Sunday, February 7, 2016

Philadelphia Union remove interim tag from manager John Hackworth

Within 24 hours of the Union's all-but-official elimination from playoff contention, the team has removed the interim tag from manager John Hackworth's title.

Philadelphia Union remove interim tag from manager John Hackworth

The Union have removed the interim tag from manager John Hackworth´s title. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
The Union have removed the interim tag from manager John Hackworth's title. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)

Within 24 hours of the Union's all-but-official elimination from playoff contention, the team has removed the interim tag from manager John Hackworth's title.

"I’m very excited to have been given this opportunity," Hackworth said in a statement issued by the team. "We have a very talented and committed group of players in our locker room and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to continue working with them long term as they and the organization continue to develop."

In that same statement, Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said that Hackworth "deserves" the job.

"His skilled leadership has reinvigorated our players in recent months," Sakiewicz said. "There are some very promising signs that we are moving towards a style of soccer that is in keeping with our respected Union brand."

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Sakiewicz admitted that "it has been a very tough year on the pitch and clearly, we have a long way to go."

He insisted, though, that "the principal reason for making this move right now is because John has a plan to move our team forward and toward the upper reaches of Major League Soccer."

After the news came out, I spoke with Sakiewicz by phone. I first asked him why the decision was made now, in the immediate wake of Wednesday night's 2-1 loss to the Columbus Crew at PPL Park.

Sakiewicz was adamant though that this was the right time to make this decision.

"Why now? Why not," he said. "The season is still remotely viable, we’re mathematically not out of it, and the team needs to know that we have a game plan going forward and there’s stability in the future."

Sakiewicz said that Hackworth "ticks all the boxes," and that he did not want to spend "the next three to four months searching for someone outside the organization that fits."

"Why put our fans through that, why put our organization through that when we’ve got someone in our backyard?" he continued.

I asked Sakiewicz if he was willing to share any aspects of the plan that Hackworth has put forth.

"That’s top-secret information right now, but as we roll out the plan, we certainly will make it public and communicate with our fans," he answered. "One of the things I love about John is his transparency and his willingness to say it like it is. That very much is in line with our organization and how we do things here."

In the team's press release, Sakiewicz noted that that that retaining Hackworth on a full-time basis will provide "stability."

That will be among the most important things to keep in mind as the Union try to re-build towards reaching the playoffs next year.

Hackworth is the sixth manager Sakiewicz has worked with in his 17-year, three-club MLS career - John Kowalski and Tim Hankinson in Tampa Bay, Octavio Zambrano and Bob Bradley in New York, and Peter Nowak and Hackworth in Philadelphia.

I asked Sakiewicz how his past experiences have influenced his desire to create stability at PPL Park.

Sakiewicz answered that he puts a priority on having "thoughtful planning, understanding the league and its rules."

"It’s a very unique structure and set of rules [in MLS] that continue to evolve," Sakiewicz said.

"We’re a club that’s three years old - I wouldn’t say we’ve been unstable," he continued. "I think the first 11 games this year we played there was a lot of instability, and I saw that. [It’s] why I made the change I did, and John has brought a lot of calm and stability to the team in the last 13 games."

Sakewicz cited Houston's Dominic Kinnear and Seattle's Sigi Schmid as examples of coaches elsewhere in Major League Soccer who have track records of consistent success.

No one doubts the passion of the Union's fan base. Despite the team's struggles on the field, the atmosphere at PPL Park is rightly hailed as one of the best in MLS.

It so happens, though, that of the most devoted fan bases in the league - Philadelphia, Toronto and Portland - have three of the worst teams in the league.

Portland made a big move this week by hiring Akron University and United States Under-23 national team coach Caleb Porter to succeed interim Gavin Wilkinson after this season.

Interim Toronto manager Paul Mariner has embarked on a major house-cleaning since Aron Winter became the first MLS managerial casualty of the year. There has been a pretty solid chorus of support along Lake Ontario for Mariner to keep his job.

Now the Union have made their move.

What do you think of the Union's decision to make Hackworth their full-time manager right now? What do you want to see Hackworth do from here? Have your say in the comments.

Staff Writer
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The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, the National Women's Soccer League, the U.S. men's and women's national teams, and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

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