The downfall of John Hackworth

The downfall of John Hackworth

I’ll start by saying this: I like John Hackworth. He was a very nice guy that made covering the team an enjoyable experience. And after seeing him interact with his players and interviewing him for this long-form feature, I still believe he was the right man to be the Philadelphia Union’s manager after Peter Nowak was fired two years ago and that, contrary to what some might have thought, running an MLS team was the logical next step in his coaching career.

But being close to the team, you also notice certain problems (not all of which were his fault) that when put together make Tuesday’s firing of Hackworth understandable, even if most of the onus for the team’s struggles should fall on team CEO Nick Sakiewicz.

Here’s a summary of what I think the biggest problems were (though I’m sure you guys might have a few more to add in the comments section) that led to Hackworth’s demise and the promotion of a Philly guy who had a 4th-and-26th-themed wedding:

1. Playing favorites (and vice versa): OK, so every coach has his favorites and we all know that Hackworth valued (some would say overvalued) guys like Danny Cruz, who’s known for his hustle and grit more than his soccer savvy. But, in my opinion, his biggest issue was stubbornly not playing certain guys who clearly had a lot of skill – players like Roger Torres, Bakary Soumare, Kleberson and even Freddy Adu. Not starting Soumare at the beginning of the 2013 season, you could argue, set the stage for the serious center back problems that plagues the team today. And even though Kleberson wasn’t the player he once was, giving him more minutes last season (if only for his free-kick expertise) could have been the difference in making the playoffs and not making the playoffs.

2. Tactics/lineups: This is a broad one and there’s certainly a lot to dissect, but I think his main tactical misstep this season was trying to play high-pressing attacking soccer when his team lacked the personnel to do so. As such, the Union often looked disjointed and were prone to counter-attacks and defensive giveaways. Perhaps they could have overcome this but the backline lacked any kind of stability because of Hackworth’s lineup shuffling, led by converted striker Aaron Wheeler starting eight games at center back before Hackworth finally admitted it was a mistake. Trying to fit aging captain Brian Carroll into the central midfield along with Maurice Edu and Vincent Nogueira also proved more difficult for Hackworth than he anticipated.

3. A player’s coach: Hackworth once told me he didn’t want to be known as a “player’s coach” because he thought that term made him look a pushover. But there’s no denying that he fostered a great locker room environment and that his players loved him, as they showed when they all ran over to hug him in a very memorable celebration in Kansas City last month. But when you consider the Union then followed that up with two of their worst games of the season, perhaps loving their manager wasn’t enough. Perhaps they also needed to be fearful of him. Perhaps they needed a happy medium between someone like former manager Peter Nowak (who, as we all know, was a little bit crazy) and an affable, level-headed guy like Hackworth.

4. His technical staff: As a young coach, Hackworth could have used an older guy on his staff to lean on and make tough decisions. Instead, his technical director was the team’s goalkeeper coach (Rob Vartughian) and the rest of his staff was younger than he was. That’s a lot of pressure to be put on Hackworth, who clocked ridiculous hours not only running the team but spearheading most of the personnel moves. And when he did count on his staff, I would argue he didn’t always get good advice – like on draft day when I don’t think the team made the most of having two top six picks.

5. Bad luck/bad timing: For better or worse, soccer coaches are put on the hot seat any time they don’t win. Hackworth had been given a year-and-a-half cushion to clean up Nowak’s salary mess, but after bringing in some quality players in the offseason and finally making the team his, he had lost the one thing he probably needed most: time. And it was a combination of him not being able to figure out a way to make all the pieces mesh together and many of the returning players he counted on struggling that doomed him. In many ways, he was a victim of his good offseason acquisitions – because there was probably too much turnover for him to win early in the season while winning early in the season was what he needed to save his job.

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).