Commentary

A risk most managers wouldn’t take

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

This is why most professional managers don’t try to play attacking soccer.

Cynical soccer is easier. The percentages are higher. You can achieve more with less talent. It may not be as exciting minute to minute. It may not stir your imagination or inspire you to get out on a field with a ball and start playing. But it works. Add in some diving and clutching, and you have yourself a winner. It’s how Philadelphia Union nearly made the playoffs last year with the league’s worst midfield.

Attractive soccer? Fluid, attacking, possession-oriented soccer? Not so simple.

The Colorado parallel

Take the Colorado Rapids.

In 2010, they won the MLS Cup after placing 5th in the regular season thanks to a pair of top forwards in Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, a defensively oriented center midfield pairing of Pablo Mastroena and Jeff Larentowicz, and the park-the-bus mentality of coach Gary Smith.

In 2011, Smith deployed his negative tactics again, and the Rapids once again finished in the middle of the pack. It was the sixth straight year they had finished between fourth and sixth.

Meanwhile, the team’s attendance had stagnated. If you loved soccer and were dedicated to MLS, then maybe you went to Rapids games. The team got a 1,500-per-game attendance boost after their championship but still failed to regularly sell out games and drew just 8,202 fans to their lone 2011 home playoff game.

So the team parted ways with Smith and underwent a radical change.

They brought in Oscar Pareja and his attacking philosophy. Out went old stalwarts Casey, Cummings, Larentowicz and finally Mastroeni. In came a young crew of creative young players.

2012 proved a rough transition year for Colorado. They finished seventh.

But in 2013, Pareja’s vision flowered. Colorado became one of the league’s most exciting teams. Their fluid 4-3-3 produced flair and creativity. They were simply fun to watch. Attendance continued to inch higher.

The true test of a team’s draw on the consumer is whether people who aren’t fans of the team want to watch them. For example, do you have any interest in watching a Montreal-Chicago match? Of course not. But Seattle-Portland? You’re there.

As word got around last year, Colorado became one of those teams, a club that people talked about around the league and that you would watch even with no vested interest in the club.

That’s the quality that MLS clubs need if they are to sell out their stadiums every game and grow their base to the point where they are sustainable long-term businesses.

The Philadelphia experiment

Philadelphia Union went for that this year, following Colorado, Portland and New England.

They are in year 1 of that effort. They may never make it to year 2.

John Hackworth will have been manager of the Union for two years as of next month. But the first year and a half, as most know, were spent picking up the pieces after Peter Nowak demolished the Union’s roster and salary cap.

This year is all on Hackworth. His players, his system. It started with promise. The Union looked great in possession. Most still expected them to take a while to gel.

That’s exactly what happened, outside some tantalizing early signs of brilliance. They had a disconnect between a midfield playing too deep and not linking to a forward three.

Hackworth was still figuring his team out. It took some time to realize that Chaco Maidana is probably too slow and undisciplined to play the wing but functions very well as a roving No. 10, which is where he played immediately prior to joining the Union. Or that Maurice Edu is struggling to fill his role next to Brian Carroll. Or that Edu and Vincent Nogueira probably each function better when deployed one position farther back in the center midfield triangle. And if so, and if Maidana goes to the No. 10 in front of those two, with Carroll on the bench, who plays the left wing? Zach Pfeffer sure looked good the past two weeks.

And so forth.

It all goes wrong

Right now, the Union’s experiment looks bad. You can’t defend the club after they rolled over and died against Los Angeles on Sunday. The lineup was wrong, the players lacked confidence, and there was no cohesion. They didn’t get smoked by Los Angeles because they attacked too much, but rather because they made basic errors that gave away the game.

Following the departure of Jeff Parke, the back line has seen none of last year’s chemistry and stability, thanks to early season injuries to Sheanon Williams and Austin Berry and their slow return to form.

The Jack McInerney trade looks like Hackworth’s first major personnel misstep, and it’s a big one. But nobody knows if Montreal is picking up most of Andrew Wenger’s salary, which could be why the trade was really made, to free up money for a summer striker acquisition. The Union have to hope Andrew Wenger comes around like Dom Dwyer has. Remember Dwyer last year? He couldn’t hit the net if you dropped him on it. Now he leads the league in goals. Anything’s possible.

That’s the rub in all this.

Maybe you can do this experiment in a softer sports environment like Denver, where not enough people care about the Rapids anyway to care that their results were garbage for a season. Maybe it doesn’t work in Philadelphia, where fans call for sports managers’ heads more quickly than most American cities.

Or maybe it is as many critics say, that Hackworth simply lacks the tactical know-how to pull it off. Nearly all his moves as a general manager have looked good, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t put out the right lineups, make the right substitutions, or plan the right tactics.

Or if your players just play really bad for a while.

A risk worth taking?

You can clearly see why so few managers take the risk that Hackworth took in discarding a 2013 strategy that made a bad team look good for a while when he could have brought in better players to play the same negative soccer and likely produce better results.

