The results are in, and Union fans say …

Eleven days ago, the Philly Soccer Page sought to take the pulse of the local soccer scene when it comes to Philadelphia Union. We put together a poll of key questions we hear Union fans talking about the most. Then, we sat back to see what you said.

The results were eye-opening, sometimes predictable, but often surprising. More than 250 readers took the time to respond, which was a decent sampling for our first poll.

We learned that a solid majority of you think:

  • John Hackworth earned the right to return as manager in 2014;
  • Amobi Okugo was the team’s best player in 2013;
  • Nick Sakiewicz has done a poor job as chief executive of the Union;
  • Danny Cruz should not start for the Union, but he has a role to play for them;
  • The Union desperately need a center attacking midfielder.

Let’s explore each of the questions to gauge what we should take from them.

Readers: John Hackworth should return as manager

Nearly two-thirds of you — 65% — said Hackworth should return as manager in 2014.

This was surprising, not because I disagree — I don’t — but because a very vocal minority thinks otherwise and repeatedly says so. Of course, now we see they are in fact the minority.

What should we conclude from this?

  1. Negadelphians are vocal. (Those non-Negadelphians who want Hackworth replaced might be vocal too, but we’re not sure.)
  2. A large, quieter majority recognizes the deep salary cap mess in which Hackworth’s predecessor, Peter Nowak, had buried the team.
  3. Most Philadelphia fans are patient.
  4. Hackworth must produce this year, judging by the more than one-third of you who wanted to replace him this year.
Readers: Nick Sakiewicz has not done a good job as Union CEO

Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz has not fared as well as Hackworth, with 70% saying he has not done a good job in his role. That shows a sharp contrast compared to how Hackworth fared, although to be fair, the questions were phrased differently. (There has never been much question of whether Sakiewicz would return in 2014, as he is part of the ownership team.)

Also to be fair, remember that Sakiewicz is the face of the Union ownership team, but he is just a minority shareholder. The primary stakeholder is Jay Sugarman, who generally makes no public statements on the Union and is rarely seen around the stadium. So Sakiewicz could also be taking the heat for an ownership group that many fans view as unwilling to spend enough money on the team.

Regardless, it’s not a good sign for Sakiewicz, who could use a good season from the Union to bolster his standing among the fans.

Readers: Amobi Okugo was the Union’s best player in 2013 …

This one wasn’t close, with Okugo taking 64% of the vote. Right back Sheanon Williams placed second (11%), followed by Conor Casey (10%), Jeff Parke (7%), Jack McInerney (6%), and Sebastien Le Toux (1%).

… but readers want him to play midfield …

A whopping 66% of you feel Okugo should play defensive midfield instead of center back.

Okugo played both positions as a youth international, but once he reached UCLA for his lone college season, he stayed primarily in midfield. Hackworth has preferred him at center back and plans to keep him there. That has never sat well with many, and the debate has yet to die down.

Personally, I’m OK with Okugo at center back. His talent ceiling there is high, his national team prospects are solid at center back, and he’s on his way to being one of the best in the league there. An extended run at midfield, however, could show Okugo has a whole other level. Don’t expect this debate to die down among fans if the Union midfield is weak again in 2014.

… and value him more than Jack McInerney

Okugo and McInerney are the last of the Union originals who have played all their games with the Union, they were first round picks in that inaugural 2010 draft class, and they both emerged as breakout players at the same time. As a result, they’ll probably always be linked together.

They also will see their rookie contracts expire at the end of next season, which prompted our poll question, “If the Union could only keep one [Okugo or McInerney], who would you keep?”

84% of you chose Okugo.

In part, we can attribute that to McInerney’s cold spell for most of the season’s second half. Would many of you say the same thing if McInerney was on another hot streak? A few minds would surely change. Gifted goal-scorers like McInerney are hard to find.

