okugo’s one good U.S. Open Cup performance last year rather than continue Nowak’s policy of sliding Sheanon Williams to center back after the Califf trade. Now, Okugo and McInerney are team cornerstones.

Further, Hackworth has rotated his forwards fairly well this year. McInerney has been the star, and Hackworth is still figuring how to deploy him, Casey and Le Toux together. Last week’s impressive win over Columbus showed the three could fare well together with Le Toux on a wing, but a dead performance against D.C. United on Wednesday shows that question may still be unanswered.

On the other hand, Hackworth’s management of his attacking midfield trio has been far less stellar. As a result, the Union midfield has been one of the league’s worst this season.

Photo By Earl Gardner

Michael Farfan has struggled after moving to left midfield. (Photo: Earl Gardner)

Michael Farfan has gone from creative All-Star to lost soul, at least in part because of his move to the left side of midfield to accommodate Keon Daniel and Danny Cruz in the starting lineup. When deployed on the right against Montreal, Farfan picked up his first assist of the season. Farfan’s resurgence is key to the team’s fortunes.

Meanwhile, neither Cruz nor Daniel has been consistently good enough to justify the unsettling of Farfan or marginalization of his brother, Gabriel, who sought a trade due in part to lack of playing time. Both Cruz and Daniel have had good moments, notably Cruz’s two-goal game and Daniel’s very solid performance against Columbus last week, but neither has performed at a level high enough to justify them both being the automatic starters they have been thus far. Hackworth’s continued starting of both players, even when their form has been off, has opened them to abuse from fans who rightly question their continued insertion in the starting lineup but wrongly ignore the fact that Cruz and Daniel are solid professionals with roles to play for the Union.

Some take that further to criticize Hackworth for his handling of Soumare, who sought a trade after he did not start on opening day at center back. That’s less fair. Yes, it’s clear Hackworth underestimated how Soumare might react to not starting opening day. But Hackworth’s choice wasn’t unreasonable, considering Soumare’s early form was inferior to that of Parke and Okugo, and it’s clear Soumare is happier at home in Chicago than playing in Philadelphia. This drama may have simply played out later.

Then, there is the goalkeeper situation. Zac MacMath has looked better over the last month, but he also had games in which he surrendered three, four and five goals, respectively. (Not all his fault, but still notable.) The Union have been limited by their salary situation in pursuing a veteran goalkeeper. There appears to be no sign the coaching staff will give backup Chris Konopka even the slightest chance of overtaking MacMath should MacMath falter, despite Konopka looking good in limited duty. What’s the solution? Right now, the status quo. But potential upgrades like Toronto’s Stefan Frei are available.

Finally, there is the question of squad rotation, of which Hackworth has done relatively little. Why after an impressive preseason can Roger Torres not get on the field? Why has he seemingly taken up permanent residence in Hackworth’s doghouse? Where is the Union’s supposed depth? Clearly, there isn’t much of it in midfield that Hackworth is willing to play. Considering his midfield’s generally poor play, changes are due.

The way ahead

Photo By Earl Gardner

Young starters like Amobi Okugo could make the Union’s future bright. (Photo: Earl Gardner)

The Union remain financially handicapped due to outstanding salary commitments to Adu and Soumare, neither of whom is still with the club. But they finally have a little wiggle room thanks to their trades, which means Philadelphia could acquire the true left back and veteran goalkeeper they seem to need.

Regardless, this is a transitional season as the Union clear the books of the mess Nowak left behind. Kleberson is unlikely to be a long-term solution, so a creative fulcrum must be located at some point as well.

Hackworth has some key pieces for a good team, but the Union are not yet a good team, despite their winning record. Their next seven games include matches against Dallas, New York, Salt Lake, Houston, Portland and Vancouver, and they have not beaten a team of such quality yet this season. Unless the midfield lifts its quality of play, the Union’s true level will be revealed during this stretch as the sixth or seventh best team in a 10-team conference.

Either way, Hackworth is largely doing what he’s supposed to do when it comes to the big picture. He hasn’t been perfect, but he’s gradually turning around the Union. If things break right for them, the Union could be a very good team a year from now. If so, they’ll owe much of it to their manager.

72 Comments

  1. The Black Hand says:

    This is an incredibly forgiving article.