I was one of those people last year who said the Union’s style of play needed to change. I said they needed to aspire to producing entertaining soccer even if it came at the expense of wins. So did many others.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I still feel that way. I have no interest in watching boring, park-the-bus soccer no matter how many wins it produces. Neither does the average Delaware Valley soccer fan who thinks that MLS is a vastly inferior product and instead watches English or Mexican soccer on weekends rather than checking out the Union.

But Hackworth won’t get any points for just having a vision and then submitting a lineup card that runs counter to it. If you’re going to go for it, go for it. Play the guys who fit the idea. You have gone all in. Let it ride. If you’re going down, you might as well do it sticking to your vision instead of throwing random lineups at the wall to see what sticks.

Here’s how to go for it.

Play this lineup on Saturday if everyone’s healthy. Then leave it alone for a few weeks. If you don’t stick with your vision, nobody else will either.

This lineup should start against Chivas USA.

91 Comments

  1. The last full paragraph of the Philadelphia Experiment section is exactly why Hack has to go — the number of players on this team playing out of their natural/preferred position, when the team has not suffered a major amount of injuries (FC Dallas, anyone) is 100% on the coach. I do agree with you that the constant lineup switches contribute to the problems, especially on the back line.

  2. Care to revise your timetable before you would consider firing Hack?

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Nah man, I think what I said was good enough. 😉 I said come see me in September, the implication being that we would know by then how things turn out, not necessarily that he should be fired then or that anyone should wait till then. Obviously, whatever is going to happen is going to happen, whether I revise a statement from several weeks ago or not.

  3. John Ling says:

    I would love to see that lineup. I think if given some time to gel, Le Toux and Wenger would compliment one another nicely up top. That said…
    .
    “Maybe it doesn’t work in Philadelphia, where fans call for sports managers’ heads more quickly than most American cities.”
    .
    I don’t agree with this statement. I think Philadelphia fans are willing to work with a manager of a bad team – as long as they think that manager knows what he’s doing in the long term. The Sixers are the currernt example. Nobody likes tanking, but at least everybody understands Hinkie’s plan. At least Sixers fans can look at Brett Brown and his system and see a future. And there are other examples, too. Larry Brown in the late 90s. Larry Bowa in the early 00s. Chip Kelly before last year.
    .
    Two things, I think, play into your statement and maybe give the appearance of wanting managers fired. First, Philly sports fans, on the whole, understand the games they watch. Second, Philly sports fans don’t suffer fools gladly. It’s the combination of those two, I think, that have Hackworth on the fans’ wrong side. The problem isn’t that the Union are losing. It’s the way they’re losing; it’s the lack of heart being shown on the field. It’s the lack of confidence being shown by the coach for making the right decisions. It’s the fact that, it seems, our best choices for playing Center Back are a fullback, a forward, and a midfielder – despite drafting a CB and acquiring two during the offseason.
    .
    So, no. I don’t think Philadelphia fans are – on the whole – quick to call for a coach’s termination. What they are is unwilling to accept BS – BS lineups, BS “I gotta put my team in better positions,” BS high-priced signings who appear uninterested. (I’m looking at you, Mo.) That is when the Philly fan – the average fan – calls for a coaching and / or front office change.

    • McMohansky says:

      John is much closer to any dominant truth of the “philadelphia sports fan” analysis.
      .
      Dan- your either/or assumptions about this team are misleading and disingenuous. It doesn’t have to be either we accept some losses (and by extension give Hack more time) on the way to more attractive football. Or we try to be a mid table team who plays route 1 and fits in players that can produce results in a “regressive” system.
      This team has given up, period. It has quit on the coach Moyes-style and are mailing it in.
      How does anyone explain Amobi Okugo this year? He has been flat out awful. And please everyone stop with the out-of-position excuses. Professionals play a less desired position all the time, in every league, and do their job well. Not on this team. How else does anyone explain the “veteran leaders” all having their worst season at the same time?
      .
      Hack is out after Chivas. This can’t continue.

      • John Ling says:

        I think after Vancouver is more likely.

      • Dan Walsh says:

        I don’t disagree with any of that — other than the part about me being disingenuous! 🙂

        You skipped over a key part of the post:

        “You can’t defend the club after they rolled over and died against Los Angeles on Sunday. The lineup was wrong, the players lacked confidence, and there was no cohesion. They didn’t get smoked by Los Angeles because they attacked too much, but rather because they made basic errors that gave away the game.”

      • John Ling says:

        Well, to be fair, McMo didn’t say you were disingenuous – just your assumptions. 😉

      • Dan Walsh says:

        Same thing.

    • There is nothing to add to this cogent, erudite statement. Well said.
      .
      It tell my children all the time- (just so they realize I am two steps ahead of them) I am forever attempting to play chess in what I say and do — and so are many fans of this great city.

    • -nickt.- says:

      agreed

  4. UnionDues says:

    So Hackworth gets a pass because, well, at least he tried to play a possession game? A pretend 4-3-3 that was never anything but a 4-5-1?

