With a shockingly disappointing start to the season, Philadelphia Union coach John Hackworth finds himself on the hot seat. After a summer spending spree that led to an overhauled midfield and a world of promise, the Union currently find themselves winless in the last nine games and have fallen to ninth in the standings. Many are calling for Hackworth to be fired, and the Sons of Ben went as far as to start a "Fire Hackworth" chant at Saturday’s loss to DC United. The question I wish to present is this, Would firing John Hackworth truly be the best move for the club at this moment?
For as long as I can remember I have been very critical of John Hackworth as coach of the Union. Like many other supporters, I felt that he lacked tactical prowess, made predictable substitutions and had a tendency to sit back in winnable situations. I have criticized him for his handling of Jack McInerney’s goal slump last season in addition to his propensity to trot the same ineffective players out on the pitch week in and week out. Eventually, I would like to see the club move on from the Hackworth era, but I firmly believe that now is not the time. Firing Hackworth at this moment would likely hurl the team into a world of uncertainty during a season that has been full of struggles and missed opportunities. For his shortcomings Hackworth has been a solid talent evaluator and has brought in some quality players during his tenure as coach. We have seen of players like Zac MacMath, Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo become (mostly) reliable starters during Hackworth’s tenure. And sure, for every MacMath and Okugo, there are missed opportunities like Keon Daniel, Roger Torres and the like. Additionally Hackworth has brought in DP level talent, such as Vincent Nogueira, Chaco Maidana and Maurice Edu. Nogueira has been a revelation in the central midfield, Maidana has shown flashes of brilliance and Edu has been a very solid option the middle despite some defensive lapses.
I am willing to criticize Hackworth for his mistakes, and there are quite a few, but I don’t think that firing the coach will accomplish anything significant this season. Hackworth has often been overly stubborn in trying to make the players on this team fit into his preferred 4-3-3, forcing strikers to play center back and trading away last season’s leading goal scorer for a player who has struggled to finish in the final third. Despite these negatives, I don’t believe that he has lost the locker room like some other fans will lead you to believe. I know that post-game interviews are not always reliable and players will almost always say the right things with a camera in their faces. But the team clearly seems to want to play for Hackworth and the players believe it is just a matter of putting together a complete performance on the pitch. The team does need some kind of upgrade at the striker position, but the players on the field need to be more disciplined and just play a well-rounded game. While the defensive ineffectiveness of Aaron Wheeler can be directly attributed to John Hackworth playing an unproven player at the position, the ball watching habits of Maurice Edu, and other backline players falls directly on the head of the player s themselves. If the defensive unit plays with more discipline then maybe some of those one goal losses turn into draws or prevent the team from having the life sucked out of them because of another late game defensive lapse.
Firing Hackworth may provide a brief boost to the team, but I seriously doubt that the team will find its future coach ten games into the season. The probable scenario is that someone on the current coaching staff, likely Rob Vartughian, gets promoted and we play the rest of the season under a John Hackworth trained coach. I don’t see that as a scenario that makes the team better. The best option would be to have Hackworth finish out the season and look for a coach in the off season. Too much turmoil mid-season could scare off Maurice Edu and all of the other shiny new midfield pieces that we waited so long to acquire. It is a real possibility, though, that we see Hackworth losing his job if this poor run of form continues. Sports fans demand a winning product and the front office will have little choice if the fan base is calling for the head of a manager, even if the issues are not all his fault. John Hackworth was not fired today like some outlets had reported, so all we can do is look forward to a tough contest against the defending MLS Cup champions this week and hope our boys in blue can turn around their season.