    • I’ve been told that before. 😉 I look at the big picture. I take the long view.

    • I should also add that Adam will be doing a tactical and game management review that may draw VERY different conclusions from mine.

      • I couldn’t agree with you more Dan. To think that the mess created by Piotr can be cleaned up so quickly is fool hardy at best. Also anybody who thinks that we have money to spend needs to realize that we don’t.

  2. I feel bad for you guys when you get the short straw and need to write articles that find a way to look at Hackworth in a good light.

  3. This is a nice, evenhanded look at his team-building performance. The people who just rant after every loss that “Hack must go” are tiresome. I’m not even saying that I think Hackworth is so awesome — but people are absurdly shortsighted, fail to see the positive things he’s done to build the team, and have quickly forgotten the unbelievably outrageous conduct of Peter Nowak in demolishing it and putting him in this position.

    • you mean Hackworth hasn’t punished his players by making them run a 10K without water breaks?

    • Is it possible that those people who think we deserve a better coach DO see the positive things he has done and DO remember the disaster that is Peter Nowak? Is it possible that they just ddon’t agree with what Hack is doing with the team? ShortsiteShort site may be a good term to be used for people who worship hack just because he isntisn’t Nowak

  4. Sean Doyle says:

    You nailed it, Dan. Taking a big picture approach, Hackworth has done an admirable job with the cards he was dealt.

    This is a playoff team just one year after crashing to a franchise low point in Toronto.

  5. I’m not one who is totally down on Hackworth but I think your assessment is a little too nice and I disagree with some points; the main one being the claim that we couldn’t afford a left back. There were several options in the draft and I can’t imagine we would have to pay them much. Who knows how any of them would have panned out but it is pretty hard to defend the decision to not even try for any of them.

    • Good point! I dropped the word “veteran” in there. I’ll edit accordingly once the site stops being so wobbly. (Bright side: We found a good coder to troubleshoot our site stability problems. Hopefully they get fixed.)

      More on Anding/left backs tomorrow on PSP.

  6. This assessment is definitely on the forgiving side, but for the most part it’s pretty accurate. A couple things I will point out though are “the union has one of the best back lines in the league”. This is so totally not true, we are tied for the second most goals given up in the league. Obviously that is not all the back lines fault, but still. I think most people here in general like all the members of the back line, but it is clear that as it stands right now, they are far from one of the best in the league.
    .
    Hackworth, looking at it overall, has done a good job and turning the team around. However, there are some glaring problems and decisions he’s made that can’t be overlooked. I think he would be an excellent guy to keep on as a player elevator, specifically for young talent. But we need someone better as the man in charge.

    • Was going to make the same point about the backline!

    • Dan Walsh says:

      It’s a fair point, but I’ll stand by the statement that the back line is among the league’s better ones. Gaddis has been exposed on set pieces, and obviously there were some mistakes yesterday. But when you’re playing in front of a bottom tier goalkeeper and behind a bad midfield, goals will happen.

      • Southside Johnny says:

        Absolutely true and not to mention playing with no, and I mean no, on field defensive leadership.

      • Dan,

        Seriously, i cant believe you are comfortable with the “one of the best backlines in the league”. Without reliable statistics showing how the union midfield or goalie has direclt contributed to the 2nd worst goals against record in the league, the best statement you could realistically make would be “they are not as bad as the stats show”.

        C’mon man, i like some of your opinions but that one has no business being written.

      • Dan Walsh says:

        Well, I didn’t write they were “one of the best back lines.” I wrote, “Their starting back line is one of the league’s better ones…” Minor distinction, but it’s the nuance I intended. Even considering the recent struggles. (Admittedly, I wrote that before the USOC match, but form is temporary.)

        Who are the better back lines? LA, Houston, KC, RSL, Montreal. Maybe Dallas. That’s six definitely better back lines. The Colorado and New England back lines have played well, but would you trade the Union’s back line for theirs? Would you do it with any other team? Every other team’s back line has a major flaw. The Union’s is that they lack a true left back, but the guy they play there could start at right back for many teams.

      • Well your making a claim that they are “better” (I actually don’t see the significance of the nuance) without providing much in terms of evidence to support your point.

        Since iI have watched them and seen glaring errors in positioning and marking (by more than just gaddis), since mac math is not directly attributable to a significant amount of those goals, since the mmid filed weaknesses in my opinion are more on the attacking side, then YES, I would trade our midfield for many of the teams in MLS.

