What can John Hackworth learn from David Moyes’ struggles?

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Back in 2011, the only season that the Philadelphia Union made the playoffs, David Moyes brought his Everton squad across the Atlantic for a preseason U.S. tour. To start that training circuit, the Toffees lost to the Union 1-0. The manager that night for the Union was then-assistant coach John Hackworth.

A lot has happened since that July evening for both men. Moyes is in the midst of a tumultuous first season following in Sir Alex Ferguson’s footsteps at iconic club Manchester United, while Hackworth has been at the helm of the Union for over a season now. With the transition year of 2013 behind the team, Philadelphia looks set to return to serious consideration for a playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

What could Hackworth learn from watching Moyes’ early struggles at Old Trafford?

The playmaker

Moyes has been a rather pragmatic manager for years. Many thought this was due to the spendthrift ways of Everton. Yet even in moving to one of the giant clubs in Europe, he has rarely progressed out of a rigid 4-4-2. Rather than play a true No. 10 in Shinji Kagawa, Moyes has tried to use Wayne Rooney behind Robin van Persie up front, with nobody to pick out passes for these excellent finishers.

In 2012 and 2013, part of the Union narrative was that the team lacked a true No. 10. Freddy Adu, Roger Torres, Michael Farfan, Kleberson, and Keon Daniel were used in the role, but no one seemed to stack up.

Eventually, Hackworth settled on a 4-4-2 system that lacked the teeth to consistently threaten defenses. As the 2013 season played out, the flow of good service from the wings dried up as Sebastien LeToux was dogged with injury.

Has that now changed? We’ll see. There are many options available after the transfers of Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira, the drafting of Pedro Ribeiro, and the return of Zach Pfeffer from Germany. Aside from the team’s starting center back pairing, the playmaker question is the team’s most pressing issue as the new season approaches.

Rotate your veterans

Early in the Premier League season, Moyes asked for a lot out of 32-year-old Michael Carrick. Long considered one of the best holding midfielders in England, Carrick started the first 9 games in a row for the Red Devils. He then proceeded to miss 7 of his next 8 games nursing a lingering Achilles injury.

Not every player is going to be injury-riddled, but when it comes to a certain age, it’s best to manage your players’ health. Manchester United’s resources outweigh the Union’s mightily, so they have players like Darren Fletcher, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley, and even Anderson to step in to provide cover at that position.

There are players in a similar boat on the Union, and many writers and fans had concerns about the workload for some of the veterans. Conor Casey and Brian Carroll are both 32. Casey has a history of knee problems and missed the early part of the 2013 season with an ankle injury. He also scored just one goal in his last nine appearances of 2013. Carroll played in all but one league match and was certainly asked to do much last year in an often overmatched central midfield.

The depth and quality in both the midfield and forward ranks has never been better. While your toughest contests always call for your best XI, Carroll and Casey should both be more effective if they are given breaks from regularly starting.

Play your best players in their best position

With Kagawa on the outs, Manchester United acquired Juan Mata at the transfer window to fill the playmaking position. Yet Moyes has often shoehorned him into a role on the right, essentially hiding many of the Spaniard’s best qualities. His best year at Chelsea, the 2012-13 season, saw him stationed centrally 22 out of 29 appearances.

We’ve talked plenty about Amobi Okugo’s move to central defense, and while he is a good defender, proper use of his skills as a central midfielder may have made many of the Union’s midfield woes disappear.

Another key aspect will be how Hackworth uses Maidana. Most reports seem to indicate he does well centrally, but as a left-footed midfielder, will Hackworth see him as a left winger? Or will he be used centrally? If one isn’t working well, will Hackworth adjust the team’s tactics to bring the most out of Maidana, as well as his other players?

These are the types of questions that will be asked of Philadelphia Union — and principally John Hackworth — in 2014. Clearly the team was lacking in depth and quality in certain areas last season. With a big financial commitment in this offseason, expectations have grown. The potential is there, but as we’ve seen in the case of Manchester United, the manager can make all of the difference.


  1. Squad rotation has not been one of Coach Hackworth’s strong suits. I hope this year will be different.

    • Who was there to rotate outside of Kleberson?

