CHESTER, Pa. – As the Philadelphia Union were preparing for their first MLS Cup Playoffs game in franchise history last season, Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz praised the work of manager Peter Nowak, saying he was his “first, second and third choice” to lead the club and that he “fits the market and fits our organization.”
At some point in the eight months since then, however, that sentiment began to change. And on Wednesday afternoon, Sakiewicz held a press conference to announce that the Union and Nowak would be parting ways because of “philosophical differences” and that assistant coach John Hackworth will take over as manager on an interim basis.
The rest of Philadelphia technical staff, including sporting director Diego Gutiérrez, will remain with the club.
“At some point, you wake up in the morning and you realize this isn’t quite the way you want the Union brand represented,” Sakiewicz said. “I’m not a wine connoisseur, but I know what good wine tastes like. When I sipped the wine recently, it didn’t taste so good.”
The Union are certainly struggling this season, as their 2-7-2 record indicates. And they’ve made some questionable personnel moves in dealing away fan favorites and franchise stalwarts like Sébastien Le Toux, Danny Califf and Danny Mwanga since earning their 2011 playoff berth.
But Sakiewicz said this move had nothing to do the team’s record or roster. He also said the recent rumor of Nowak pursuing a job in Scotland, while “not good timing,” did not factor into his decision either.
“Make no mistake, this is not about wins and losses or our performance as a team,” Sakiewicz said. “We have a very good team. We have very good players. This is more about philosophical differences about the way [owner Jay Sugarman] and I envisioned this club. Sometimes that happens – the head coach and ownership aren’t on the same page. That’s why I felt it was really important to make the change and give John the opportunity.”
In Hackworth, Sakiewicz believes he has a coach who will be on the same page as the club’s owners – and also someone who can right the ship and salvage the 2012 season.
Hackworth, Nowak’s right-hand man since the Union’s expansion season, said he was “humbled and honored” about the promotion and is excited to put his own stamp on the franchise. Before that, though, the former US Under-17 national team and University of South Florida head coach made sure to thank his former boss.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Peter Nowak,” Hackworth said. “Peter’s a dear of friend of mine. We did a lot of things together that I’ll remember forever, and I’m very thankful for those opportunities.”
Sakiewicz also called Nowak a good friend – which made the meeting with him Wednesday morning that much more difficult. But, the Union CEO said, it was a move that had to be done for “our fans, our sponsors, our broadcast partners and our dear Sons of Ben.”
“This badge,” Sakiewicz said, tapping the Union crest on his jacket, right above his heart, “will always come first.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org