    Hack’s possession “system”, before it completely broke down prior to even the half season mark, never looked even remotely dangerous. There were a lot of square balls, balls played backwards, and balls played to the wings for the fullbacks to serve in low percentage crosses. The team has never been able to attack through the middle with anything other than a through ball behind the defense. Opponents simply dropped deeper to prevent this from happening.

    Hack has lost the locker room, no matter what “his” guys are saying on Twitter. See, for example, Edu arguing on the field with Hackworth for a quick restart, with Hack insisting on yet another ineffectual long throw-in instead. See the complete lack of effort from the marquee players. See the team laying down and quitting this past weekend. See how the early defensive lapses have become complete chaos and disarray players who ought to know better.

    This coach should never have been given this head coaching position. His career should have been on death watch after those humiliating U-17 World Cup losses.

  5. Like the line-up. If Hack is going to get canned, at least go out by putting your best 11 on the field and seeing what happens. For better or for worse, I do think you’ve captured our most talented 11 right now.

    • If he played that lineup I’d give him a pass for a few more weeks. (although I’d also request Ribiero on the bench) The reason very few people like Hackworth is that not once has he put his best 11 players on the field together . . . not once! Not just this year where injuries contributed but last (Kleberson and Torres wasted away in favor of Daniels and Lahoud). Put your most talented 11 players on the field regardless of your BS coaching/practice/fitness doghouse and I think many people would be at least temporarily appeased.

  6. Portland is off to a slow start this year and have struggled at times. But did Porter switch to a 4-2-3-1, and then try a 4-4-2 diamond, and then go back to a 4-3-3, and then switch to a 4-5-1….No! He stayed with the 4-3-3. He has a system and a vision for how his team should play. Porter will turn it around in Portland because he believes in his own system. Hackworth will fail here because it should be obvious that he doesn’t believe in any one system or style of play but seems to be throwing out different formations and systems and player combinations in the desperate hope that one of them actually works.

    • Great analogy. I’d also offer up DC as a comparison; after last year Olson went out and got a squad of players that fit his vision, and he plays them. It’s that consistency between the team’s vision, player acquisition and player deployment that’s been completely missing in Philly.

    • Great point. I’m not sure Coach is just “throwing out different formations,” but for sure, grouphugs notwithstanding, the players do not look like they have bought into whatever system Coach is trying to implement.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      +1. Very good comparison.

    • John Hackworth v Caleb Porter in a Celebrity Death Match.
      .
      As that great dutch footballer cruyff once said, ‘you gotta be willing to die by your own ideas.’
      .
      Porter is willing to, Hackworth is willy nilly.

      Caleb Porter easily wins with a swift riposte to the Union managers chest.

  7. I don’t usually play the “what’s your starting XI” game but I’d like to see Pfeffer on the wing. Also, I want to write the name “Pfeffer” as much as possible. It is a very, very fun set of letters. Pfeffer.

  8. Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

    Dan,
    I love the site, but this whole article reads like a Hackworth apologist manifesto. He needs to go. Regardless of the circumstances, only one player has improved in the 2 1/2 years he has managed. (Macmath and maybe Gaddis, so there is 2). It is one thing if the team does not win games because of the situation the manager inherits but it is a totally different situation if the entire team regresses game after game, season after season.

    There is no “plan”. The plan in the summer was to spend money on foreign players (Edu playing over seas) to shut the fan base up. There was no consideration of how everyone would fit together and entire positions were ignored.

    I have absolutely zero faith that this man will succesfully manage an MLS squad. Nothing personal, I just don’t see anything over the past 2 1/2 years that says otherwise. All of the Hackworth apologists used to be out in full force and they are gone….

    The plan to distract the fans by spending money almost, almost, worked until the WC break.

    • I agree about the off-season acquisitions. Their three big acquisitions seem to check a series of boxes more for marketing reasons than soccer reasons. I think the front office’s thinking went something like this:

      1. Maurice Edu – USMNT player in a World Cup year. Will sell a lot of jerseys and be really marketable, especially if he makes the WC squad. Will appeal to casual fans who only pay attention to soccer in WC years so they will start paying attention to us.

      2. Vincent Nogueira – European pedigree from a top European league. Will appeal to Euro-snobs so they will start paying attention to us.

      3. Chaco Maidana – Flashy South American player who will appeal to the untapped Latin/Hispanic fan base so they will start paying attention to us.

      4. The biggest complaint of everyone that already pays attention to us is that our midfield was bad last season, so we need to sign exclusively midfielders so it looks like we are trying to address our biggest problem, even if they are redundant with players we already have on the roster or with each other. This way all those fans won’t stop paying attention to us.

