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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.
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.
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.