      • Sorry, I meant trade our back line. Although I would gladly trade Daniel and Cruz before the back line.

      • Montreal and Los Angeles embarrassed them. They made two major mistakes against DC, though one is more on MacMath than Parke. They’ve been pretty good otherwise. Those games raise some questions, but the LA game stands alone and has less to do with the starting unit as currently comprised.

      • You may want to watch some of those games again Dan. I am having less confidence in your opinion as this conversation goes on. What are we 15 games into the season and almost dead last in goals against and you can only mention a couple of games.

        you ddon’t even mention Kansas city. Go back and watch the goals where there were two to three KC players parked in the box and unmarked. No excuse for that. Just bad defending by the central midfield.

        Sorry Dan, but you didn’t help your case.

      • Sorry once again I said midfield when I meant backline

      • Probably because those 3 games account for 12 goals. For the rest of the season, it’s 16 goals in 13 games in front of a lower tier GK. You bring up bad defending by the central midfield in the KC game. I was talking about the back line, not the center midfield.

      • I guess you missed where I corrected myself. See comment above yours

      • You can’t have it both ways. First, you don’t think the goals against is the way to measure the back line based on other factors. But when you try to identify games where they played bad, you use goals against as your measuring stick.

        I am saying that not only do they have a bad goals against average, buI have watched missed assignment. Players getiing caught out of position, etc.

        Is it possible that they are a good back line. Yes, but the evidence isn’t there to state that they are one of the better back line as if it was a common known fact.

  7. scottymac says:

    “Today, Hackworth’s Union have a winning record and sit in third place in the Eastern Conference.”

    Which at this pace puts them at 49.93 for the season. Last year would have been good enough for 7th. I didn’t compare the previous season because of all the expansion and the number of games played in 2010. But I wouldn’t bet on 50 points being good enough to keep playing in October.

    But to your point Dan, it is better than last year’s finish.

    • Since the Union entered in 2010 only 5 teams with a PPG of greater than 1.3 have missed the playoffs. 50 points in the 34 games gives a 1.47 PPG which should be good enough to get in as wild card.

  8. Andy Muenz says:

    More than a true left back and veteran goal keeper, right now I think the Union need a solid CAM and some depth anywhere on defense. When Parke got hurt, Soumare was there to step in. Right now, the only real option in case of injury or suspension is Albright who might not be up for 90 minutes. What happens if two of our defenders need to miss a game?

    • Andy Muenz says:

      I should have asked what are the options besides moving Danny Cruz to the back line if two defenders have to miss a game? 🙂

      • I believe Hack said we could use Aaron Wheller as a Defender. I was at the Reading United game, he looked OK back there. But I guess he showed well enough for Hack to throw him in at defender if need be.

      • Michael Farfan has deputized at RB when necessary. CB and LB are the biggest question marks on this team, depth-wise.

      • Philly Cheese says:

        Is Greg Jordan playing with enough quality to be recalled from Harrisburg if needed? He had some good games in preseason.

  9. I don’t agree with this obviously.

    Casey was a steal I will give you that. And Parke was fortuitous because he wanted to play here. Seeing they never had any real plans for Saoumare to start, if they did they would have given him more of a look in preseason, There was an obvious hole at centerback that they had to fill seeing there was no one “good enough” to fill in.
    (Also I doubt him not starting was the reason he asked for a trade, that is most likely an oversimplification and plays into he just wanted to play in Chicago narrative. What it was most likely was the straw that broke the camels back, Saoumare being a professional veteran probably saw the writing on the wall for a while and not starting after not getting a serious look told him to look out for himself. (to paraphrase Gabriel Farfan)

    The absolute refusal to get a left back is also troubling. Especially because no mention of the Left Back international that was brought in despite good LBs in the draft. So far he has been a Nowakian failure. (it’s only fair to mention this because you pointed out Nowaks international failures, that even though they were failures they were brought in to better the team, now players a brought in to fill holes.

    there is more but i’ll leve you with this Okugo isn’t a center back

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Damani Richards was poorly advertised. Hackworth unwisely blew off questions about left back, one of the few times he’s done that sort of thing. The failure of Richards to make the team was probably a bit worse than another trialist who doesn’t make it, only insofar as it may have led the Union not to draft a left back.

