Hackworth finally fired: Here's what must happen next for Union

Hackworth finally fired: Here's what must happen next for Union

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This is always when many thought it might happen, with the World Cup looming as a perfect distraction. But in recent weeks, it seemed less and less likely that it would happen at all.

On Tuesday, it finally did, as the Philadelphia Union fired team manager John Hackworth after 16 matches, in which the team won just three times.

John Hackworth was fired Tuesday as manager of the Philadelphia Union.

When things started so poorly for the Union, it was assumed that if a firing was going to happen midseason, it would be right about now, with the league taking a break for the World Cup, which kicks off Thursday.

But once Hackworth survived a horrendous home loss to D.C. United last month, and then made it past a loss to LA Galaxy where his team simply rolled over and died, it seemed pretty clear (to me, at least) that CEO Nick Sakiewicz and the Union brass were going to ride out the rest of the season and figure things out in the winter.

Assistant Jim Curtin will take over in an interim role.

The move feels slightly odd coming off what was the only really entertaining home game of the year so far -- a 3-3 draw with Vancouver on Saturday -- but it was coming, of course.

Hackworth did not have the veil of "I'm still fixing Peter Nowak's mess" anymore. These were his guys, in his system, and there was more than enough talent to go around.

It simply was not working. We've broken that down ad nauseum here and so has every other Union writer out there. By all accounts, it seems like Hackworth was a good guy with a good soccer mind, who either was just in the wrong spot or in over his head. I wish him well, and I'm sure he'll land on his feet elsewhere in the vast soccer world.

We've talked so much about Hackworth's possible firing, that we've never really discussed what's next. So, what is next for the Union?

In my mind, there are three things that need to happen now:

The players need to hold themselves accountable.

These are the players who DEFIANTLY celebrated with their coach during the win over Sporting Kansas City and seemed annoyed that the fans were on his case. Well, if you liked him so much, maybe you should have played better.

Many of the Union players have not performed up to snuff this year, and formations or coaches or training sessions are absolutely no excuse for that. There is absolutely no reason this team should have just three wins in 16 games, no matter who the coach is. You or I could create formations and drills for training sessions and scratch more than three wins out of these players if they were playing to their potential.

You don't have the coach everyone wants to fire as a human shield, anymore. It's time to put up or shut up.

Stop the charade of this season and play the kids

No team will ever publicly admit that they're giving up on the season (except maybe the Sixers), and that's fine. And the Union team releases will tell you that they are three points out of a playoff spot. But the team that is three points ahead of them has FIVE GAMES IN HAND. That's right, the Union have played as many as five more games than some of the teams they are chasing.

So it's time to leave anyone behind who won't (or shouldn't) be part of this team in 2015. That means Brian Carroll, Fred, and others. It's time to turn Zach Pfeffer loose and hope he shakes off some of the anxiety he seemed to have last weekend. See if Michael Lahoud can play as well as he did in the second half vs. Vancouver. See what guys like Jimmy McLaughlin or Pedro Ribeiro are made of. Decide who works best with talented midfielders like Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueria and Cristian Maidana.

I'd also say that the Union should decide what to do with their goalkeeping situation, but that's a decision that is going to have to wait for the next manager.

Have a real, honest to goodness coaching search that takes time

What's the rush? Seriously, the Union are not going anywhere this season, and their last coaching "search" left a bad taste in a lot of mouths when they simply removed the "interim" from Hackworth's title without ever really looking elsewhere.

People will toss out experienced MLS names like former New England manager Steve Nicol (now an ESPN analyst). You'll hear about how MLS player acquisition rules are so complex that you need someone with MLS experience.

I don't love the idea of a retread like Nicol, and I don't necessarily think you need someone with MLS experience. I'd be fine thinking outside the box. Look everywhere. Ask everywhere. Find me a young assistant coach with some experience in a big league, or a head coach from a smaller European league who loves the idea of a project in America. Someone willing to be innovative, to not be locked into a system, to play with the guys they have in front of them.

Veljko Paunovic

And if that person doesn't understand what allocation money is, then so be it. Hire a GM or player personnel guy who does.

