Nick Sakiewicz

Former Manchester United, Fulham coach joins Philadelphia Union as consultant

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For Rene Meulensteen, the last few lines on his resume have been relatively short ones.

There was the two-month stint as manager of Fulham, which sounds like an eternity compared to the 16 days in charge of Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia. He also spent a year at Brondby.

But, as a man in demand, Meulensteen’s new Stateside job has the potential to bear some long-lasting fruit, like his 11 years over two stints in the system at Manchester United.

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He’s been named a consultant for the Philadelphia Union in MLS, a club which is just one week removed from naming Jim Curtin its third-ever full-time head coach.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“We are happy to announce we have engaged Rene Meulensteen’s partner in sports practice to consult with us on many of our key decisions over the next several months, as we look to benefit from his exceptional history of success in both player development and first team performance during his decade of work at Manchester United,” Union chairman/owner Jay Sugarman said in a statement.

“René has hit the ground running and I know Nick [Sakiewicz], Jim, Tommy [Wilson] and our team of coaches as well as our academy staff will welcome René’s insights and experience during this important period for the club as much as I do.”

Prior to serving as manager for Fulham FC in the Barclays Premier League during the 2013-14 season, Meulensteen spent more than five seasons as a first-team coach of Manchester United under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson. During that time, Manchester United captured four Barclays Premier League titles, a UEFA Champions League title and a FIFA Club World Cup title.

Curtin talked about Meulensteen’s vast experience being a boon for him, and said the former Fulham coach has already helped them refocus their development and player evaluation.

Sugarman said Meulensteen will be around for less than years and more than weeks, so it’s not a threat to Curtin. And he’s not a bad man to have around as a new coach separates the wheat from the chaff.

Philly makes it official: Jim Curtin named third coach in Union history

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The third coach in Philadelphia Union history in the second-straight to successfully shed the interim tag.

Jim Curtin succeeded John Hackworth as Union coach this summer, and spearheaded a turnaround that almost took him to the postseason.

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And the poorly-kept secret, that Curtin and Philadelphia were negotiating a full-time deal, is now completed, public and official after a Friday press conference.

From CSNPhilly’s Ryan Bright:

“The title changes with me but the message is the same — I’m here to win,” Curtin said. “I have to push this team forward in that regard. I’m here to win and get this team back in the playoffs where we belong.”

After an exhaustive search for a high-profile bench boss, Union CEO & operating partner Nick Sakiewicz, who said he received over 200 inquiries, couldn’t ignore Curtin’s success with the Union.

“I said at that time that we would go on an extensive search for our first-team coach,” Sakiewicz said. “I asked Jim Curtin to take over as interim coach and caretaker of the team. And boy did he take care of the team — 17 games unbeaten in 23. He did a great job.”

Curtin deserves the shot after leading Philly to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final and making daring decisions — like moving Maurice Edu to center back — that helped the Union to a 10-6-7 record during his interim status.

The longtime Chicago Fire defender knows the league and knows his team. Now will he help them make the next step next season?

Trivia, for those who don’t know: Piotr Nowak was Philadelphia’s first coach.

Philadelphia Union CEO heavily implies they have their long-term manager in Curtin

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Hamstrung by a poor record when he took over, Philadelphia Union interim boss Jim Curtin did a pretty solid job turning his unit into a near-playoff team.

And though they missed out on the postseason, Curtin’s team hasn’t quit. The Union toppled reigning champs Sporting KC this weekend, and continue to look decent as Curtin angles for a full-time contract.

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The good news is that he has support from the higher-ups, as MLSSoccer.com brings the news that Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz doesn’t plan on letting Curtin skip town:

“Jim Curtin’s under contract with us and I envision Jim being with us for a long time,” Sakiewicz told MLSsoccer.com. “Nothing official’s been made. Nothing official will be made until we finalize our discussions. But I expect Jim Curtin will be with us for a long time to come.”

It’s the right move for Philly, especially given the man management shown by Curtin with the moves of Maurice Edu to center back and a run to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final. As the reports have circled for a while regarding the removal of the interim tag, we’ll believe it when its official, but it would be a smart move by Sakiewicz and company.

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.

Verbal fisticuffs ensue between Toronto FC, Philadelphia leaders

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Feel free to take a side as the inevitable questioning over Toronto FC’s bank-breaking off-season spending spree gains speed.

Thing is, this isn’t two tipsy Joes in cheapo replica jerseys at the end of some soccer friendly pub – these are fellow MLS officials giving each other the business in public!

It was bound to happen. Supporters and members of the chattering class have had our say about TFC’s audacious dash for glory. Heck, even Toronto front man Tim Leiweke, architect of the deals in question, does not always sound 100 percent convinced the deals make sense from a pure business perspective.

In comments to The Philly Soccer Page, Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz questioned the wisdom of TFC’s recent high-dollar moves, the ones that have netted England international Jermain Defoe and U.S. midfield general Michael Bradley.

I get frustrated when I see people say how smart Toronto is spending $90 million. I’m not sure how smart that is.”

He wondered aloud whether Bradley at somewhere around $6 million a year is better value than Maurice Edu at something near $1.5 million?  It’s a fair question.

Bradley is a better player. He has a higher profile. He’s the best U.S. national team player in a year where so very much attention will be going to that very national team. Bradley wears it all well, and he’s a fabulous addition to the league.

Plus, TFC is a place where Leiweke might have to overspend to get the project out of a hole; remember, the team has still never tasted playoff soccer.

But $6 million? Even before adding Edu and his salary to the calculus, prominent voices in the domestic game immediately began wondering if Bradley could have been had for something less, perhaps substantially less?

Past that, the usual big market-small market arguments seem to have Sakiewicz in a frothy lather. That was probably inevitable, too. After all, soccer is just catching up with baseball and other American sports in that regard.

The Philly Soccer Page story wasn’t really about Edu, Bradley or TFC; it had a bigger sweep, starting with the Union boss addressing rumors of his own demise. I’ll boil that part down for you: “Buncha bunk,” he essentially says.

But the comments directed toward Leiweke proved to be the eye-raisers. Leiweke responded professionally in comments to the Toronto Sun, defending Bradley before asking everyone to recognized what he thought was apples to oranges in marketplace. It’s a great point, too.

Everyone has their own marketplace. On ours, we’ve sold 17,000 tickets in three weeks. We’re going to have a packed stadium every game this year. Our ratings are going to be great. Our merch sells are going to be great. … In our world, with our fans, with the commitment they’ve made the last seven years, we owed them this. This is about our business and our relationship with our marketplace. We knew people were going to shoot at us. The shooting has begun.”