      Hackworth has said he wants to add a starting defender. I expect him to try to add a left back in the next two months. Let’s see if I’m right.

      Anding was nasty yesterday. The lone bright spot against DC. More on him tomorrow in the player ratings/analysis post.

      • Damani Richards poorly advertised? He was advertised as a Left Back, when we needed a left back. His signing(then non signing) is complete mystery. If we were so strapped for cash why get an international when a college kid would be the same price if not less. Why go through the trouble of getting an international unless you sure he would make the team? If you had any doubt, fuck it get a Left Back anyway Hackworth will just turn him into a goalie at some point if needed.

      • Yeah. He was advertised as good. 😉

        I have no problem with them giving him a trial. What did it cost them?

      • Dan this is response to your comment below: They did give Damani a trial last October and he played in reserve match vs DC. So, Hack/coaches had already knew him when he made his comments on draft.

        Anding did well vs DC, however he was at LM not Lftbk. Big difference. Also, DeLeon is not a defender.

  10. A rational, well-reasoned article.

    While I’ve been critical of Hackworth at times this season, I think that the financial restrictions that he is under has made things difficult for him.

    Going into the year, I always felt like if we were in the hunt for the 5th play-off spot down the stretch, that would be a good season for us. Even though we’re exceeding that goal right now, it feels very tenuous given our alarming lack of depth on this roster.

  11. OneManWolfpack says:

    I think Hack has done a fantastic job fixing the personnel. It is how he uses the personnel that drives me nuts. Starters are getting tired, and being played out of place… and for GOD’S SAKE… stop playing Danny Cruz. I like Hack, I don’t love him. But he has to learn to adjust… especially in game

    • John Ling says:

      I think this is a pretty good “quick” analysis.

    • Southside Johnny says:

      +1

    • The Black Hand says:

      He has done a fantastic job of not rostering a single player (aside from Carroll…maybe) that can play in the midfield.

      • Hyperbole much?
        .
        You can absolutely make the case that he starts the wrong midfielders. There’s plenty of room for that argument. But the roster most certainly has people capable of playing various roles in the midfield (though two of them – Lahoud and Kleberson – are injured).
        .
        Le Toux is playing, most of the time, as a midfielder. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but he’s leading the league in assists.
        .
        Danny Cruz and Keon Daniel, for all the abuse they take, are decent enough midfielders to play in this league. Neither should start every game (again, tactics vs roster building), but there is a role for players like them on a team.
        .
        Roger Torres – aka the ghost in the machine – is certainly talented enough, and Leo Fernandes is looking to be as well. Finally, Anding had a damn nice showing out of the midfield on Wednesday evening.
        .
        Does he stubbornly start the same four over and over? Yep. Do we need to find another CAM? Probably, though I’d like to see more of Kleberson.
        .
        But this isn’t about tactics; it’s about cleaning up the mess he was left with when Nowak was fired.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I hyperbolize quite a bit.
        .
        My point being; that the midfield was the greatest area of detriment within our club. MacMath being a very close second. Hackworth’s response: do absolutely nothing for those two areas.
        As we are well into our current season, two areas of weakness shine the brightest: our midfield and Zac MacMath (has been showing better but overall, has been sub-par). That is poor management, at its finest.
        .
        While we may have players that, technically, can play in the midfield; we don’t have a single player who can operate within the midfield cohesively with others. There is not one of your mentioned players that can establish an inkling of chemistry with his fellow midfielders or link play between the back line and forwards. This is my reason for hyperbole.
        .
        My point: A manager’s #1 job is to make his club better, by working towards improving areas of weaknesses. This can come through transfers or fine coaching. Neither is evident. Our record is what it is because we have had our fill of struggling clubs, not because John Hackworth has made us stronger through his influence.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Very good point. Look for Adam’s piece to cover some of that later today.

  12. Well done article, I believe the Hack detractors will say you went easy, but most of my concerns around him are his tactical decisions (I know tomorrow, not here) I believe he has performed well (not great, but well) and I think this years draft was an inigma, as I think the drafts from year one have been his doing (I liked the drafts so therefor I rate them high) my only thought is he was new to the “head coach” and was overwhelmed and didn’t do as well in the draft as he usually does (just a theory). Can’t wait to read tomorrows article.

