Back in June - I got so fed up with one of the Union's performances that I went on a rant, and the Editors of the Union Dues decided to publish it (http://www.theuniondues.net/2013/06/03/a-sad-sad-day/ ). Basically back then I wanted John Hackworth to go. I'd love to think that it inspired the Union into some great performances (their next 2 league games were 3-0 wins over Columbus and New York). However, I am not vain enough to think that the Union players/staff read my rants and articles or even hear about them second hand.
Fast forward to the end of the season, and has my opinion changed? Well no. Here is why.
Must win game. Don't win, you go home. You have a top scorer (Jack McInerney) who is fit and healthy, and you start him on the bench. Would you imagine in a must win game Manchester United leaving Robin van Persie on the bench, Liverpool leaving Luis Suarez on the bench, New York Red Bulls leaving Thierry Henry on the bench, or San Jose leaving Chris Wondolowski on the bench? Of course not. However, Hackworth's need to play a 4-5-1 meant Jack didn't start.
I will admit it isn't all Hackworth's fault. Lets be honest, a year ago the Union were a disaster. Only Toronto and New England finished below them in the East, and only Portland and Chivas were worse than the Union in the West. Without taking into consideration that half of that season was under Hackworth's coaching - everyone would have been saying a lot had to be done to improve the Union. The money obviously wasn't there to make sweeping changes last year so it wasn't going to be a true Supporters Shield-competitive season.
Has the club improved? Sure. The Union have won more games than ever, and finished just shy of their record point total for a season. Amobi Okugo continues to improve, and McInerney had a break out (half) year. Zac MacMath (via the addition of Ola Nikolov) has made giant leaps as the year has gone on. There are definitely encouraging signs for the Union - and they may be one winger/left back and one box-to-box midfielder, or center attacking midfielder away from being a good squad that can compete (how big a difference would DaMarcus Beasley and say Stuart Holden make to the Union?) They aren't in as bad shape as many of us would believe. However, does having a good squad make a manager good? No, not really. I said it back in June - Hackworth may be a fantastic coach or second in charge, but is he a good game time manager? For me, that's where the choice of should he stay or should he go comes from.
A good game-time coach is one that can a) adapt their tactics to a team, and b) adapt their tactics in game depending on the score-line. You don't play the same way away to Sporting Kansas City as you do at home to Toronto for example. You don't make a change just for the sake of making a change. You don't sit back when 1-0 up against a team from 2-3 levels below you, at home, in a cup game. You don't sit back and settle when you are up a man against a team, at home. You don't blame a referee for losing games. All of these criticisms of Hackworth have been made, either by myself or by others I have been watching the game with.
Let's take a critical look at the best runs of form and results of the year.
1) 3-0 at home to Columbus, 3-0 at home to New York. We were on a high. Lets be honest though - Columbus were missing a fair few stars, as were NY for that game. Red Bull also had a player sent off early. While they were great wins, if we are being honest, anything other than wins in these games and we are going to be unhappy about it.
2) 0-0 draw at Red Bulls, 1-0 win at Sporting Kansas City. Two tactically correct performances from Hackworth. These are the games that his "all defensive, going for a 0-0 draw, hoping for a 1-0 win" tactics were vindicated. For these difficult away performances, that's the correct way to play, and we got 4 outstanding points from those games.
3) No. Can't think of anything else off hand.
Lets take a critical look at the poor results.
1) 1-1 draws against Toronto (the Union had two of them). Both games Toronto had a player sent off. Both games Toronto were 1-0 up. One of those games, they went 1-0 up when down a man, and the Union seemingly sitting back happy for a 0-0 draw, when up a man, against Toronto. Thankfully, Jack McInerney saved Hackworths skin by getting late goals in these games. Thank god for Hackworth being "Desperate" enough to play Kleberson as a sub, or I would have been talking about 3 draws with Toronto.
2) 1-1 draw against DC United. While "worst team in the league" may be a bit harsh in terms of the quality of side DC has, nobody else has as little points as they do. DC was missing some players for international duty, and the Union went down 1-0. A very late Jack McInerney goal salvaged a point.
These three games are games the Union should have won, but for one reason or another didn't. In all three, Hackworth didn't seem to want to win. Going with a 4-5-1 against DC united was a terrible decision. Yes we got a nice result against SKC playing that tactic away from home - but even at their best, DC aren't SKC quality. These are some of the games we are now looking back on, saying "These cost us a playoff spot". A better manager, one that wouldn't have settled for a draw in these games? Yes, I'll take him please.
3) Home vs FC Dallas, Away vs Real Salt Lake - 2-2 draws. In both of these games, you may have looked at the scores and said "I'll take that". FC Dallas were the team of the first half of the season. RSL away, wow we got a draw? However, both of the games, right after each other, had one glaring thing in common - giving up an equaliser in late injury time. Against 10 men. That should never happen one time a year, let alone twice in succession while sitting back and letting the team with 10 men dictate play - that's on the manager as much as the players for me.
