As empty seats multiply at PPL Park, Saturday could be judgment day for Union manager Hackworth

As empty seats multiply at PPL Park, Saturday could be judgment day for Union manager Hackworth

Union manager John Hackworth has plenty of pressure on his shoulders this season.

This week, I've gotten two emails from the Union pushing tickets for this Saturday's home game against D.C. United (4 p.m. - The Comcast Network). One was about honoring mom for Mother's Day by bringing her to the game, and the other offered a sharp discount offer on the pricier tickets at PPL Park.

Those emails -- and the empty seats that caused them -- are what should have Union manager John Hackworth looking over his shoulder, and what I think could force a change at the top as early as next week, if the fans who do show up on Saturday leave PPL Park disappointed yet again.

There's no doubt Hackworth is feeling the heat.

“We’re going to have to get out of this hole we dug, one step at a time,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com after the 2-1 loss to Seattle last weekend.. “But I know there’s only so much time to have that opportunity.”

I'm never one to call for a coach's firing prematurely. When I said in the preseason that this year was Hackworth's chance to put up or shut up, I assumed that meant he'd get the entire season to figure it out. And he still might. Changing coaches in the middle of the season won't lead to anything more than maybe a short-lived kick in the butt.

This is me, on the record, saying that while I think Hackworth is not the answer, I don't think a midseason firing is either.

But things have been so underwhelming, and so disappointing, that Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz (under pressure from investors weary of a long summer at the turnstiles) may have to pull the trigger much, much sooner, just to appeal to frustrated fans who are tired of spending their money to watch a team that can't score. Even as soon as Sunday or Monday if things don't go well on Saturday.

The Union not only need a win against a decent but beatable D.C. United team, but they need to entertain. They need to show some growth. They need to show some initiative. They need to show some chemistry. They showed a little bit of that in Seattle last weekend, but in the end, it was the same old story: shoulda, coulda, woulda.

The team's near-bottom-of-the-table standing isn't what will push the change. Nor will it be because vocal Union fans on the Internet calling for his head (some have been calling for it since the day he was hired).

It'll be the hard-to-ignore swaths of blue seats sitting empty on Saturday.

If you're at PPL Park, take a look toward the corners, especially the two corners close to the Delaware River. On Saturday, section 133 will be relatively full because D.C. United will bring a large contingent. But sections 101 and 102, as well as 113 and 121 are usually the last ones sold.

While paid attendance has been decent so far this season (according to this site, the team is averaging 94 percent capacity at 17,415), the warm summer months are coming. Kids are almost done with school, tailgating weather is improving, and the Union -- like every MLS team -- are hoping to capitalize on the excitement surrounding the World Cup next month.

Sakiewicz and Co. obviously hoped that the on-field results would fill PPL to capacity through those warm summer months. But if things don't turn around soon, he might have to show Hackworth the door just so he can stand up and say that he really is in it to win it.

Sure, there are other ways for the team to appeal to frustrated fans. The front office could make a splashy move in the summer transfer window (Jozy Altidore to the white courtesy phone...). Hell, they could just unveil another new jersey or offer 10 percent off at the Union Store.

Just kidding.

Firing Hackworth won't solve the Union's problems. Along those lines, it's about time for the players to stand up and take some responsibility for the dumpster fire this season is quickly becoming. Many of them have not performed anywhere near their potential (not you, Zac MacMath ... you're excused).

But at this point, if things don't turn around, Hackworth may be the sacrificial lamb intended to appease frustrated fans.

The Union have six games before the World Cup break.

John Hackworth might be watching some of them on TV.

Instant Replay: Mets 5, Phillies 3, Oct. 1

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Instant Replay: Mets 5, Phillies 3, Oct. 1

BOX SCORE

Ryan Howard gave the fans a treat with a two-run home run in his penultimate game in a Phillies uniform, but that was the extent of the highlights Saturday afternoon as the Phils suffered a 5-3 loss to the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

With the victory, the Mets clinched a spot in the NL playoffs as a wild-card team.

The Phillies clinched their sixth straight loss and eighth in the last nine games.

They are 70-91 heading into the final day of the season.

Starting pitching report
Phil Klein worked four innings for the Phillies and gave up one run.

Mets starter Bartolo Colon went five innings and gave up just two runs. Both runs came on Howard’s homer in the fifth.

Bullpen report
Patrick Schuster and David Hernandez gave up runs in the sixth as the Mets broke a 2-2 tie. Hernandez allowed a two-run homer and took the loss.

The Mets’ bullpen pitched four shutout innings. Jeurys Familia closed it out for his 51st save.

At the plate
Howard’s homer was his 25th of the season, tying him with Maikel Franco for the team lead. It was the 382nd homer of his career, tying him with Jim Rice and Frank Howard for 67th on the all-time list.

Howard has six doubles, 13 homers and 32 RBIs in 47 games since July 3.