      • I think you are overthinking this one with the exception to Edu and even then there is a bit of an asterisk.
        /
        I believe that Edu essentially fell into the Unions lap and they felt they had to take him. Were there marketing considerations sure, but those marketing considerations were because he was such a good player. So i am sure in the minds of the people who made these decisions it was a no lose proposition. The problem came when it was decided that Carroll would still have his position on the field and Okugo would just become a box to box midfielder because in Hackworths world all you have to do is run fast and work hard to play any position. That is when everything started going sideways.
        /
        As far as the midfield goes I like that to the Flyers signing Ilya Bryzgalov. After getting bounced out of the Stanley Cup on the softest goal ever. Snyder decreed we shall solve our goalie situation forever and ended up spending 7 million dollars on a Stalinist headcase(even by hockey goalie standards)
        The Unions reworking of the midfield reminds me of that. Even though I will argue we have actually really improved our midfield and they just aren’t being used properly and we still need a creative playmaker.

      • Though it will be argued that in the case of Edu or even Adu these decisions were made not with the current construstion of the team as a whole in mind.

      • @sieve!:

        They needed to address the midfield. The Nogs signing was smart. The Maidana signing still has potential to bear fruit if they had a manager who knew how to use him. While Edu is a good player who has a track record of success in MLS, he is surplus to a midfield of Nogs and Okugo. They would have been better off had they used the money spent on Edu in other places of need that have been discussed ad nauseum. Targeting a USMNT player was smart for business reasons, but I agree it seemed like they just went after whoever fell into their lap (Bradley first, then Edu when Bradley didn’t work out). I think they would have been better off targeting Parkhurst in a position of need along the back line and still checked the USMNT player box (although a defender wouldn’t be as marketable to the fanbase).

        Also, I am admittedly a little cynical about the FO by the way the season has gone so far.

      • I agree. But Edu was there and they decided to take it. If they benched Carroll and let Edu just do his thing it would have worked out, If not for the best definitely for the better.
        /
        If the coach had utilized these players to the best of their ability we might have been sniffing a playoff spot and not clamoring for the kids to play.

      • Thank God Bradley didn’t come here- an attacking mid at Roma, with wonderful skill, he would be made a sweeper here.

      • Agree with this assessment 100%.

      • It seems to me that Edu, Nog, and Chaco were brought in for on-field reasons. Our midfield was terrible last year. They went out and spent a sizable amount of money to try and fix it. Now they have a hole at ST and are looking to go fill that as well.
        /
        There are definitely problems with the team, but I don’t doubt that they are/were trying to improve.

      • I agree they needed to focus on the midfield, but I think they over-compensated when they should have focused on other areas as well.

      • Agreed about Edu. He’s not worth the money we pay him, considering his lack of effort.
        .
        IMO the best course of action for the immediate and long-term future is to get rid of Edu and allocate his salary toward acquiring a starting quality striker / center back / locking down Nogueira and Okugo long-term. Okugo has been playing better than Edu, and can improve well beyond Edu’s current ability, all for less than half the salary (for now).
        .
        Regarding Hackworth, I’ve recently been looking at the players’ salaries released by MLS, and what I’ve found most troubling is: not only does Hackworth make poor in-game decisions, but he’s not really all that good of a business-man either. For example, Houston spends hundreds of thousands of dollars less than us on player salaries, yet are positioned significantly higher in the standings. This is because Houston doesn’t waste money on players who the coach doesn’t consider to be MLS quality (emphasis on the coach’s opinion), i.e. Hernandez, Marquez, Mclaughlin, Ribeiro, White. Houston keeps to the bare bones and trusts that their young guys and draft picks will acclimate to MLS, instead of letting them languish in the lower divisions for long periods of time (multiple seasons in the cases of McLaughlin and Hernandez). Because of this, their players’ receive average salaries almost $10,000 more than ours. Obviously, higher wages don’t necessarily mean better players, but it can’t hurt.
        .
        I just can’t see what the FO sees in Hackworth. He wastes his assets. He fails at business and he fails at soccer. I guess Sak just places an extremely high value on yes-men.

      • “I guess Sak just places an extremely high value on yes-men.”

        It would be funnier if it wasn’t so true.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      That sucks. Not the comment — very good comment — but the fact that this column reads to you like an apologist manifesto. If so, the column failed. And maybe it did. It wouldn’t be the first time. I banged it out pretty quickly with a baby in my lap after trashing an entire (and far shittier and less interesting) 900-word column titled “So this is the bottom — again,” which I trashed because I felt the Union were making their fans miserable enough without me pouring salt in the wound by reminding them about the 2012 meltdown, which everyone previously thought was rock bottom.

      My intent with the column above was to look at the Union’s shittiness from a different perspective and explain it in a balanced fashion, acknowledging the fact that the team just sucks right now, regardless of what style/formation/philosophy they employ, but also looking at a key dynamic that drove much of the changes this year. Also, philosophically speaking, it’s a bit harder for me to trash the decision-making on style of play when I was one of the people calling for this style of play, even at the expense of wins. That would the kind of convenient flip flop that I hate seeing from columnists.

      At this point, I’d rather not even watch the Union after how badly (and boring) they played on Sunday, but I have a weekly column that runs every Tuesday. So I figure … maybe I can add something to the discussion. I definitely didn’t want it to be an apologist viewpoint on behalf of Hackworth though.

