Union prepare for first game under Hackworth
Prior to Wednesday, the Union were set for a simple regular season contest against Eastern Conference-leading DC United on Saturday at PPL Park. It was a chance for Peter Nowak’s 2-7-2 club to defibrillate a season that was quickly losing life on the table.
But that dynamic changed.
By abruptly firing Nowak and promoting assistant John Hackworth to head coach, the Union went from grasping for momentum to being swept up in organizational change. Instead of asking if the Union can compete against one of the league’s best, the question became: What will change on Saturday that will hint at the future to come under this new regime?
“I’m not Peter Nowak. I’m John Hackworth and I’m gonna do things the way I have done it,” Hackworth said. “I believe in the players we have. We’re one of the youngest teams in the league. There are guys who want a chance.”
And while he wants to do things his way, Hackworth downplayed on-field changes.
“You’re not going to be able to tell on Saturday or at the end of July,” he said in regard to visible changes. “You can’t change things overnight. We have a lot of work to do. Saturday, we want to compete, put best foot forward. Our philosophy as far as playing is very similar [to before]. We won’t try to change stylistically from what Peter believed in. We want to play attacking soccer, press high up the field and get numbers forward. We want to be an attractive team to watch. I love how tough everybody is and as coaches, players we want to compete. You will see those things but it won’t be an overnight thing.”
Although Hackworth is now at the helm, touting a gradual movement, the expectations for the Union aren’t changing. They aren’t going into rebuilding mode and aren’t tanking the rest of the season. According to Union CEO and chief operating officer Nick Sakiewicz, whether you believe him or not, results didn’t push Nowak out of office -- it was his philosophy, presumably off the field, that was the cause.
“From our perspective, this is not about wins and loses, it is not about performance on the field,” said Sakiewicz. “Our team has moments where could have played better, but all in all this team has performed well on the pitch. It’s a cruel sport and we were on the losing end more times than the winning side. This is not about wins and losses, we have a very good team and good players.”
That just means the Union want and expect a true effort against 8-4-3 DC United, which has won three straight and four of its last five.
Hidden behind the coaching drama is the expected Union debut of Jorge Perlaza, who was brought in from the Portland Timbers for popular striker Danny Mwanga. The aggressive striker will likely be paired with Lionard Pajoy up front to give the Union a chance for some cohesiveness on the attack. Winless in their last five games, the Union need anything to get them going.
“It’s a big change and there will be an adjustment period,” said Hackworth. “With any change, guys are gonna take it the best way possible and look at it as a new opportunity.”
Also joining the roster are Roger Torres, who is coming back from a knee injury, and Zac MacMath, returning from a concussion. