Philadelphia Union dismisses manager John Hackworth
Philadephia dismissed manager John Hackworth after two seasons in charge and installed assistant coach Jim Curtin as his replacement on an interim basis on Tuesday morning.
Hackworth took control in the wake of Peter Nowak's departure on June 12, 2012 and earned the full-time appointment later that year. The former U.S. under-17 coach and U.S. national team assistant guided the Union to a club-record 12 wins last season, but his side missed out on the postseason by three points. He reinforced the team during the close season by signing Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira, but their pervasive impact on the team did not prompt the expected uptick in results.
Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz backed Hackworth in mid-May after the club ended a nine-match winless streak with a gritty victory at Sporting Kansas City and promised to pursue a high-profile striker during the summer transfer window. Sakiewicz eventually altered course and opted to make the change at the start of the World Cup break with his side just three points out of the playoff places in the muddled Eastern Conference.
"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,” Sakiewicz said in a statement released by the club. “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. Our great fans, partners and community deserve a winning team and we will doing everything in our power to win. We appreciate the work, time and efforts John Hackworth put into building the club and his influence on our growing youth academy. He is a first class person and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
Sakiewicz highlighted the scope of the search in light of Hackworth's ascent to the top job during the fraught decision to fire Nowak. That scenario looks unlikely to unfold this time after assistant coach Mike Sorber and technical director Rob Vartughian were both passed over for the interim gig, perhaps in light of their extensive links to Hackworth. Curtin, 34, is a local product with two years as a first-team assistant, but his inexperience may prompt the Union to move quickly to fill the role with a more permanent solution.
Any incoming boss will need to make some repairs to a squad with a solid core (the three aforementioned signings from the winter, plus Amobi Okugo) and a raft of capable and willing role players, though the amount of salary budget room available remains uncertain. The most pressing issues arise in central defense (forward Aaron Wheeler started eight games earlier in the season amid all of the chopping and changing) and center forward (a lingering issue, though Conor Casey did score twice at the weekend in the 3-3 draw with Vancouver) as the Union look to find more reliable footing in both penalty areas.
If the Union can steady itself in those departments, then there is still ample time to turn this season around and secure a first postseason berth since 2011. The opportunity still on the table inspired Sakiewicz to cut ties with Hackworth before his contract expired at the end of the season and pave the way for a new man to lead the charge. It is a decision the Union must make carefully in order to provide this second-half rescue effort with the best possible chance of success.