Everything went according to plan on Friday for John Hackworth and his U.S. Under-17 Men’s National team, and now the Americans sit in a strong position heading into their next two group-stage matches.
The U.S. U-17s picked up a 1-0 opening day victory over host nation India, giving the Baby Yanks a place at the top of Group A for the time being.
Josh Sargent — who recently committed to play for Werder Bremen starting in 2018 — gave the U.S. its opener in the 30th minute after the dangerous attacker was brought down inside the penalty area just moments sooner.
The hosts mounted some pressure towards the end of the opening stanza through Aniket Jadhav, but both of his chances in the final minutes of the first half fell short.
Second-half finishes from Chris Durkin and Andrew Carleton sealed the game for the Americans, who currently sit atop Group A on three points and +3 goal differential.
Next up for the U.S. will be Ghana on October 9 before closing out group play three days later against Colombia.
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.
The Union splashed the cash to bring Maurice Edu to town this offseason, but have failed to find form. The club even swapped high-profile forward Jack McInerney for Montreal’s Andrew Wenger, but with personnel moves not working, the club got rid of its manager.
Assistant coach Jim Curtin will run the team with an interim tag next to his name.
“We are a very ambitious club and although we are just in our fifth season we expect to win and be in the top tier of MLS,” Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said in a club statement.
“Today we will begin a serious 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.”
The Union gave up 12 goals over their last four games, and its points-per-game is among the worst in MLS. Hackworth’s record with Philadelphia is completed at 23W-30L-20T.
First, Edu, who wasn’t shy enough to admit, nor naive enough not to admit that, “the past couple years weren’t ideal. Obviously I would’ve like to play more.” He was asked about his frustrations after leaving a decent time with Rangers in Scotland to be little used by Stoke City and did not hesitate to say how badly he wanted to be an every-match player:
“It’s always frustrating as a player when you don’t play. In this game, you have to be mentally tough because it’s just full of ups and downs. One day you can be on a high, the next you can be on the worst spell of your career.
“Don’t get too down when you hit a low and at the same time when you’re on a high, just make sure you stay level-headed, you maintain a level of composure and a sense of humbleness.”
“I’m eager. This past couple years have been difficult and I haven’t put together a long stretch of games. I’m excited to come here and play, play every game. Do well, score goals, get stuck in on tackles, do all the things that I’m capable of doing.”
Sakiewicz danced around some questions a little bit, perhaps understandably so considering his team was ready to pay Edu a higher figure than MLS preferred. He mentioned that to sign three guys right after the season ended would’ve been foolish.
“We had to find the right guys and today I’m very excited to welcome Maurice to our club. It’s been a long, long journey and we’re delighted that he chose to come back from the Premier League.”
Manager John Hackworth’s excitement comes from working with Edu in the past.
“I had the good fortune of coaching Mo on the national team. He’ll be an integral part of our team moving forward. He knows the MLS well. He started his career here but he’s in his prime and I know how excited he is to be here.”
He also admitted the process of bringing him back was a trying experience.
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t,” he said. “Anytime you go through a major acquisition of a player, especially bringing a national team back from Europe, there are so many things that have to happen right to make it a reality. You have to be patient.”
There was also a lot of talk about the progression of the league, as Edu spoke of the increasing reputation of MLS around Europe. Sakiewicz added that the league’s upward trending will only continue.
“If you think we’re having fun now, wait another 10 years,” Sakiewicz said. “This country’s really come a long way.”
Anyone who has followed Andre Blake knows the freakishly-athletic Jamaican goalkeeper is not nervous on the big stage. With back-to-back NCAA tournament wins going to penalty kicks and a shutout streak spanning almost 1000 minutes at UConn back when he was a freshman, the 6-foot-4 keeper has been calm under duress.
But when the Philadelphia Union traded up to the No. 1 overall spot in the MLS SuperDraft in order to select Blake, the young man was caught in a unique moment. Here he was in front of his new supporters as they chanted to him that he was now “one of us.”
“Just being there, in Philadelphia, being drafted by Philadelphia Union at No. 1 is a great feeling,” Blake told PST on Friday afternoon. “The fans reaction after it, I felt at home with it.
“The experience was a great experience, one you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”
Having traded up to select him first, it’s no surprise Philadelphia manager John Hackworth calls Blake “the best guy in the whole draft.” The Union boss loved his draft and the keeper was key to that adoration.
Yet Hackworth said Blake won’t start and labeled the pick as the most significant competition for Zac MacMath, whose just 22, though you’d have to at least allow that it could be a show of lip service to the vet considering Hackworth’s description of Blake is that the rookie “can do stuff now that nobody in our league can do.”
“I knew they were interested because I know the coach has been following me while I was at school,” Blake said. “I had a talk with him two or three days before the draft, so I knew they were interested. I just didn’t know what to expect.”
Blake established himself well over three years at UConn that saw the Huskies advance past the NCAA quarterfinals in each year. As a freshman, Blake started all 25 games, going 19-3-3 with an absurd 15 clean sheets. As a sophomore, he repeated as BIG EAST Goalkeeper of the Year, with 12 clean sheets.
Though those gaudy numbers weren’t quite replicated this season — he only had 10 shutouts — Blake proved invaluable when UConn eliminated UMBC and No. 1 UCLA from the NCAA tournament in penalty kicks.
How was that experience?
“That was just brilliant,” Blake said. “People say it’s a lot of pressure for the keeper but I took that and flipped it around. I put all the pressure on the kicker, knowing that the kicker’s expected to score. It worked.”
A member of the U-17 and U-20 Jamaican national teams, he says he has a good relationship with MLS Reggae Boyz like Darren Mattocks and Omar Daley.
Blake dreams of manning the nets for the full senior side in addition to becoming the top goalkeeper in Major League Soccer. And down the line, he sure would love to take shots on club soccer’s biggest stages.
“My ultimate goals are to one day play in the Barclays Premier League,” Blake said. “But I want to take it one step at a time and show MLS and Generation adidas that I’m very appreciative of them for choosing for me such a thing like this. I want to go into the league, be very dedicated to my team and take it from there.”
Blake laughed when asked to pinpoint the most interesting thing about him. He’s a cool customer who likes his Bob Marley and keeping a calm perspective.
“The most interesting thing about me is I’m a totally different person off the field than on it,” Blake said. “I’m a laid back guy who wants to play a little bit of music and anybody can feel free to come up to me and have a conversation.”