      • I for one didn’t take it as an apologist manifesto; it was more of a detailed and balanced analysis than we probably have any right getting on a fansite for free. But I disagree that the results are due to the ‘risks’ that Hackworth took to switch to a ‘beautiful’ style. The problem is that he’s only committed about 75% to such a style. When the chips are down he seems to waffle on his commitment, and we go back to ‘hustle’ and ‘grit’. Hell, if he thinks Wheeler should play CB, put him there and leave him there. I think the players are confused by the lack of follow-through on the original vision for the team, and they’ve lost heart.

      • Dan Walsh says:

        Thanks. Yeah, that’s what I was trying to convey at the end there, what you said. Don’t get me wrong: I think he was right to do so vs. KC. But overall, there should be follow-through on the vision, as ou said.

      • Tracy Kuntzler says:

        I found the article to be very thought provoking. So in no way did it fail Dan.

      • I’d put it this way: when the current opinion is 75-25 on an issue (i.e., fire Hack), an article with a 50-50 balance looks biased. Am I making any sense?
        .
        Either way, I don’t think we’ve been burned on the counter while playing attacking soccer all that often–Montreal game 1 is the only one that comes to mind off the top of my head. We’ve been burned because of 1.) lack of discipline, 2.) lack of intensity, and 3.) lack of cohesion between the lines. None of those have anything to do with style, and considering the off-season circumstances, I think we could all live with the team lacking cohesion if they could play with their heads on straight consistently.
        .
        This team needs a fire lit up their backside. They are simply too good to be playing this way. If Hackworth can’t do it, we need to find someone who will.

      • Dan Walsh says:

        Sure, it makes sense. Then again, I was ripping Peter Nowak a new one back when many Union fans were still saying “In Nowak we trust,” so me being in the 25% is nothing new. 😉 (Although yeah, I was aiming for the 50-50 balance thing.)

        All that said, good comment.

      • John Ling says:

        So, what you’re saying is that you’re a contrarian? 😉

      • Dan Walsh says:

        Nah. Just an independent thinker. 🙂

        Here’s the metaphor I used to give my little girl. (I stopped. It failed!) The river flows one way. Some people go with the flow. Some people go against it. You should walk in the water as if there was no flow.

        Deep thoughts, by Jack Handy.

      • I enjoyed the column. After I watch the sky fall with my own eyes, I don’t want to read a rant about how the sky fell. I crave positivity, and this site has it, even when things fall apart. “Why Hack Must Go” and “What Hack Needs to Do Better” are two sides to the same coin, but convey the same information in completely different ways (reductive/constructive). Hack won’t be fired or kept due to either column, so why make that the focus.
        .
        When things are this bad with the object of your coverage, it’s impossible to write something that everyone will agree with, so just stick to what you want to say. The negative aspects were all there, just not shouted.

  9. My only issue here is that you make it sound like our problems are more “OMG What a big risk Hackworth took!” and less “Hackworth is a bad coach.”

    It’s not a risk to try to play attractive soccer with a different formation. It’s a risk to train a second division striker from Finland into a CB … THEN START HIM over two CBs YOU TRADED FOR.

    It’s a risk to be blinded by a honeymoon and not see for yourself that Carrol isn’t getting it done and Okugo has skills that are wasted at CB.

    It’s pure incompetence to see that our strikers can’t get consistent service … and continuously subbing in a striker over fixing the midfield. Or Starting Hop and Cruz and expecting something different.

    The majority of our issues start and end with the coach being bad. Not some inherent “Well hey it’s always a risk to try something new…” Yeah … thats a risk. But that risk isn’t the problem when your coach to to dumb to give your team the best possible chances of success.

  10. I want to see that lineup, Edu needs to play CDM

  11. Great article. Its very enlightening. I 100% agree with keeping the same line up for a few games. I feel another huge problem with Hackworth is that he changes the line up every game instead of letting a starting 11 gel. The frustration to me is that Hack was quoted as saying that he was never going to have a starting 11 and that teams from the MLS and across the ocean never have a full starting 11. He is partially correct except that this Union team definitely needs a starting 11 in this situation. This should have been a plan from the beginning of the year. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t.
    One of my concerns on this team and what I always look at in a team is the basics, touch. Unfortunately a lot of players on this team still need to work on their touch on the ball. Too many times I see players not keeping the ball to their feet when dribbling and wasting opportunities. Gaddis last year was a huge culprit of poor trapping and touch, but I’m happy to say that he has improved a lot with his touch this year and it shows his success on the field. Another player in the back with great touch and skill is Fabinho, yes he has lost his mark at times but he still tries to get back and has shut down important opposing players. If we’re going to pick on Fab. in this aspect then the whole back-line is at fault as well. He is a pro when having possession with the ball and getting pressured. He also has been good with stealing the ball from opposing players. So in your preferred line up I would have to exclude Williams and Berry who have been extremely poor all year. I would also replace Le Toux with Cruz. Le Toux has underachieved all year and I believe he will not get any better going forward. His touch and creativity have gone out the window. He hasn’t been a game changer this year when we need him to be.
    I agree with the style of play needing a change. Right now all I see the plan being is to get the ball out wide to the outside backs and just cross the ball back into the box over and over and over. This has not worked the whole season. They need to play starting from the back line through the middle and to the offense gradually. Unfortunately this means they have to be moving on and off the ball constantly which they haven’t done all year. It also means the back-line has to be disciplined with their passing and need to move for each other to get into space as well. the obvious and perfect example of this style of play is Nogueira. This style is quite simple too, bc it enforces playing simple and waiting for plays to open up instead of forcing the ball. Again, this involves MOVEMENT on and off the ball which the Union have not been successful in doing. Lastly, I would include Hoppenot and Pfeffer up top and see if they can link up well with each other. Either way I think they both need to start for this team to have any chance of success going forward.

