2012 in Review: Q&A with the Union's John Hackworth
Over the next three weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 10-18-6 (36 points); 37 GF / 45 GA (-8 GD)
It was certainly an eventful year for John Hackworth, who got his first opportunity to lead an MLS team when he replaced Peter Nowak as the Philadelphia Union’s manager on June 13.
Those circumstances were difficult for Hackworth, who was Nowak’s friend and deputy on the Union bench since the franchise’s inception. But he tried his best to put Nowak’s volatile reign in the past and create a new direction for the club, focused around a core of young players.
In the end, the Union failed to make the playoffs this season. But Hackworth believes progress was still made since he took over as manager. In this interview with MLSsoccer.com, the Union manager discusses his midseason promotion, which players he thought had big years and what needs to be done to turn his team into a playoff contender next year – and for many years to come.
MLSsoccer.com: Looking at the season as a whole, what are your final thoughts on how everything turned out?
Hackworth: It was a tough year. Any time you make a coaching change in the middle of a season, there’s going to be a ton of changes and a ton of challenges that you’ve got to get through. At the same time, I thought the players and our staff handled those challenges remarkably well. We were extremely close to pulling off what would have really been unthinkable early in the year. In the end, the reality was we improved a lot and laid a really good foundation for this club moving forward.
MLSsoccer.com: How would you assess the job you did in your first year as a head coach in MLS and what was it like to take over in the middle of the season like that?
Hackworth: I’ve said it before – it’s not the way you want to get this opportunity. That being said, I had a job to do. And I think our staff did a good job based on all of the factors. All things being what they were, I think we’ve put this club back in a position to be successful in the future. Hopefully from the players, to the front office, to the fans, there’s a recognition that there were some very positive steps that were taken.
MLSsoccer.com: Are there certain players that surprised you with their performances?
Hackworth: They didn’t surprise me but [Jack] McInerney, [Amobi] Okugo (right) and [Antoine] Hoppenot are probably the three biggest ones. Ray Gaddis was really good. And then there are guys like Brian Carroll, who I thought was excellent the whole year. Carlos Valdés had a really good year. Michael Farfan continued to be the attacking playmaker that we thought he could be. There are some real positives in there.
MLSsoccer.com: How valuable was it to play so many young players this season?
Hackworth: I think that’s how you build a team. There’s no substitute for the experience of playing this kind of competition. Coming into next year, that natural process of learning and development is going to happen with a lot of our guys. So I’m really quite optimistic going forward that the developmental process at the professional level is happening. The most important thing for us to do is to try to continue what we’ve done because that’s how you build a good team. At any level, those are the keys to success. You have to have the talent for sure. You might have to make some key acquisitions here and there. But you’ve got to keep that core group together, and that’s going to be one of our keys going forward.
MLSsoccer.com: You’ve mentioned the need to acquire a big-time forward. What are some other things you hope to get done this offseason?
Hackworth: We have other needs. I would like to build up some depth at left back. Right now Gabe Farfan was our only true left back on the roster. Chris Albright and Sheanon [Williams] and Ray [Gaddis] also played there and did quite well, so that was good. But I would like to see if we can find a young, talented left back that we can groom into that position and then that could help fill some holes if there’s injuries and matchup dilemmas going forward.
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Michael Farfan is our playmaker, but we also ask him to do so much and I’m not sure that’s totally fair to him. If we can find an excellent true attacking midfielder who that was their sole job to handle the workload and also has the experience needed for that kind of position at this level, that would be fantastic.
There’s a couple of other spots we would look to add some depth, but we feel pretty good about the team we have coming back.
MLSsoccer.com: What do you hope to accomplish in what will be your first preseason as the club’s manager?
Hackworth: That part’s simple. It’s all about preparation. We want to build in every possible way, prepare our team for all the scenarios, and teach them tactically how we play, from our style to set pieces to our conditioning. That’s where a really solid foundation is laid – in preseason. That’s one thing I think we’ll be able to accomplish. I look forward to that time for sure.