But there’s also something else, and that’s probably fans’ sense that McInerney can be a bit petulant on the field. Yes, it’s understandable that McInerney would grow frustrated with his lack of adequate service from midfield. After all, thousands of Union fans are frustrated with it too. It’s another thing entirely to show up your teammates by pouting, gesturing, or otherwise making clear to the thousands watching the game that you don’t think much of your teammates. This may be common in European soccer, but it runs counter to American sports sensibilities.

On the other hand, Okugo looks like someone who, if he stays with the Union long-term instead of going to Europe, could be a future team captain.

Readers: The Union desperately need a No. 10

A whopping 88% of you said the Union’s biggest positional need was for a central attacking midfielder. No other poll question saw as lopsided a result. Fortunately, Hackworth recognizes this is the key missing piece. Captain Obvious also recognizes this.

Readers: Danny Cruz should not start, but the Union should keep him

Several takeaways from our question on what to do with Danny Cruz:

  1. 95% of you think he should not start for the Union;
  2. 63% said he should stay with the Union as a substitute.
  3. 32% said he should be cut or traded.
  4. Just 5% said he should be a starter.

Union fans clearly recognize that Cruz, perhaps the team’s most polarizing player, brings something of value to the team. They probably like his hard-nosed style, as well as his pure athleticism. Maybe he even has a bit of Brian Dawkins to him.

But they also recognize that isn’t enough to be a guaranteed starter, particularly when it often meant displacing Sebastien Le Toux and Michael Farfan from right midfield in 2013. Cruz’s best role may be off the bench, running at tired defenders, drawing fouls, and creating a spark.

Either way, you all just gave him some motivational material for the off-season, and with a determined athlete like Cruz, that could produce some results.

Readers: Winning is more important than looking pretty, but …

We asked the question of whether it was more important to win, even if it looked ugly, or to play attractive, flowing, attacking soccer. It was fairly close, but 55% said winning was most important.

This largely validates Hackworth’s pragmatic tactical approach in 2013.

But the fact that nearly half of you were willing to sacrifice wins for attractive soccer, even if it results in losses, suggests that there is a strong desire to see a more elegant product on the field at PPL Park in 2013.

Readers: Split on biggest Union rival

This was another fairly close vote, with 52% of you feeling the Red Bulls were the Union’s biggest rival but 42% thinking it was D.C. United.

What was interesting was that 5% of you said someone else.

If you voted for someone else, who did you suggest, and why? Tell us in the Comments section below.

Readers: Death to Machinehead

Finally, 71% of you said the Bush song, “Machinehead”, should never again be played or spoken of at PPL Park. PSP concurs.


  1. Dan, all I have to say is…

    “Breathe in, breathe out.”

  2. I took the poll twice, first with my own answers, then with my wife supplying the responses. One of the questions we disagreed on was the Sakiewicz question. She thought he was doing a good job for firing Nowak whereas I thought he did a poor job for giving Nowak so much power in the first place.

    • I also took it twice, once with my answers and once with my daughter’s. It was interesting to see her take on things.

    • This seems key to me. He got rid of Nowak, but not until after Nowak laid waste to a promising group of players and destroying the finances.

    • I don’t think that Sakiewicz gave Nowak those additional duties because it would have diminished his own stature in the organization. Nowak positioned himself well with the rest of the ownership group to gain more power.

      It was until Nowak began his Stalin-like purge of players that Sakiewicz could ultimately oust him.

      • I think his Stalin like purge was done mostly to cut salary.
        Where that order came from is up to speculation

      • Agree w/ Sieve: While I begged for Nowak to go, it was because he is a poor coach. Not b/c he traded away overrated players that fans thought were awesome (Cliff, LeToux, Mwanga).
        More and More I really think the FO used him as a scapegoat. But both Sak and Nowak are pretty scummy.

      • You both maybe right on why Nowak was fired, but my original post was to point out that there’s no way that Sakiewicz gave Nowak addt’l power unless the majority owners forced him to.

      • That’s true to a point.

        I always wondered about Nowak’s free hand. I truly doubt bringing in Chris Albright was a Nowak decision. And if it wasn’t then you have to ask how many decisions were also not made by Nowak.