    • Major issue with squad rotation for MLS teams is the lack of games for teams that arent in Champs league. All Union have is US Open Cup and MLS play. There needs to be another competition for all teams as well. Every game is a must win and allows for very few opportunities for guys like McLaughlin, Hernandez.

      • You and Coach agree on “every game is a must win.” I do not. Cup matches are all must-win. League matches are not all must-win.

      • League matches are not all must win, but that doesn’t make some “Meh, let’s start 5th choice players like McLaughlin” either.

        I think that’s what Chris was getting at. With more games, are more chances to play players who clearly would not be getting competitive minutes otherwise.

  2. The true answer to the question in the title is: don’t suck.

    (But seriously, very good article, it’s just that Moyes sucks)

    • SAF wasn’t exactly breaking open the piggy bank for transfers during his past few years. Yes, he brought in RVP, but where was the midfield and defensive help? Ashley Young? Phil Jones? Not exactly big-time deals for a top-flight club. There’s only so long you can rely on guys like Giggs and Scholes and Ferdinand. When their window was closing, Ferguson bolted. People act like Moyes was handed a championship team. He wasn’t. He was given a set of aging veterans and new, unproven guys. Now he has to rebuild the whole engine while fans are calling for his head and the Glazers are still paying off debt.

      • I may be forgetting things but didn’t Man Utd win the League last year? If so, then Moyes WAS in fact literally handed a championship team.

      • +1, literally

      • Yes but all the players were a year older.

        And with so many of them above 30, that matters a lot.

      • I agree. They won it last year but I don’t know how with that workaday midfield. Although Moyes seemed to get guys to perform at the top of their game before, whereas now.

      • I think ManU won the league by SAF getting his players to play above their ability and also by the other title contenders having poor years. Now that SAF is gone, Moyes does not have the ability (yet?) to get those players on the same page.

  3. We should see multiple formations and multiple starting XI this year. Hackworth needs to get the most out of his players, so if that means moving away from the formation he wants to run than I hope he adjusts accordingly. We were so 1 dimensional on attack last year it was easy for good teams to defend. Hopefully this year will be different.

  4. This is really the year for Hackworth. I for one have criticized him in the past. We can debate between him not having a roster and him mismanaging the roster he had, but really this is the year.
    Let’s all pray he steps up under pressure and shuts is all up.

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    On one hand I am excited with the players we have, and the fact that it is now truly Hack’s team.
    “But with great power, comes great responsibility” – Voltaire (yeah I looked up who said it first… something told me it wasn’t Stan Lee or Spider-Man)
    My point being that Hack has to prove he can manage. That I just have no confidence in. He is really going to have to show me he is willing to play the right guys. I will not be willing to give him another year if he mismanages this team out of a playoff spot. Put up or shut up.

  6. Man U had 86 crosses against Fulham this weekend-a record for United since OPTA began tracking. All I could think when I heard that stat was that “I’m pretty sure we beat that record last year.” Here’s to hoping Hackworth follows more in the Brendan Rogers direction.

  7. Glad to see this article, I think it’s relevant. I’m a Man Utd and Union fan, I often find myself criticising both teams for the same things. GoonerFan has it right regarding the change in MUFC’s play this year vs last. Moyes should and will get time to shape his own team. Still, he has a lot to prove to the fans and to the players. He hasn’t won anything and players come to United to win trophies. If they are in a similar position 12 months from now, he should go.

    Hackworth hasn’t really had that pressure, no one outside of Philly expects much from the Union. This year will be different. The front office and the fans will certainly expect better play and better results.

    Still, Union fans need patience this year. The coach understandably will begin the season conservatively. A new, and likely unsettled backline will make the goalie controversy difficult to assess. He needs to make sure the midfielders defend first. And here the Man Utd comparison comes back- they are woeful in defense this year, mainly because the midfield is old, tired, and lacking shape and discipline. The Carrick/Carroll comparison has always been there (for me at least). Earl rightly points out that these types of players need rest and rotation for the midfield to succeed on both ends of the pitch.

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