CHESTER, Pa. – In the middle of his first weekly press conference as interim manager of the Philadelphia Union, John Hackworth was asked what his first week on the job has been like.
“Has it been seven days?” he asked. “I haven’t slept much.”
For the Union’s new boss, the sleepless nights have been worth it. And if the time has flown by, well, that’s probably because he’s been having fun.
“I enjoy the work,” Hackworth said, flashing a smile from the podium inside the PPL Park interview room Wednesday. “The days have been long but they’ve been fun. … Any time you make a change like this, there’s a lot of work to be done. But like I said, it’s work anyone in my shoes wants to do.”
Because the Union’s decision to part ways with ex-manager Peter Nowak happened so suddenly, Hackworth – who was Nowak’s top assistant since the franchise’s first-ever game in 2010 – says he’s still dealing with a lot of emotions and hasn’t yet established a daily routine.
But the Union’s players – many of who know him well from the US Under-17 residency program, where Hackworth previously coached – have helped with the transition by rallying around their new head coach.
Even players like Brian Carroll and Freddy Adu, who have deep connections to Nowak from their time playing under him at D.C. United, seem very happy to suit up for Hackworth.
Adu admitted he came to Philadelphia in part because of Nowak – but quickly added that knowing Hackworth from residency swayed his decision as well.
“He was my coach when I was like 12 years old in Bradenton,” Adu said. “There were a lot of familiar faces here. At the end of the day, I decided to come here to be a part of this organization and this team.”
Adu said the Union players handled the coaching change “very well” and “deserved” to win Hackworth’s first game in charge – a 1-0 loss to D.C. United this past Saturday.
Hackworth noticed how well the players responded to him, too. And when asked if there have been any tangible differences he’s created since taking over, he gently pointed to the stability he’s trying to instill following Nowak’s tumultuous reign.
“I say this with no disrespect and all of the humility that I have,” Hackworth said. “I think the players felt like – at least with the lineup we put out and the way we played and what I asked of them – they could play with a lot of freedom and have no fear and go after it in every sense. I’m certainly proud of the players and the way they took on the challenge.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.