The John Hackworth era has come to an end.
With the Philadelphia Union off to a 3-7-6 start, team CEO Nick Sakiewicz on Tuesday took Major League Soccer’s three-week World Cup break as an opportunity to fire Hackworth, who had served as Philly’s manager since the middle of the 2012 season.
Jim Curtin – a Philadelphia native, Villanova graduate and former MLS all-star – will take over on an interim basis while Sakiewicz scouts the world for a new manager.
Curtin had been an assistant on Hackworth’s staff since the start of the 2013 season after working for three years with the Union’s youth academy. His first game in charge will be next Tuesday when the Union host the Harrisburg City Islanders in a U.S. Open Cup game at PPL Park.
“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,” Sakeiewicz said in a statement. “Today we 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.”
Peter Nowak, the first manager in club history, was fired almost exactly two years ago to the day after breaking up a team that made the playoffs in 2011 and clashing with players and management.
Hackworth, who had been Nowak’s top assistant since the franchise’s inaugural season in 2010, was far less abrasive than his predecessor and far more loved by his players, who made a public show of support for him when they ran over to the sidelines to hug him during a recent win over Sporting Kansas City on May 14.
But following that victory, the Union gave up nine combined goals in back-to-back blowout losses as Hackworth’s hot seat got even hotter. And not even a 3-0 win over Chivas and a come-from-behind 3-3 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps in Philly’s last two games before the World Cup break could save Hackworth’s job.
The Union currently have fewer points per game than all but two teams in the league, and Hackworth’s record with the Union since taking over on June 13, 2012 is an underwhelming 23-30-20.
“Our great fans, partners and community deserve a winning team and we will do everything in our power to win,” Sakiewicz said. “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.”
Despite not being able to guide the Union into the playoffs in 2012 or 2013, Hackworth seemed to have the support of Sakiewicz, who often praised the manager for getting the club out of the salary-cap mess left behind by Nowak, who made a series of controversial moves before his axing.
Hackworth was also mostly praised for the work he did in his assembling the team’s roster this offseason, revamping the midfield with the additions of Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira.
But other moves – like the early-season trade of Jack McInerney – were far less popular with the Union fan base, which had been growing as disenchanted with the team as they were in Nowak’s final days. So, too, were many of Hackworth’s tactical decisions – such as starting converted striker Aaron Wheeler at center back and trying to fit aging captain Brian Carroll into a crowded defensive midfield.
Now, the 44-year-old Hackworth, who has served as a Division I college head coach and assistant with the U.S. national team, is out of a job.
And Curtin, who played over 200 games for the Chicago Fire, is the new man in charge – for the time being.