The downfall of John Hackworth

The downfall of John Hackworth

I’ll start by saying this: I like John Hackworth. He was a very nice guy that made covering the team an enjoyable experience. And after seeing him interact with his players and interviewing him for this long-form feature, I still believe he was the right man to be the Philadelphia Union’s manager after Peter Nowak was fired two years ago and that, contrary to what some might have thought, running an MLS team was the logical next step in his coaching career.

But being close to the team, you also notice certain problems (not all of which were his fault) that when put together make Tuesday’s firing of Hackworth understandable, even if most of the onus for the team’s struggles should fall on team CEO Nick Sakiewicz.

Here’s a summary of what I think the biggest problems were (though I’m sure you guys might have a few more to add in the comments section) that led to Hackworth’s demise and the promotion of a Philly guy who had a 4th-and-26th-themed wedding:

1. Playing favorites (and vice versa): OK, so every coach has his favorites and we all know that Hackworth valued (some would say overvalued) guys like Danny Cruz, who’s known for his hustle and grit more than his soccer savvy. But, in my opinion, his biggest issue was stubbornly not playing certain guys who clearly had a lot of skill – players like Roger Torres, Bakary Soumare, Kleberson and even Freddy Adu. Not starting Soumare at the beginning of the 2013 season, you could argue, set the stage for the serious center back problems that plagues the team today. And even though Kleberson wasn’t the player he once was, giving him more minutes last season (if only for his free-kick expertise) could have been the difference in making the playoffs and not making the playoffs.

2. Tactics/lineups: This is a broad one and there’s certainly a lot to dissect, but I think his main tactical misstep this season was trying to play high-pressing attacking soccer when his team lacked the personnel to do so. As such, the Union often looked disjointed and were prone to counter-attacks and defensive giveaways. Perhaps they could have overcome this but the backline lacked any kind of stability because of Hackworth’s lineup shuffling, led by converted striker Aaron Wheeler starting eight games at center back before Hackworth finally admitted it was a mistake. Trying to fit aging captain Brian Carroll into the central midfield along with Maurice Edu and Vincent Nogueira also proved more difficult for Hackworth than he anticipated.

3. A player’s coach: Hackworth once told me he didn’t want to be known as a “player’s coach” because he thought that term made him look a pushover. But there’s no denying that he fostered a great locker room environment and that his players loved him, as they showed when they all ran over to hug him in a very memorable celebration in Kansas City last month. But when you consider the Union then followed that up with two of their worst games of the season, perhaps loving their manager wasn’t enough. Perhaps they also needed to be fearful of him. Perhaps they needed a happy medium between someone like former manager Peter Nowak (who, as we all know, was a little bit crazy) and an affable, level-headed guy like Hackworth.

4. His technical staff: As a young coach, Hackworth could have used an older guy on his staff to lean on and make tough decisions. Instead, his technical director was the team’s goalkeeper coach (Rob Vartughian) and the rest of his staff was younger than he was. That’s a lot of pressure to be put on Hackworth, who clocked ridiculous hours not only running the team but spearheading most of the personnel moves. And when he did count on his staff, I would argue he didn’t always get good advice – like on draft day when I don’t think the team made the most of having two top six picks.

5. Bad luck/bad timing: For better or worse, soccer coaches are put on the hot seat any time they don’t win. Hackworth had been given a year-and-a-half cushion to clean up Nowak’s salary mess, but after bringing in some quality players in the offseason and finally making the team his, he had lost the one thing he probably needed most: time. And it was a combination of him not being able to figure out a way to make all the pieces mesh together and many of the returning players he counted on struggling that doomed him. In many ways, he was a victim of his good offseason acquisitions – because there was probably too much turnover for him to win early in the season while winning early in the season was what he needed to save his job.

Rookies Keegan Rosenberry, Fabian Herbers help Union top Crew

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Rookies Keegan Rosenberry, Fabian Herbers help Union top Crew

BOX SCORE

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Rookies Keegan Rosenberry and Fabian Herbers scored to help the Philadelphia Union beat the Columbus Crew 2-1 on Wednesday night.

Rosenberry gave the Union (10-9-7) a 2-1 lead in the 74th minute. Tranquillo Barnetta one-timed a feed to Rosenberry who trapped it with his right foot and blasted a left-footer through a pair of defenders and past goalkeeper Steve Clark.