    • I took the poll 65% of 250 times and thought that Hackworth should stay. (hehe)

    • Its a interesting point about who in the FO is responsible. Sack is very visible and seems to be involved with alot of PR and initiatives. What I get from sugarman is that he’s a real estate guy who lost lots of money and the team is more of a side thing than a passion or primary focus.

      It brings up a question, at what point do we start holding the FO, and who in the FO do we hold accountable and start demanding changes? Gotta wonder what Philly could be like with a FO like SKC or Seattle.

  3. Smackey the Frog says:

    Less Bush, more Hall + Oates.

  4. I really hate the term Negadelphian. I think it is a pretty dismissive way to deal with people who have legitimate concerns about John Hackworth.

    • It should be used to describe the people who loudly voice their opinions and speak in absolutes (“this team is awful because they didn’t make the playoffs” or “he had one bad game, he’s the worst player ever”). Most fans live somewhere in the middle, logical valley between extremes, but the Negadelphian is the one who goes on the air or comments things that are often absurd, usually wrong and always negative. Unfortunately, they’re usually the loudest.

      • Right, what Brian said.

        Also, Sieve, your point is exactly why I followed up the Negadelphia comment with, “(Those non-Negadelphians who want Hackworth replaced might be vocal too, but we’re not sure.)” It’s a perfectly reasonable opinion to think Hackworth should be replaced, even if I don’t share it, but it’s a matter of how you get to that conclusion that differs from the Negadelphia approach.

    • That’s so negative of you Sieve.

    • It’s a great way to shut down conversation Sieve. Even if those of us who look at it as just a container 50% filled with fluid, comments can be derided under the umbrella of “Negadelphian”.

      I think it’s not quite the minority this small sample size poll makes out. And if anything, the leash is short, many fans have stated on this board and others that they want to keep him for 2014, but it’s playoffs or bust. No more Nowak excuses, it’s his roster and on his own head be it. I think the frustration with Hackworth is very real. An interesting question would have been – “Did you believe that team should have made the playoffs and who is responsible for the team missing them?”

      • It doesn’t shut down conversation. I’m just calling it like I see it. And with some fans, that’s how I see it.
        We’ve been encouraging discussion and debate on this site from the get-go, and I think we’ve gotten it. (I even told Eli to go ahead and blast something from this column out of the water in the Comments section today after he did it via email, because it makes for great discussion. He hasn’t yet. He’s being nice. 😉 )

      • Again I agree with Sieve, but understand Dan’s point.
        Here’s my beef: they hired Hackworth after 2 wins. We could’ve had the Chip Kelly of US Soccer, but our FO has no ambition. So now Portland plays in the CCL and we are mediocre. It should’ve been playoffs or bust this year, as no matter what, Hack is still part of the Nowak era. We need someone with modern ideas and I just don’t see that in Hackworth. I see Ireland/England circa 1990.

      • D,
        I agree with all of your assesments about Hack, but why would Porter come to Philly over a Cascadia team? If you had the choice, where would you go? From an objective standpoint I don’t know why anyone would choose to coach in Philly with this ownership group over Portland….

      • The poll is what it is and people seem to think Hack gets another year. But I do suspect some of those votes were votes of resignation.

    • The “Negadelphian” concept applies to a lot more than sports. I am not a native of this town, having moved here 9 years ago after living all over the country. I think this is a great city and a great metro area. And I have been consistently amazed at Philadelphians’ negative attitudes toward the area, even while they would never leave. I have a theory about it (which I will spare you all), but I have taken to telling people who come from out of town to look at jobs: “Do not listen to native Philadelphians talk about their own city. They don’t know what they’re talking about.” And that’s not the case for any of the several other cities in which I’ve lived.

  5. Dan – Looks like Ryan Nelsen read your column about Union pick-ups and just acquired Justin Morrow for allocation money.

  6. I’m starting to get frustrated with this off-season. I know the draft isn’t until tomorrow, but it’s painful to watch our rivals signing (and trading for) guys that could obviously help us. Rumor had it that we were pursuing EJ. We lost out on him. Then Justin Morrow gets snagged for allocation money. Aren’t we absolutely LOADED with allocation money? Seems like we always are flush but never spend anything! What’s the excuse this year Nick?