Darin Ruf smacked a pinch-hit homer in the seventh inning.

The Mets scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings. James Loney put them ahead for good with a two-run homer in the top if the sixth. It broke a 2-2 tie. Asdrubal Cabrera drove in an insurance run with a single in the top of the ninth.

Up next
The Phillies close out the season Sunday afternoon against the Mets. Jerad Eickhoff (11-14, 3.72) pitches for the Phillies. Noah Syndergaard (14-9, 2.60) is the Mets’ scheduled starter.

The game will start at 3:05. The Phillies will honor Howard at 2:30.

Instant Replay: Temple 45, SMU 20

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Instant Replay: Temple 45, SMU 20

Recent history suggested that Temple and SMU would display some offensive fireworks Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field
 
The Owls lived up to their end of the bargain with a potent first-half attack, while the Mustangs are still wondering what hit them.
 
Temple began its defense of the AAC East crown by overwhelming SMU with 368 yards of total offense and sprinkling in a fumble recovery touchdown en route to a 45-20 thrashing of the Mustangs in both teams’ conference opener. All but 10 of the Owls’ points came in the first half.
 
The Owls’ defense kept the Mustangs’ uptempo offense in check most of the day, allowing 288 total yards and recording four sacks and two interceptions. SMU came into Saturday’s game averaging 448 yards of offense per game.
 
Temple (3-2, 1-0 AAC) effectively set a tone for the rest of conference play at the expense of the overmatched Mustangs.
 
SMU (2-3, 0-1 AAC) won’t be forgetting its first trip to Philadelphia since 1946 anytime soon.
 
Turning point
After Walker threw a pick-six to SMU’s Jordan Wyatt on the game’s opening drive, the Owls came back out with another uninspiring, fruitless offensive effort. The Mustangs had every ounce of the early momentum. But then the Owls unleashed their secret weapon in punter Alex Starzyk, who uncorked one of his trademark rugby-style punts. The ball bounced off a SMU player’s leg and Temple recovered at the SMU 42-yard line.
 
Seven plays later, Jahad Thomas scampered in from 12 yards out for a touchdown to tie the game. Temple went on to score 35 straight points and never looked back.
 
Injury report
Temple junior safety Sean Chandler was a sudden scratch Saturday with what the team called a knee injury. Redshirt senior Nate L. Smith started in Chandler’s place and recorded a pick in the second quarter. Thomas took over the punt return duties for the day.
 
Senior linebacker Avery Williams was a game-time decision with an ankle issue. He started but didn’t see his usual helping of snaps. Redshirt freshman Chapelle Russell and redshirt sophomore Jared Folks saw the field most in place of Williams.
 
Owls sophomore wideout Ventell Bryant, the team’s top returning receiver from last season, returned to action after missing the last three games.
 
Big men on campus
Sophomore Ryquell Armstead carried the rock 15 times for two touchdowns and a career-high 159 yards. It was his first career 100-yard rushing game. Those 159 yards are the most by an Owl since Thomas rushed for 199 against UCF last October.
 
Another game, two more rushing touchdowns for Thomas. He now has six touchdowns in three games since returning from a dislocated left thumb that forced him to miss the first two games of the year. He finished the day with 80 yards rushing and those two scores.
 
Romond Deloatch continues to do it all for Temple. Not only did the versatile senior have a 34-yard catch, he scooped up a fumble and brought it back for a defensive touchdown after lining up at defensive tackle in the second quarter. He palmed the ball off the ground like a basketball and trotted in easily from eight yards out.  Haason Reddick forced the fumble when he decleated SMU freshman quarterback Ben Hicks. Reddick had another sack and forced fumble on a huge hit of Hicks later in the game. The quarterback will be seeing Reddick in his nightmares.
 
Bryant made an impact in his return with a 43-yard touchdown reception.
 
Ugly day for Walker
For all the good things Temple did on Saturday, Walker, the Owls’ senior quarterback, didn’t have a game to brag about.
 
He wasn’t sharp at all as he went 7 for 18 for 124 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions on awful decisions. He stared down his receiver and forced the throw on Wyatt’s pick-six. He forced another throw along the sideline later in the game that was picked and led to a touchdown for the Mustangs. SMU defender Rodney Clemons dropped another easy pick in the third quarter.
 
Rough field conditions
The playing surface at Lincoln Financial Field was not in great shape Saturday, to put it politely. It was brown and torn-up from 30-yard line to 30-yard line. Beware. This is what happens when you mess with the combination of Beyoncé and Mother Nature.
 
Style watch
Temple broke out some sharp new black jerseys for Saturday’s game and paired them with white helmets and white pants. It was the first time the Owls wore black jerseys in two years.
 
Up next
There won’t be much rest for Temple this week. The Owls have to travel to Memphis for a nationally televised Thursday night matchup with the Tigers at the Liberty Bowl.
 
SMU heads to Tulsa next Saturday night.