With Hackworth out, Union begin search for new coach, direction

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Philadelphia is coming off a decent result this weekend against Vancouver, but that wasn’t enough to save John Hackworth’s job. Today, the Union announced the dismissal of the club’s second ever head coach, with assistant coach Jim Curtain taking the reigns in an interim capacity.

“We are an ambitious club and although we are just in our fifth season we expect to win and be in the top-tier of MLS,” Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said in a statement issued by the club. “We have begun an ambitious and global search for a team manager who will help guide us to our goal of competing to win the MLS Cup.

“Philadelphia is a major market and we expect that there will be significant interest from a wide variety of qualified candidates to become Philadelphia Union’s team manager.”

This move has been long-discusssed, but at first glance, the timing seems curious. The Union are coming off a home draw against one of the league’s better teams, and with Conor Casey instilled as the team’s number nine, there’s reason (if small) to think the team has solved its early season goal scoring woes.

In the bigger picture, however, Hackworth hasn’t impressed since an initial surge after the departure of Peter Nowak convinced Sakiewicz to give him the full-time job. In the two years that’ve followed, middling results (23-30-20) and a lack of direction led to constant speculation about Hackworth’s future.

With the World Cup break here and with the transfer window opening next month, now was the time to make a change, if a change was going to be made at all. Given rumors that Philadelphia may go shopping in July, the issue for Sakiewicz’s team may have been whether they trusted Hackworth to do more with new tools than he’d done with the old.

In that way, though, Hackworth embodied the organization around him. Now in its fifth season, the Union have never been a major player in the East, making the playoffs only once. Entrusting their future of Nowak at the onset, the team never developed a new direction after his dismissal, eventually defaulting to an interim who steadied the ship after his predecessor’s dramatic departure.

With flashes of decency amid longer stretches of worry, Hackworth proven no different from his the front office or the cast of talents that’ve come and gone over the last few years in Chester (Freddy Adu, Kleberson, for example). Nobody’s been able to build around that once enviable young core.

At this point, however, Philadelphia can’t keep looking toward tomorrow. Jack McInerney and the Farfans are gone, and Amobi Okugo’s promise isn’t enough to call a young, building team. Beyond Okugo (already 23) and perhaps Andre Blake, there are no stars of tomorrow.

With Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira and an experienced group of complementary pieces, the future is here in Philadelphia. Hackworth, however, had yet to show himself capable of making the present a successful one.

This time, Sakiewicz can’t settle. This change isn’t as sudden or dramatic as the last. Having been able to assess his team’s weaknesses, Sakiewicz can do into this search knowing how to change the Union’s future. If he can’t find the right person for the job, it will say as much about the organization as it does the coach.