    • The teams across the ocean do not have a starting eleven because they have important cup runs to consider.
      .
      The have Europa and UEFA considerations as well.
      .
      We have, at this point a 30 some game season. Find a starting eleven and stick with it.

      • athletico madrid did okay with pretty much the same 11 guys, as long as they were fit to play (and sometimes when they were not fit to play)

    • With regard to movement, it seemed that Noguiera started the season being quite demonstrative on the field telling people where he wanted them to move, and turning his palms up when he had the ball and no one gave him an outlet to pass. I haven’t seen that from him the last 4-5 games.

      I could definitely be wrong, but it just seems like after only 10 games he realized it was a lost cause. He dumbed down his game rather than continue trying to pull the others to his level (maybe because there was no corresponding coaching emphasis in training? OK, I fully admit that is a blind guess with no known facts whatsoever to back it up).

      I still assert there has been a noticeable drop in the jauntiness of Noguiera’s step. I guess losing and a year and a half straight of soccer could cause that too.

      • I agree. he is much less about moving players in to position. likely because they are inept.

      • I’d hate to see Nogs go. He’s currently the best part of watching Union play.

  12. philsoc8 says:

    Lineup works for me, but when does Andrew Blake get a shot?

    • Open Cup.

    • He gets a shot when MacMath is injured. He was brought in to push MacMath to up his game. And that’s exactly what happened.

      Blake is the backup and that is the bottom line. This sorta of Starter-Backup confusion is exactly what has been screwed up with Williams and Gaddis.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Very expensive motivational roster player.

      • As bad a decision it was it was sadly the only one that has actually worked out this year for Hackworth. MAcMath looks very good.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Agreed.

      • John Ling says:

        I don’t think Blake is a motivational player at all. He’s definitely here to push MacMath. No doubt about it. And I think the team’s best dreams have come true – in an upcoming off-season that will have an expansion draft, they have (for the moment at least) a very tradeable commodity in Macmath, and an untouchable in Blake – in year’s past, GA players are exempt for the draft.
        .
        And if the plan goes “super-nova” on the team and MacMath develops to the point of being an all-star and in the discussion of league-best, they instead trade Blake.
        .
        Blake is motivation. But he’s also expansion draft insurance. And I think the latter is more important, from their POV.

      • scottymac says:

        The hard part of the expansion draft is no longer can we afford to protect two keepers. Could we even name 11 worthy of protecting?

        Do we even have to protect Edu? If NYCFC took him, would they be on the hook for the purchase? I’d be ok with leaving him off the list, not that he isn’t talented, but either team would have to plunk down significant cap space right away. Though I can’t imagine Jason Kreis’ teams 3 times a year backed by oil money.Shudder.

  13. I really like that starting XI. And you have ready substitutes for all 3 up front: Fernandes, Casey, and Cruz respectively.

  14. George H says:

    I think that Hackworth is a nice man who has been put in a difficult situation as the front man to a dysfunctional organization. However, I do think that he has been a bit stubborn in his approach this season and only recently started to switch around his starting XI as he desperately searches for something that works. That is not a good spot for a manager to be in as the players can sense this and they typically underperform during this uncertain period, probably waiting for the manager to get fired. This is where we are right now.

    As much as I want to believe in what Dan is saying that Hackworth is trying to do, I can’t get my head around the fact that we’re in our 5th season and we’re probably worse off than we were in Year 1. Worst of all, we don’t seem like we have a plan to progress beyond where we are and without that, I’m not sure where this is all going.

    I think that if we were watching Pfeffer, McLaughlin and a bunch of young, promising players playing, we would feel much different about where we are as a club. However, I’m not willing to be patient with what we are doing right now as it doesn’t seem like we’re progressing at all.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      And that’s the dilemma in a nutshell. Well said.

    • Boy, to me this comment nails it. It’s not necessarily the losing (as much as that sucks), it’s losing with the promise of better days ahead. That was supposed to be last year. This year we are actually worse, and there’s nothing being thrown out there to allow us to latch onto the thought that the end of the rainbow is just around the bend.