  13. Jim Presti says:

    Great article. A very interesting read. One of the better ones I’ve read in a long time.
    .
    As far as Hack goes, I think he’s very good at development and the “big picture”, but poor on in game strategy/player management.
    .
    Very excited for tomorrow’s article. Thanks guys.

    • Southside Johnny says:

      Yes. As I have said before, thanks for some perspective from a higher altitude. God knows I need it at times.

  14. Dan, while sometimes I’m overly critical of the site and do agree to a point that this is a touch forgiving, there are some really good points, especially when you touch on the MacMath and Torres situations. Nice work!

  15. The Black Hand says:

    Much of my problem with Hackworth, aside from his ineptitude as a tactician, is the fact that we had GLARING weaknesses coming out of last season and those weaknesses glare just as strong today. Casey was a nice addition (credit for that) but aside from our forwards, we are just as weak as we were last year. Our current record is stacked with points from lesser opponents. With exception to a depleted Colombus, we have been embarrassed by the clubs that hold any quality, as well as a couple that don’t. Aside from Colombus, I can’t remember a match where we looked like a threatening club…not even a little.

    • And even that Columbus game, why did’t we put up 5 on that weak defense when we had them on the ropes. We don’t have the killer instinct and that’s on Hack.
      My problem with Hackworth is that he is an American coach in the mold of the ODP program from 90s. He reminds my of every state and regional coach I’ve had. He sees speed and thinks he can develop skill.
      To Dan’s point (and many others) that Hack can develop players is extremely overrated. All he did was give Okugo, Mac, and Hop an opportunity. They did the rest. Other than Mac, what developments show Hack’s ability to coach them up? They make the same mistakes time and again. Williams has way too many basic mental flaws. Farfan’s issue isn’t that he’s out of position. It’s that he plays too slow and always wants to make the long through ball. Mac still keeps his arms at his side instead of holding off backs. Hop hasn’t developed at all. McMath hasn’t developed. When Ronaldo went ManU, they targeted his arial ability as an improvement goal..and they/he improved it pretty quickly. None of that here.
      I credit Hackworth for Casey’s signing and starting the young talent LAST YEAR. That’s it. And that young talent has us better than Nowaks poor start, but probably slightly better than Hacks season which was still below 500. Which is how we will finish this year.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Well said, D.

      • I didn’t say he could develop players. I wrote, “Hackworth’s greatest success has been in turning young players into prime contributors.” And he has. He recognized those talented players and gave them opportunities.

  16. Dan,

    Your assessment jumped over the team’s loan policy. Valdes out for the year; Pfeffer out for the year. Keeping Mclaughlin, Hernandez, Jordan, and to a lesser extent Fernandes and Anding at Harrisburg as opposed to maintaining a full fledged reserve side.

    Granted, I think the experience that Pfeffer, Hernandez, McLaughlin, and Jordan in particular are gaining will help them tremendously, but I have to wonder if not fielding a reserve side makes it hard for 1st teamers who dont play much (Albright, Wheeler, Torres, Kassel) to get game time and stay sharp.

    I don’t think any of these decisions fall squarely on Hackworth, but all of these decisions were arranged or ok’d under his leadership.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      That’s true, I guess I did. That’s largely because Valdes won’t be back in my view. He didn’t go to Colombia to better his chances for starting in the World Cup only to return to Philadelphia in 2014 — just before the World Cup. This will eventually become a full transfer, or Valdes’ contract with the Union will expire.

      The Pfeffer loan? I think it’s a potentially good move, but only time will tell. It might lead to a sale. It might develop him better. Or maybe he gets lost in Europe like so many others.

      You raise a good question about the reserve squad. Not sure. Hard to say. But I know Anding looked terrific Wednesday, and chances are he got to show that in Harrisburg, which bolstered his chances for play with the Union.

  17. Total points doesnt matter. At the end of the season, they all have to have played the same amount of games. The important stat, with respect to “place”, is points per game. The union are currently tied for fourth.

  18. Pingback: Hackworth after one year: On tactics

  19. Alright Dan,

    I am going to address the ridiculous assumption that the Union are somehow one of the better starting backlines in MLS.

    So here is MY argument against that statement. I think it is a better argument than the argument against it.

