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 Notes: Wayne Simmonds defends hit on Andrei Markov

Flyers Notes: Wayne Simmonds defends hit on Andrei Markov

MONTREAL — Wayne Simmonds didn’t feel as though he did anything wrong. Or that he even touched Andrei Markov.
Thing is, however, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety may have a different view of it come Tuesday morning.
Early during first-period play Monday night, the Flyers' winger came out of the penalty box after serving a minor for holding and cross-checked Markov from behind.
The Canadiens' defenseman went face-first into the boards and fell to the ice, where he appeared to try and sell a penalty. Nothing came of it, but the hit will likely be reviewed anyway.
“I barely touched him,” Simmonds. “When you got a bunch of guys diving all over the place, what are you going to do? Stand on your feet.”

There were a number of tough hits from both sides in the Flyers' 3-1 loss to the Canadiens (see game recap). It was evenly played and the Flyers deserved a point.
“We played a solid game,” Simmonds said. “Obviously, we lost and it’s not what we wanted but we have four more games this week.
“We go home and we've got to be focused on the positive things that we did and carry it over the rest of the week.”
Gudas eligible
Radko Gudas has yet to play a real game this season.
The Flyers' bruising defenseman has been serving a six-game suspension for a careless hit in Boston that closed out exhibition play earlier this month.
Tuesday night, the Flyers will play the back end of a back-to-back against Buffalo at the Wells Fargo Center and Gudas likely will return to the lineup now that his suspension has ended.
“It seems like forever,” Gudas said. “I could use more games behind me. I think I’m ready with my conditioning and skill level, so I can’t wait to get back in there.”
The decision as to who comes out will be difficult. A good guess right now would be Nick Schultz.
“We've got the information at this point,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “It will be a tough decision, no question, if we are healthy.”
At some point — Nov. 5 — Michael Del Zotto will be eligible to come off LTIR. That means another veteran blueliner would become available and an even bigger problem will arise because Del Zotto carries a $3.875 million cap hit.
Barring injury or trade, when Del Zotto returns, the Flyers will have to move two players off their roster entirely just to be cap compliant.
For now, following Monday’s loss, Hakstol has to decide whether to stick with his current defense or put Gudas back in. Given the Flyers have missed Gudas’ physical presence — teams have taken liberties on smallish rookie Travis Konecny — it makes sense to reinsert Gudas.
“Obviously, teams are going to take advantage of smaller guys,” Gudas said. “I would love to be out there if anything happened. All the guys here are responsible and I think they did a pretty good job defending that. It’s not happening a lot.”
No, but it’s happened enough that the Flyers should take note of it.
Hakstol said his decision does not have to come until Tuesday.
“That’s not to say we haven’t looked at things and thought about the [issue], but that decision comes after tonight,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gudas finally has come to the conclusion that the NHL is watching his every hit.
“They’re looking at me since Day 1 I got here,” he said. “The guys made up their minds. I have to make sure I don’t give them an opportunity to call again.”
Maybe he should change his ringtone to say, “Player Safety calling.”

Loose pucks
Simmonds and Matt Read saw their four-game goal-scoring streaks come to an end. ... The Flyers were credited with 39 hits, the most they’ve had since 41 in a home game against Montreal on Jan. 5, 2016. Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Schultz were credited with five apiece. ... Ice-time leaders: Ivan Provorov (21:31), Shayne Gostisbehere (21:27) and Brandon Manning (20:36). … Boyd Gordon was 10 for 12 (83 percent) on faceoffs. ... Jakub Voracek had five shots, giving him 21 overall, which ties him for 10th in the league. His goal gave him eight points and ties him with five other players for fourth in the NHL.

RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai 'calms the storm,' rebounds in 2nd start

RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai 'calms the storm,' rebounds in 2nd start

Halapoulivaati Vaitai wasn’t Lane Johnson on Sunday against the Vikings.

But he didn’t look like Halapoulivaati Vaitai either ... at least the version that was a revolving door last week in Washington.

In his NFL debut last week, Big V gave up two sacks, a quarterback hit and a hurry. Against the Vikings, he gave up just one QB hurry.

What led to the change?

“I just think learning from the week before, quite honestly,” head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. “He really, again, detailed his work during the week. He practiced extremely well. He used his hands better.

“He was able to calm the storm, so to speak, and played a fine football game. He played the type that we saw [in] him and he’s capable of doing. Now it’s something that he can continue to build on.”

While it seemed like Pederson curtailed his offense some to counteract what could be a shaky offensive line, he said it was more about utilizing his team’s strengths. Still, Carson Wentz attempted just four passes that traveled over 20 yards on Sunday and didn’t complete a pass that went more than nine yards in the air.

Despite Vaitai’s scary performance in his debut, Pederson decided to stick to his plan and leave him at right tackle instead of shuffling the offensive line by moving Allen Barbre to tackle and replacing him with Stefen Wisniewski.

The jury is still out on the decision, but the Eagles probably have more confidence in their offensive line for the next eight games of Johnson’s suspension than they did before playing the Vikings.

The Eagles' O-line didn’t give up a sack to the Vikings after giving up five the previous week.

“I thought our guys [Sunday] did a great job of no sacks against a team that had 19 coming in,” Pederson said. “Protected [Wentz], kept him clean and it just gives him confidence now and gives our whole unit confidence moving forward and coming away.”