  15. OneManWolfpack says:

    When you actually start Hopp and Cruz up top (or just Hopp depending on how you look at it) in an MLS game you have admitted to everyone that you are out of ideas. If the manager is ever so desperate as to do this, he should be fired. Period.
    .
    I was in the “give Hack the season and asses the smoldering pile of wreckage when it’s all over” camp… BUT now I am now fully out of that camp, and in the “please for the love of god, take advantage of the 3 week WC break and fire him ASAP so they can bring a guy in and give him some time to figure this out” camp. Pull the trigger.

  16. The Black Hand says:

    Hackworth has been poor, for the entire time he has managed. How are you so entrenched in his camp, Dan? I really can’t see it…

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Eh, I’m really not. I just want to see exciting, fun, beautiful soccer. I fell in love with the sport in Brazil. That’s what I want to see. I’m like that with all sports. I’m a Knicks fan who hated the Knicks’ style in the 90s, moreso because they and the Pistons influenced stylistic changes in the NBA that took the fun out of the game. At one point in the last decade, the only team worth watching in the NBA was the Phoenix Suns. In baseball, I want stolen bases, hit-and-runs, diving catches and triples. In football, I want passes across the middle, three-WR sets, and coaches who go for it on 4th-and-1 near midfield.

      If Hackworth gets fired, there is a good chance that whoever they bring in will go really conservative, and nobody will take this shot again. I want to see it run its course. Maybe the course it runs is that he gets fired. Me personally, I want to see.

      Also, I just try to stay intellectually consistent. It’s not until the last two games that I ever said, “These guys just absolutely suck.” Most of their losses had been one-goal losses. The last two … obviously they force you (me) to reevaluate. I just haven’t done that publicly yet.

      But I wanted to throw up on that starting lineup, just like everyone else.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I’m with you on wanting to see some of the beautiful game, played at PPL Park…by the Union.
        .
        I, personally, don’t think that Hackworth can recognize what it takes to achieve that. His last XI drove that fact home. There is nothing beautiful about Cruz, Fernandes and Hoppenot being the starting attackers…nothing.
        .
        Our early games had pleasant aspects (cohesive midfield play, minus Carroll), but we were not really playing well…at all. The possession was nice to see but it was incomplete, mostly due to a wrong personnel choice. That falls on Hackworth.
        .
        The one goal losses are MUCH better looking, but they were close due to our opposition making mistakes. At least, three of those could have been blowouts. (Granted we had our own chances, but we had trouble putting shots on frame…or even near frame).
        .
        The decision to scrap Okugo, at CDM (one of the fee bright spots this year) and wheel Carroll back out there, shows that Hackworth has none of the guts needed to turn this ship around. Okugo’s contributions in the middle would far outweigh the lumps we would take with a Berry/White CB pairing.
        .
        I feel like we are trending away from intelligent play and have been for a long time.

      • The problem is that the players can not play attractive soccer; they just are not good enough. Look at how often their passes break down in midfield! Because they do break down too often we do not penetrate the opposition’s box enough. And when we do, we either overcook the cross, have no runners, or fluff the shot, as Fernandez did in the first half on Sunday.

      • funny guido when the team sets up shop one or two times a game to actually run an offense outside the other teams box…
        .
        … I usually think to myself, well that took long enough. here we are though! made it to the other end – phew- all without running scattershot to do it– that resembled football, oops bad pass/touch — yep, that’s over quick….
        audible sigh….

  17. Great article, Dan. I think the most concerning thing about this new, beautiful style of soccer that we were promised is that it has largely been anything but new and beautiful.
    .
    I may be alone in this, but I think their attack looked most potent when Okugo and Nog were in the midfield together. I honestly think that the most threatening offensive performance this year was the 3-5 loss to NE. They had issues in the back, but that was the best offensive ball they’ve played this year. They moved the ball around well and generated chances.
    .
    I hate to say this, but when Okugo played in the midfield, he looked like a better version of Edu. Carroll is good defensively, but he adds absolutely NOTHING to the attack. It’s awful. Maybe he can play CB instead of Amobi. I cannot reiterate it enough, Amobi showed flashes of real brilliance when he was given the chance to play Mid. It needs to be a permanent switch regardless of how much the defense struggles. Amobi to mid, then fix the defense from there.

    • you are not alone in seeing some good in the 3-5 loss to NE

    • The Black Hand says:

      They generated those chances, with exception to very early, after NE had packed the bus and stuck on the pitch. As good as the Rev’s form had been, they were not a team that should have put 5 on us.

    • Yes, agree 100%. Okugo needs to play in the DM spot. Bench Carroll, trade Edu. Start Berry and White at CB. Whatever you have to do. But play Okugo and Nogs as your central defensive midfield duo and build the team from there.

  18. Just got a voicemail from the Union front office trying to get me to buy more tickets for later this year. Seriously? I do my best to support the team/sport and have bought at least a 5-game pack every year. This year I was optimistic that at a minimum the footy would be enjoyable. I try to take some friends who haven’t been exposed to soccer yet and get them interested. After my last game, the debacle vs New England, and now this, I’m afraid I’m doing the beautiful game a disservice by taking people to Union matches. Piss off front office, dumb to call me looking for more money after this team’s performance so far.