    Arguments:
    1. The union have one of the worst goals against average in major league soccer.
    2. The stat mentioned above (24 goals given up) is a regular season stat. It doesn’t include the open cup. The three worst performances from a goals against perspective are KC, LA and Montreal. If you want to subtract those games and treat them as outliers, then to be fair you would have to do that with all of the teams in MLS. I imagine that would not end up with the Union being on the “better” side of that stat.
    3. Although you seem to think that the only week link in the defense is Gaddis, I would say that if you read enough feedback from people who comment on this site, and other sites, that Williams is not having the greatest year either. I have always liked him, but this year I have seen him caught out of position to many times, and losing too many one on one battles for me to be convinced that he is as good, or better, than the other back line players in this league.

    So I feel, as many others do, that at least 50% of the line is questionable at this point.

    4. The team plays as a collective unit. So looking at each players’ technical ability doesn’t give any consideration to their formation and positioning as a unit, which in the case of the union, I think is extremely weak.
    5. Although you constantly come back to the sub par goalie argument, I can’t see how Macmath is responsible for many of the terrible goals I have seen this year

    IN MY NEXT POST, I WILL PROVIDE SPECIFIC EXAMPLES of GOALS WHERE THE DEFENSE DID NOT PLAY WELL.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      You raise some fair points. I’m not going to debate every one of them because I agree with some. The back line obviously hasn’t always played well. (Simply look at my analysis post from the USOC game to see that.) That said —

      Please list the teams whose back lines you would rather have than the Union’s. Let’s talk again when you get to nine teams.

  20. Kansas City:
    1st goal. We have two defenders covering the first shooter, while the two other KC attackers walk into the box with no union players within 8 yards of either player. The rebound was an easy goal. We were ridiculously caught out of position. No excuse for that kind of play.
    3rd goal. Three Union defenders covering one KC player at the six yard line, leaving KC attackers wide, and I mean wide open. Look at the highlites, the entire Union defense was bunched into one small area, the rest of the box was a playground for the KC attackers.
    Toronto (1st game)
    Rediculously bad defensive play. Kansas City walked by. Review the highlites. 4 defenders back. Nobody marked. They sat and watched the over the top ball blow by them along with the players.
    Seattle
    Corner kick goal. Complete confusion on who to mark. Not one union player tried to attack the ball. Parke lost his man and he scored.
    LA
    GOAL #2. Somebody please explain to me how Keane just waltzed by all of our defenders as if he was strolling through the park. 3 defenders caught watching
    GOAL #3. Nobody thinks it’s important to mark Donovan? His waltz in was more ridiculous than Keanes (see 2 above).

  21. You have got to be kidding me Dan. You make a highly debatable comment that goes completely against what the numbers show. I gave a compelling case why I think that statement is being made without evidence. And your response is to tell me to list the teams who are better.

    Is that really the limit of what you can provide to back your point. That’s just sad.

    Ok, heres my response. Pick 12 teams with the lowest goals against average. That’s my list. There, now I have put the effort in that you have.

    Now here my request from you, SINCE YOU ARE THE ONE WHO MADE THE INITIAL STATEMENT.

    Prove it. Give me a list of teams who’s defense is worse than the Union. But don’t stop there. Give me your evidence. Tell me WHY you think each team is worse. STATS, game observations, etc.

    You made the statement. Now back it up.

    • Seriously? If you’re new here, please read the way our other commenters approach. They may have strong opinions that disagree with some points a PSP writer may make, but they’re cool about it. Be respectful. Everyone here is a volunteer. This volunteer gave you 3,000 words that you read. That takes time and effort. Be appreciative of that. Thanks.

      Yeah, my initial statement was the Union back line is one of the better ones in the league. And as far as the starters go, they are. Have they always played like it? No, of course not. But if you take away 2 bad games (Montreal, LA), their GA is around the norm in MLS.

      Back lines I’d take them over:

      NY: Barklage & Miller are journeymen. Holgersson is barely starting quality.

      Columbus/Toronto/DC/Chivas: Don’t waste my time (further).

      Chicago: Soumare improves them. But weak at right back. Segares has lost a bit.

      Seattle: Two good defenders, but weak at left back and 2nd center back. Great GK and D-mid though.

      Portland: Ordinary back line. One FB is a CM. CBs have something to prove.