    Let’s all hope our “super scout” Riccardo Ansaldi has identified a suitable #10 for us because it doesn’t look like he’s coming from MLS unless we keep the best damn secrets on earth.

    C’mon FO, wake from your slumber…..

  7. Ok, I’m about to get all philosophical up in this, but the results of soccer (or any sports) games don’t matter. I don’t derive my self-worth from the record of a team that I like. Viewing a long-ball victory doesn’t make me a better person. Really sports are just entertainment. So why wouldn’t you rather watch a more entertaining product regardless of result?

  8. Teams are making major moves particularly DC United. What is up with the Union? I voted to have Hackworth gone. He doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in his in game and over all managing ability. I don’t think he is capable of coaching at this level. It doesn’t make me negative to have an opinion. The question was posed and people answered. My issue with this article is the labeling of people who don’t want Hackworth to continue as manager as negadelphians. Should we call those people who want to give him another season delusional? Of course not. I don’t think it was the intention of the pole to start labeling and name calling was it? You either want Hackworth to stay of you want him gone. I want him gone. I’m a Philly sports fan who lives in NY. You want negative I’ll show you negative.

  9. I think there’s a lot of emphasis on who you bring in in the MLS offseason, and not enough on who you retain from season to season. Granted, we don’t have many regulars out of contract this offseason, but we are not blowing up the team (see FCD) or losing players to other leagues (SJ, COL) Valdes aside. Everyone is ooohing and aaaahing over what DCU and TFC are doing – yes, that is what you do when you finish at the very bottom of the table. You try to get better anyway you can.

    Hopefully, there’s just as much going on behind the scenes with the Union right now with discussions about contract extensions with core players.

    MLS is a long train of drafts. The Superdraft and the week or two post superdraft should be telling of our intentions for next year. If we haven’t made any significant moves by then, I’ll probably start to get a little more concerned. It’s not the November/December window; its the January window.

    • I disagree. Who has really built through the super draft in the past few years? It’s about homegrown and transfers. NY, LA, SEA are obvious, but look at RSL, SKC, Portland, Montreal. Their improvements came from off season transfers mainly.
      And who is our core? Okugo is our most talented player, Williams is a top RB, then what? MacMath is OK. JackMac didn’t score for 4 months! Casey was a surprise. And our whole midfield is expendable.
      Obviously, good CB depth and a good LB could’ve been acquired as other teams did.
      It’s not the end of the world, but they should have made a move, especially when Hack says he wants MLS experience…

      • While going with MLS experience and outside players is a good strategy, you cant fully discredit the draft. Look at mac, okugo, yedlin, powers. Its mostly boom or bust with draft picks, but you can find some stars or at the very least role players that can play at the level.

        Ignoring the draft completely is ill advised. NY is realizing that. And when you compare the previous draft, our one pick might not even be on the team next year. The Union could’ve done much better last year.

      • Yedlin was a homegrown….

  10. My problem with Hackworth is that the Union did not improve throughout the season. I don’t see that changing next season. We might (MIGHT) pick up a good player or two to improve the team, but otherwise, I don’t expect any difference in style or performance in 2014. And who wants that?

  11. My biggsst issue with Hackworth is his sometimes seemingly delusional and tunnel vision approach to things. He consistently called Daniel the best player tactically on our team when evidence pointed otherwise. He consistently played the same 20 people, saying other guys didn’t do enough to earn time but they weren’t getting enough of a chance to earn it. By july he substitute strategy was so predictable you could have made money betting on it. And finally, if someone has a varying opinion he has an almost “how dare you question me?” attitude, I.e. Okugo at mid, torres/kleb playing, same 4 MF players playing.

    Im willing to give him the benefit of the doubt this offseason, but if nothing changes questions need to be asked.

    • Actually, he refers to Daniel’s technical abilities. I agree with him. Daniel is a very good technical player. It’s something else that he’s missing.

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