FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – One word tends to make all the difference in the coaching ranks, but the recent alteration of a key term in his job title didn't much matter to Philadelphia manager John Hackworth after the Union's 0-0 draw with New England on Saturday night.
“For me, from the day that I took over, I assumed that I was going to be here and coached the same way,” Hackworth said after his first match in permanent charge of the Union. “It was no different tonight for me. I had the support of our ownership the whole time. Tonight wasn't any different. Getting an important win on the road in the conference would have been great and I thought it was there tonight. It didn't happen.”
The disappointing stalemate at Gillette Stadium continued the Union's recent trend of decent performances without the accompanying results. Hackworth's young charges haven't scored much as of late (five goals in the past eight games) and haven't picked up as many points (two in the past six matches) as expected despite their evident uptick in confidence and form since the departure of former boss Peter Nowak in June.
Such instant concerns did not dissuade the Union brass from assessing Hackworth's tenure (5-6-2 before the draw at New England) through a wider lens and naming him the permanent manager on Thursday. It isn't particularly convincing or particularly straightforward for a club to hand a coach control for the foreseeable future in the middle of a five-match winless skid. The magnitude of that display of faith isn't lost on the beneficiary of the decision.
“I think it says a lot,” Hackworth said. “I'm thankful for this opportunity. I'm going to try to make the most of it and continue what we've been doing over the past two and a half months. If you look at our record and the way we've played, we've had some difficulties scoring goals. But I'll take our soccer every day.”
The improved aesthetics – more possession and more movement, less sitting and less waiting for a result – likely played a significant role in the decision. Hackworth's ability to change the culture in the locker room and the attitude towards the public mattered as well, but this project will fail or succeed based on how he can continue the development of this team as a dynamic and potent unit.
It is not a process that will occur overnight. Most of the problems discussed in the Musings a couple of months ago – the absence of a prolific center forward (even with Jack McInerney's industry), a string-pulling central midfielder (even with Michael Farfan's toil) and a sturdy center back to partner Carlos Valdés (even with Amobi Okugo's transition), in particular – still exist. Continued and recurring conflicts and scuffles on the field suggest general temperament remains an issue as well.
Those concerns raise issues that are part and parcel in the evolution of a young side. It isn't a matter of talent. It is a matter of displaying the necessary patience to allow these players to muster up the necessary consistency from week-to-week and supplementing the group with proven and seasoned performers to push the group onwards.
“There are some growing pains here for sure,” Hackworth said. “As well as we play sometimes, we make some bad mistakes. Little places where we need to be a little more mature, a little more disciplined. We lose our heads in moments or we make a bad decision. That's growth. We need to mature to get better.”
Hackworth knows all about those particular foibles after contributing to the process of building this side since its inception. His role then included a different title and a different set of responsibilities. This new task comes with a lofty moniker and a whole host of burdens dropped straight at his door. If the first match in that particular seat provides any indication of how Hackworth will approach the scenario, then it is a task that he will embrace earnestly without undue regard for the ramifications or trappings associated with his shifting role in the construction of the Union.
Five Points – Week 24
1. Columbus surges into postseason position with yet another late show: Chad Marshall and Emilio Renteria scored in the final ten minutes (plus stoppage time, in Renteria's case) to end Montréal's five-game winning streak and propel the Federico Higuaín-led Crew to a 2-1 home victory on Saturday night. The Argentine sensation provided the assist on both goals as Robert Warzycha's side ran its unbeaten run to six matches (including wins in the past four outings) and slipped ahead of sputtering D.C. United into fifth spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we have been playing until the last minute,” Warzycha told reporters after the game. “Like I said, we showed character, playing for the fans, for the club and for ourselves. I think everybody is working hard. You’re not going to be rewarded every time for the hard work, but the guys understand each other and it was just great.”
2. Lightning strikes as Real Salt Lake obtains a crucial home victory: Inclement weather forced referee Silviu Petrescu to halt the proceedings just four minutes into RSL's 1-0 victory over D.C. United on Saturday night. The two sides waited 84 minutes before taking the field once again. Will Johnson repaid the members of the sell-out crowd who stuck around through the stoppage by providing the difference between the sides after 48 minutes.
“I think it’s awesome [most of the crowd stayed],” RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando – perhaps the home side's hero on the night with his efforts to keep out a game United outfit – told reporters after the weather-marred encounter. “Sometimes you don’t know what to expect when you have delays. Walking out there and seeing the stadium packed when we’re warming up for that 15 minutes and hearing and feeling the energy from our fans really felt great. It’s something that I don’t put past them. I don’t put it past these fans. They stick around and it’s really great to play in front of them.”
3. This start was worth the wait: Seattle winger Steve Zakuani took his place in Sounders FC's starting XI for the first time since that career-turning evening in Commerce City 500 days ago in Sunday night's 1-1 draw at FC Dallas. Zakuani marked the occasion by contributing the assist on Mauro Rosales' opener after 20 minutes as Seattle picked up an important road point during a hectic stretch.
“I was just happy we scored,” Zakuani told reporters after the game. “It didn't hit me until half time that it was my first start. It was good to get back on the board in terms of an assist, but I was honestly just disappointed that we didn't get to the half at 1-0.”
4. Breaking records and bolstering positions in San Jose: The Earthquakes set a new club record for goals in a season (56) with seven matches still to play after notching a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Chivas USA on Sunday night. Another attacking explosion – courtesy of three set piece goals on this occasion, including two from captain Ramiro Corrales – ensured the margins atop the Supporters' Shield race (three points over Sporting Kansas City) and the Western Conference table (seven points over Real Salt Lake) remained in tact after both chasing clubs won this weekend.
“Tonight was a fantastic performance from the whole team,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop told reporters after the game. “I talked to the guys about maintaining the standard that we have set this year every game and we certainly did that tonight. As a group, we kept pushing the entire game and never took our foot off the gas. We really wanted a clean sheet and we worked hard for it.”
5. One goal to sum up the current state of Chivas USA: Corrales' second tally and the Earthquakes' fourth on the night came in farcical fashion. The Red-and-White conceded a free kick in the defensive third and subsequently exhibited a level of confusion usually seen in youth sides. No player stepped on the ball amid the mess to allow Dan Kennedy to assemble his wall from the throng of players scrambling around the scene. Corrales took advantage of the disarray wisely. The veteran defender picked up his head and placed a shot into the far corner as Kennedy vainly tried to go from post-to-post to keep it out. The incident offers a telling example to explain why Robin Fraser's side has now conceded 13 times in its past three games (and could have shipped at least a few more during those affairs if not for the usual doses of Kennedy heroics).
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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