4) US Open Cup games. Even a win against Ocean City gets in this part of the article. Playing a strong team against amateurs, the Union went 1-0 up. Surely that will lead to 3-4 more goals right? No. Hackworth didn't want to get more goals. It wasn't until Ocean City equalised that we tried again. Terrible.
Now the DC United game. Yes they won the Cup - well done them. However, again, tactically it didn't work. Why did we bring on Don Anding (he's our backup backup left back that even LeToux plays defense ahead of) - when we needed a goal? It was almost like Hackworth told Anding he was making his debut as a sub and had to keep his word. DC United were low on confidence at the time. We have to win these games against teams low in confidence.
All of the above for me indicates that while his tactics are good at times, overall he has cost us more points than he gained by his tactics. Can you imagine if McInerney hadn't saved him in those 3 "surely win" games? Hackworth's issue with tactics is an inability to change them for different opponents. He has his idea of how to play, whether that is at Red Bull arena or at home to DC United, it's the same.
As for subs and in game changes - they are boring "like for like" and barely ever to change the game. On the 2-1 loss to Montreal, who didn't see the second half coming? On opening day, a great first half performance, second half... oops. Other coaches continually out-think the Union during the half time break. They can make changes to tactics to improve how they are playing. That always seems to go in reverse with the Union. The subs are almost always like for like. I swear that in the latest Montreal game, Hackworth subbed in Antoine Hoppenot in for Jack McInerney because it was a force of habit. These changes do nothing to change the way the game goes. Like for like, especially when things aren't going our way, changes nothing. Continually bringing on players in situations not suited for them, changes nothing. Bringing on a sub five to ten minutes too late, does nothing (especially when it isn't the right sub). Is there a coach in MLS that is worse than Hackworth at making subs? I doubt it.
Now to team selection. All year, Union fans wondered why Kleberson and Roger Torres continually hadn't played. The Union had to get rid of Soumare because Hackworth wouldn't play him. Brian Carroll was struggling, looking tired, and played every minute until the last game of the season which he had to miss due to a suspension. Keon Daniel was continually terrible all year, and continually starting. The Union midfield continually struggled to create chances that weren't from set pieces - yet no changes were made there. The same players that struggled were continually given chances to show something, but they continually struggled.
There are two reasons for this 1.) Those midfielders continually showed in training they were "better". Well, when training continually isn't transferring to game time, maybe it isn't the best idea to make your team decisions based solely on training performance.
(Ok, I'll stop using continually now. However, I think it does point out that doing the same thing over and over again, especially with poor results, really is annoying.)
2) Players are "Hack's" players and not Nowak's players. This is the worse of the two options really. Is Hackworth playing his "friends" or those he gets on with? Is there a refusal to play players that are still around from the Nowak era (Torres)? Is there a pressure from Office Management (Sakiewicz, et al) to play cheap players and that's why Kleberson wasn't getting played? Whatever the reason, the best team should always be on the field. For me, once signed, Kleberson and also Torres needed to play more. Any coach that doesn't pick the best team to get three points isn't the right man to be in charge.
Lastly for this article - player acquisitions. I'm sure this is down to more than just Hackworth, but if Nowak is blamed for player signings in the past, then surely Hackworth is just to blame now. While the club did bring in some quality, when they were in position to make the playoffs - our signings have been only Brazilians. That should sound exciting, but how many of us had heard of Fabinho or Gilberto? Yes Fabinho has done ok. He has had some terrible games too. As for Gilberto, he hasn't seen a minute of action and I would be willing to bet a beer with anyone that come opening day 2014 he is no longer with us. There wasn't a single signing that wasn't "automatic" (Parke, LeToux) that has shown me that Hackworth knows how to put together a team. Casey may be the exception, if it wasn't a very risky signing that turned out well (and again, he fell into our laps). On the other hand, he has got rid of all defensive cover, that ended up with LeToux playing defense for us (and that was a disaster, considering he likely wasn't even fit enough to play).
Whether or not we can put player acquisition blame on Hackworth, for me there are still plenty of things to be upset with Hackworth about. This has gone on for 1 1/2 years now, and shows no signs of improvement. While I think Hackworth won't get fired, money reason being the thing keeping him here, if I was the GM, Hackworth would no longer be employed by the Philadelphia Union, unless it is as an assistant manager or coach. I can't get rid of the feeling that if we had a better Manager, we would be sitting wondering how far we would get in the playoffs. If I was Nick Sakiewicz, I'd be calling a guy like Eric Wynalda and finding out if he was available to take us back to the playoffs.