  19. thanks for the article – it is a fair effort to look at why things have gone off the rails.. I looked at the lineup before last game and it seemed okay except up front. and then the game started … and the 2 short CBs were exposed … and it became apparent this is just not Williams season … and that while Carroll helps defensively it leaves Edu confused … and the fact that Edu is confused is disheartening because he is supposed to be good and able to deal with playing anywhere in MF … and the Leo experiment at #10 needs to end – when he bailed on the through pass into the box it showed he’s too tentative to play in a pressure position … and Leo gives the ball away a lot … and hoppenot cannot be your lead striker … and early crosses to a space don’t yield chances on goal … and Ray is better on the ball this year but I still remeber the Houston home game where they seemed to want to let him to have the ball, then pressure him when he got it to win it back. I like your lineup – and agree it should stay the same for a while. all the games and injuries and suspensions and call-ups seemed to have weakened the side, or stated differently, exposed its weakness more than ever.

  20. You can’t win games by constantly changing the CB pairing week in and week out. I also don’t think that constant line up changes based on how well guys show in practice is the way to manage a professional sports team. I’m all for sticking with a consistent 11. That said, I am also all for cleaning house from top to bottom now and without any further debate on the subject. That same team last year that parked the bus to win games crashed out of the playoffs with a horrible 10 or so game stretch. We were basically DC United minus some late game heroics by Jack Mac in the first half of last season.

  21. philpill says:

    2013 Coach Hackworth refuses to change XI for better talent in 18.
    2014 Coach Hackworth refuses to field same XI with multiple new faces. One constant: start BC every time.

  22. Murphthesurf says:

    Is Hack dating bc ‘ s sister?

  23. Dan if there is any justice you’ll someday be able to write articles with headlines like “Union domination continues” or “Union front office nails it again!”, instead of the endless variation of the “We sure do stink but…” variety. On the plus side, you are demonstrating your qualification to be the Washington Generals beat man.

    • Ha! While I was walking back to my car after the most-recent New England game/debacle, I remember thinking to myself that I had just watched the soccer version of the Globetrotters vs. Washington Generals.

  24. Southside Johnny says:

    Dan, whether or not I totally agree point by point, your piece is a superbly succinct and timely capsule summary of how things have gone for Hack and the team. For me, from the beginning this team has gone from a young, developing team playing an underdog role in the league (and, actually doing remarkably well despite the coaching) to an absolute conundrum in the truest sense. This year whenever I try to think about what is wrong with this team, the number and complexity of the problems overwhelm me. But the one thing that is clear to me is that whoever coaches this team from here on needs to go with a lineup and shape long enough to give the players time to develop chemistry and to have enough data to assess the whole thing. This should have been done at the beginning of the year, but it still has to be done to move on. I was one of the bunkerball haters as well and would still pursue a more attractive game. I think your lineup is as good as any to go with. Thanks for the article.

  25. Murphthesurf says:

    Someone needs to motivate this group. ..hack is just too nice.
    Fail.

    “Hey- Ho, Let’s GO!”
    (Ramones)

  26. scottymac says:

    I was on the Fire Hack train a long time ago. Thought especially last season when he presided over the end of year collapse.

    All of the original points in his favor have proven to be false.

    He is not actually a developer of youth.
    He is not a tactician capable of providing attractive soccer.
    By his comments this season throwing a few players under the bus (Berry and Maidana leap to mind in pressers), he actually isn’t “nice” or a players coach.
    And most damning, he isn’t Peter Nowak. Actually, he really kind of is.

    You are your record. His record is one of failure (except the year he inherited an Elite 8 Univ South FLA team and went out in first round). It is of sticking with “his guys”, even when better players pass through (Cruz and Brek Shea; Keon vs Torres/Kleberson).

    It doesn’t matter what style the replacement deploys. Everyday Hackworth is manager is now setting the team back. The fan base erodes by the hour. You will start to see it in terms of this site’s own analytics, fewer and fewer clicks here. People will stop caring.

  27. george fleck says:

    The players know well their teammates abilities,so when they see over-the-hill (Carroll) or technically challenged player (Cruz) starting while better players sit, they lose respect for the manager. Last season they had a decent attacking midfielder and fan favorite in Torres who Hackworth refused to put on the pitch. Hackworth is a taller, younger version of Nowak, only worse. The Union team and fans deserve better.

  28. Tracy Kuntzler says:

    Again. Great article Dan. I have been thinking to myself over the last month whether I would prefer the Union go back to the ugly, defense oriented counter attacking team that produced lots of clean sheets and 1-0, 0-0, and 1-1 results. Honestly at this point I’d prefer to go back to that. Boring? Yes! But at least we didn’t get blown out every week. At least we had a shot at the playoffs keeping games close and trying to scratch out a single goal while mostly keeping eleven men behind the ball.

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