The most interesting name I've seen floating out there today is former Union player Veljko Paunovic, who is now retired and is apparently interested in coaching. Do I have any clue whether he'd be a good coach? Of course not. But he's young, he absolutely loved his time here and fell in love with the fanbase, which in return fell in love with him. I'm not saying he needs to be hired, but don't be afraid to think outside the box. Ask everyone. Ask everywhere.

And for goodness sake, take your damn time.

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.

Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.

The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.

Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.

Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.

When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.

Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.

This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.

There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.

Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.

And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.

Again.

At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.

If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.

Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.

Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.

Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).

There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.

Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.

Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.

Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).

Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.

Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.

Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.

In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.

Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.

Why the Eagles should ignore big names and buy low at wide receiver

Why the Eagles should ignore big names and buy low at wide receiver

It won't be a surprise if the Eagles go after a big name wide receiver.

The team's receivers were a disaster last year. There's the fact that among the Eagles' receivers, Jordan Matthews' 11 yards per catch led the group (minimum 10 catches). Matthews' also led the receivers in touchdowns with four. The team dropped 24 Carson Wentz passes, the fourth-most for a quarterback last season.

So Alshon Jeffery or DeSean Jackson would be a no-brainer, right? Maybe not.

At the moment, the Eagles' cap situation isn't ideal. Surely they'll take a few more steps to clear space, but signing a high-priced receiver isn't the right way to allocate that money.

Jeffery and Jackson have their pros and cons. Jeffery had two elite seasons in 2013 and 2014, but his last two seasons have been mired by injuries and a PED suspension. Despite being 30, Jackson still has the ability to stretch the field, but his red flags are well-documented. According to Sprotrac, Jeffery is scheduled to become the sixth-highest paid receiver, while Jackson will be the 19th-highest paid.

Sure, there are other options. Veteran Kenny Britt enjoyed a renaissance season under new Eagles receivers coach Mike Groh in L.A. and he's still only 28. He's also coming off a 1,000-yard season and could cash in on that. There's also Kenny Stills, who is only 24 and coming off a season where he averaged 17.3 yards a catch and caught nine touchdowns for Miami. Terrelle Pryor is still learning the position but finished with 77 catches for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns for the Browns.

Any of those guys makes the Eagles' offense better immediately. But in reality, just about any decent receiver would make this group better. Howie Roseman is better off buying low in free agency and building the receiver corps through the draft.

CSNPhilly.com Eagles Insider Reuben Frank recently highlighted the lack of success the Eagles' have had in signing free-agent receivers. The list is basically Irving Fryar and a bunch of guys. While the occasional trade (Terrell Owens) has worked out, the Eagles have been better off drafting receivers.

Looking ahead to the draft, this receiver class is extremely deep. There may not be the elite talent of the 2014 receiver class, but there are plenty of intriguing players to explore. In the first round, Clemson's Mike Williams or Western Michigan's Corey Davis could be available to the Eagles. Oklahoma's Dede Westbrook or Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp could be there in the second. Even in the middle rounds, guys like Louisiana Tech's Carlos Henderson, Western Kentucky's Taywan Taylor and ECU's Zay Jones could be impactful.

As far as free agents go, the Eagles have other options beyond the big names. Kamar Aiken of the Baltimore Ravens is an intriguing name. The 27 year old had a breakout 2015 (75 catches, 944 yards, five touchdowns) followed by a disappointing 2016 (29 catches, 328 yards, one touchdown). He lost snaps to a healthy Steve Smith, free-agent signee Mike Wallace and former first-round pick Breshad Perriman. The Eagles can buy low on Aiken and hope his production is similar to 2015.

Kendall Wright, also 27, had a breakout season in 2013 (94 catches, 1,079 yards) but has fought injuries and inconsistencies over the last few seasons in Tennessee. Then there's Brian Quick from the L.A. Rams, another 27 year old who hasn't quite put it together. He had a career year in 2016, hauling in 41 catches for 564 yards under new Eagles receivers coach Mike Groh.

The Eagles' best bet would be to take a flyer and buy low on one of these receivers and dig deep on this draft. Aiken or Wright and two rookies could help overhaul the position and create serious competition.

Can the Eagles count on Roseman to deliver the next Irving Fryar? The safer bet is him delivering the next DeSean Jackson... instead of the actual DeSean Jackson.