      Colorado: Haven’t watched them play since they made some personnel changes. They’ve probably improved.

      San Jose: Bernardez has been out. Their mediocre play without him shows how human they can be. When healthy, they’re equal to or more talented than the Union back line.

      Vancouver: Did you watch them against Seattle? No defensive depth. Cost them a great game.

      New England: They seem all right. Improved from last year, certainly. Their GA is low because they basically played bunker ball the first several games of the year before Agudelo showed up and they started scoring. But I’d take the Union’s back line over them.

      I’m done. 🙂

  22. A parable for Dan.

    There were once two teenage boys debating:
    Boy 1: “I’m stronger than you”
    Boy 2: “But I can bench press, squat, curl and deadlift more weight than you can”
    Boy 1: “Im stronger than you
    Boy 2: “How are you stronger than me”
    Boy 1: “I’m stronger than you”
    Boy 2: “Your arguing is sad and ridiculous”
    Boy 1: “Please speak to me with more respect. You know, I don’t get paid to make this argument. And….I’m stronger than you”

    Sorry I hurt your feelings. There’s still nothing to your argument. Sorry, cant say it more respectfully than that.

    now Im done. 🙂

    • The Black Hand says:

      In all fairness, Dan did compile the list, in detail, that you had requested. You countered with a parable. Jus sayin’

  23. Hi Mr. Black Hand,

    Well, I was really hoping to be done as I said, but now that the Calvary has stepped in for Dan, I am going to respond.

    How bout this? After the following comments, I will not read or comment on Philly Soccer Page again.

    There. That should make everyone happy.

    You say I asked for a list. Maybe you should ACTUALLY READ my comments. I asked for more than a list. What I got was a list.

    At some point, your talking to a brick wall. That’s when a parable seems appropriate.

    Of course, you may think that Dan’s comments on each team amounted to what I termed as “WHY you think each team is worse. STATS, game observations, etc”

    Well lets see…. Since no STATS were provided, you have pretty much lost your argument there.

    The word “worse” is indicative of a comparison. No comparisons were made. NOT ONCE, did Dan compare in detail the backgrounds of the players, experience, on field performance, tactics or strategy of the Union backline to any of those other teams individual back lines.

    At this point, were really NOT doing well with respect to getting what I asked for.

    But then lets look at some of the individual comments:

    DAN: “Columbus/Toronto/DC/Chivas: Don’t waste my time (further).”.

    I don’t even have to touch that one. Obviously no valuable information here

    DAN: “NY: Barklage & Miller are journeymen. Holgersson is barely starting quality”

    Calling someone a journeyman does not indicate that they are better or worse than another player. Holgersson is barely starting quality? Cant we say the same about Gaddis. How bout Okugo, has he played center back before? There is nothing in that comment that REMOTELY PROVES DANS POINT !!!!

    DAN: “Portland: Ordinary back line. One FB is a CM. CBs have something to prove.

    I go back to the same point about Okugo. Calling someone “ordinary” does not compare them to another player.

    In short, what Dan did was FLAUNT HIS KNOWLEDGE of MLS rosters. And yes, he provided a list. But that’s it.

    If you asked me for a list of defending teams that are worse than the Union. I could respond by listing half the premier league and I could call their players “ordinary” and “not true center backs”.

    Would I be correct then because I provided a list?

    Sorry black hand, you didn’t help Dan make his argument. I go back to the parable.

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      Chuckles (or Ferpagain, Ferp, Krenster, Iftangle, Woramut, Pleb, Tremst34, Fern gully, Chemsplitter, Kwebble, Gamara, Gammara, Gwedstone, kREBBLES, Chemmy, Kremster, Phil Ander, chembry, Sven, Gropep, kjWEN, Kreftyplan, Moops, Bob, Jiffy, Kremsteremus, Chum Chum, Kwigges, or whatever “name” you have at the moment),
      Bye.
      PS – Fire Nowak.

  24. Pingback: Union sign Nikolov, Hack’s first year, Revs in Newtown, more

  25. Jaap Stam says:

    Thanks for the article Dan. I don’t agree with much of what you wrote regarding our back line but I do very much appreciate the fact that you put it out there for us! We are damn lucky to have PSP artices like this to debate….Keep it up Bro…!!!

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