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.

Stephen Colbert mocks Phillies, introduces Hilly Phanatic

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Stephen Colbert mocks Phillies, introduces Hilly Phanatic

The only surprising thing about Stephen Colbert making fun of the Phillies with the Democratic National Convention in town this week is that it took until Tuesday.

Colbert used our beloved Phillies as the brunt of a joke last night and then invited out the "Hilly Phanatic" instead because the real guy was unvailable.

"Unfortunately the Phillie Phanatic wasn't available for the convention because it belongs to some baseball team and they can't spare him because he's the only entertaining part," Colbert said.

As you can see below, the Hilly Phanatic has the personality of Mike Pence compared to the real Phillie Phanatic. This one looks like the Phillie Phanatic's second cousin from overseas, not from the Galapagos but rather from the land of Smurfs.

Union sign prospect Derrick Jones to homegrown contract

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USA Today Images

Union sign prospect Derrick Jones to homegrown contract

Midfielder Derrick Jones has made Union history.

On Wednesday, the club announced Jones, 19, has been signed to the Union first team as a Homegrown Player. Currently playing with the Union’s USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel, Jones is the first Union Academy graduate to make the move from Union Academy to Union first team.

“Derrick’s progression through our system has been quicker than anticipated and it’s evident that he is ready for the next step of his career,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said in the team’s official release. “This is a testament to Derrick’s commitment to his trade, and it should be considered a tremendous accomplishment to become the first player to come through our Academy, to Bethlehem Steel, and finally to the first team.”

Jones, who moved to Philadelphia in 2012 from Bantana, Ghana, and worked his way through the Union Academy before joining the Steel in 2016, made his Union debut in a friendly match against Crystal Palace on July 13 at Talen Energy Stadium. 

The 6-foot-3 rangy midfielder, who doesn’t have a set position, showed well playing the entire second half, presenting his on-the-ball poise at the attacking mid position.

“Derrick has now set the benchmark for every player in our youth system,” Stewart said. “That there is a pathway to the professional level, and that it is achievable if you remain committed to your goals.”

Jones is the first Union homegrown signing since 2012. Homegrown status means the player avoids being submitted into the MLS SuperDraft. The Union Academy has been around since 2013 and is located at the YSC Center in Wayne, Pennsylvania. 

“I’m delighted that Derrick is our first and that the work of our staff has come to fruition in this way,” Academy director Tommy Wilson said. “This is a proud moment for Derrick and his family. I would like to congratulate them and everyone else who has played a part in his development.”

In final stage of rehab assignment, Aaron Altherr eager to return to Phillies

In final stage of rehab assignment, Aaron Altherr eager to return to Phillies

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- The Phillies can be forgiven to some extent for their failure to get consistent production out of their corner outfielders this season. After all, they've been without one of their projected starters since spring training.

The good news is Aaron Altherr is on the verge of returning after missing almost four months with a wrist injury. The 25-year-old reached the final stop of his rehab tour through the Phillies' minor league system Tuesday, going 1 for 3 with a double in a 4-2 victory for the Triple A Ironpigs.

Needless to say, Altherr is feeling better.

"It's going good," Altherr said of his recovery. "It gets a little tight every now and then. Just gotta loosen it up. I'm good to go."

Altherr suffered a torn ligament in his left wrist attempting a diving catch in a Grapefruit League game back in March. The injury was expected to keep the righthander out four-to-six months, possibly even ending his season.

If the current rehab assignment is any indication, it turns out he's about ready to rejoin the Phillies. Through 12 minor league games, which includes stints at Reading, Clearwater and in the Gulf Coast League, Altherr is 13 for 34 (.351) with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs. He's also walked seven times to six strikeouts and stolen two bases. Yet while clearly enjoying himself, he feels as though he's ready to rejoin the big club.

"It's been fun," Altherr said. "Was just down to (Double A) Reading, good crowd there. It's gonna be another good crowd up here (in Lehigh Valley) I'm sure. I always enjoy going to these places and seeing people again, so it's definitely fun.

"Mentally and physically, I think I'm ready to go. My timing is there. I'm just ready to go and get after it and play some games up there."

As for what he could bring to MLB's 29th-ranked offense, which too often this season has seen little impact from its corner outfielders, Altherr will do what he can to provide a spark for the Phillies.

"I hope so," Altherr said. "I'm not gonna try to do too much though. I'm just gonna go up there and do what I know I can do and hopefully help out the team any way I can."

A ninth-round draft pick in 2009, Altherr got his first serious look with the Phillies last year, batting .241 with 19 extra-base hits and 22 RBIs in 39 games. It wasn't nearly enough to anoint the German-born prospect as part of the franchise's rebuilding effort, but the organization was hoping to use 2016 to evaluate his potential as an everyday player.

"I wouldn't say missed opportunity," Altherr said about the poor timing of his injury. "Things like this happen. I'll get back stronger than ever and show what I can do. It is what it is. I've worked hard every day and tried to get back as fast as I could."

He's right, of course. It's not like all is lost in that sense. Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos and Tyler Goeddel have had their moments, but none has cemented his role moving forward. Outside of likely September call-up Nick Williams posting quality numbers at Triple A, there isn't exactly a long line of players knocking down the door for one of those two spots.

"There's always going to be competition no matter where you are in life, so I definitely don't really think about it too much," Altherr said. "I just have to go out there and control what I can control and play the way I know I can play."

Altherr's opportunity is coming any day now. A 6-foot-5, 215-pound athlete who also happens to be a plus-defender could bring a lot to the mix for the Phillies right now. It may be too late to find out this year if he has a long and bright future with the club, but he could certainly provide some excitement down the stretch.