Herbers, making his fifth start of the season, opened the scoring in the 60th. Chris Pontius tapped it to Herbers who, from the top of the box, had a shot blocked by Hector Jimenez before side-netting the rebound. Both of his two career goals have come against Columbus (4-9-11).

Adam Jahn tied it in the 73rd minute. Tony Tchani's header, off the corner by Federico Higuain, was deflected off the crossbar by goalkeeper Andre Blake and -- after a failed clearance by the Union -- Jahn tapped it in from close range.

It was the Union's third consecutive home win.

Columbus has one win in its last 11 matches.

Source: Phillies have gotten trade 'nibbles' on Carlos Ruiz

Source: Phillies have gotten trade 'nibbles' on Carlos Ruiz

CHICAGO — Another trade deadline arrives next Wednesday.

Could a Phillies veteran such as Ryan Howard or Carlos Ruiz, the lone holdovers from the 2008 World Series championship team, be on the move?

ESPN reports that both players have cleared waivers, which would make them eligible to be dealt. Players traded after Aug. 1 must first clear waivers. They have to be on a new team’s roster by Sept. 1 to gain postseason eligibility. Players traded after Sept. 1 are not eligible for the postseason.

Howard has been available for a trade for a couple of seasons, but there has been no interest. Even now, with him hitting .339 with seven homers, 16 RBIs and a .742 slugging percentage since the All-Star break (entering Wednesday), there remains little interest, according to sources. Howard is still owed about $16 million in the form of salary and a $10 million contract buyout for 2017, but that would not be an impediment to a deal as the Phils would eat that. Still, it’s unlikely he will be traded because most of the American League contenders are set at designated hitter, which would be his optimal role.

So, Howard, 36, is likely to play out the final year of his contract with the Phils, take his well-earned bows and exit either to retirement or a new team next season. He says he wants to keep playing.

Ruiz, 37, is also in the final year of his contract. Like Howard, he has swung the bat well recently, hitting .298 with a .433 on-base percentage in his last 26 games. He’s a backup catcher at this stage of his career, but that could appeal to a team like Cleveland or Boston, contenders who could be in the market for catching depth.

A baseball source said the Phillies have received some recent “nibbles” on Ruiz. It’s unclear if a deal will reach the finish line.

As players with 10 seasons in the majors and five consecutive with the same team, Howard and Ruiz both have the power to block a trade. It’s doubtful that either would because both have stated that their goal is to play in the postseason again.

“I’m still happy here,” Ruiz said. “We’ll see what happens. If that happens, it happens. If it doesn't, I'm going to play.”

Howard has taken the same attitude.

“Those are situations where I guess you’ve got to see what presents itself,” he said. “You know me. The last 12 years I’ve just been focused on playing ball. If it presents itself, it presents itself. You handle that situation. Otherwise, I just try to stay in the moment, stay in the now and prepare for the game.”

Trace McSorley named Penn State's starting quarterback

Trace McSorley named Penn State's starting quarterback

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Trace McSorley will start at quarterback for Penn State when the Nittany Lions open against Kent State on Sept 3.

Coach James Franklin settled on the sophomore after McSorley battled redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens for the job through the spring and summer.

"We're excited what he brings to our offense," Franklin said Wednesday. "I think the biggest thing is he's been the backup quarterback for two years. He has game experience and there's value in that. You've been able to see it already, you're not projecting as much."

McSorley will make his first career start at home against Kent State.

"It's a lot of weight off my shoulders," McSorley said. "Over the whole offseason, Tommy and I were pushing each other. This team will be better because of how this competition went with us pushing each other."

Both quarterbacks are strong runners, but McSorley's experience gave him the edge.

His shiftiness was utilized in practice throughout his tenure as Christian Hackenberg's backup. He usually led the scout team against the top defense, offering a similar look to the opposing running quarterbacks Penn State would play.

Although he's played sparingly on Saturdays in that time, McSorley saw meaningful snaps in Penn State's bowl game in relief of an injured Hackenberg. Then, McSorley completed 14 of 17 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns, ran seven times for 31 yards and nearly led a comeback against Georgia.

Now, McSorley will try and turn around a unit that's ranked 105th and 114th in total offense the last two seasons. He'll do so in a spread-based offense designed for a mobile quarterback and led by new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.

"I think the best thing about the way he runs the ball is he's savvy," linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "He sets up his cuts. You play a guy who's a statue in the pocket and you cover well, he gets sacked. Now we have another element. Not only do you have to worry about covering guys, but when that four or five seconds is up there's that option of scrambling, another aspect of the play you have to worry about."