CHESTER, Pa. – For the second time in the past month or so, Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth did his best Rodney Dangerfield impression and talked about not getting enough respect.
He said it the first time before hosting the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 15, before the Union dropped a 4-1 decision to Landon Donovan and company.
His reasoning is simple and certainly carries with it some merit. The Union are currently in third place in the Eastern Conference with a respectable 6-5-4 record. Should they beat the second-place Red Bulls on Sunday, they’ll have a better record than their star-studded rivals to the north. And yet Hackworth has seemed to draw a lot of criticism on social media and the Union don’t seem to be considered much of a playoff contender, as evidenced by them ranking 14th out of 19 teams in the most recent MLSsoccer.com power rankings.
So why is his team not getting as much credit as he thinks they should?
“That’s an excellent question, ” Hackworth said. “And I don’t know. I think part of it is Philly. This town has a high expectation for their teams. … I think that’s part of this culture, part of this city and part of the desire to be a champion. And we certainly have those aspirations for sure. But we know there’s a process to get there. I guess that’s what my major point would be: you need patience and you need time to get to do those things and to really build things that are long-lasting and solid.”
Indeed, if you look at where the Union were last year at this time, there’s really no comparison. Their record was a dreadful 2-8-2, they had just fired embattled manager Peter Nowak (who had impressively and dramatically disassembled a team that had made the playoffs a year ago) and their entire offense was pretty much focused around a striker who couldn’t score (Lionard Pajoy).
Since then, Hackworth has unglued Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney (the league’s leading goal scorer) from the bench, reacquired Sebastien Le Toux (the league’s leading assist man), and brought in hard-nosed veterans like Jeff Parke and Conor Casey.
Even the staunchest Hackworth critics (who don’t like many of the coach’s lineup decisions) would probably prefer a starting XI that features Okugo, McInerney, Le Toux, Parke and Casey over the one that featured Pajoy, Gabriel Gomez, Freddy Adu and the rest of Nowak’s guys who never panned out in Philly.
Of course, the critics have their points, too. Hackworth has made some puzzling lineup decisions and has yet to find a midfield with much creativity; the defense has been leaking goals recently; and the Union have only beaten teams beneath them in the standings.
So what do you think? Should the Union be given more credit for their above-.500 record considering where they were a year ago? Or do they need to start beating some of the league’s best teams (starting Sunday) to earn more respect?
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com, CSNPhilly.com and The 700 Level. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.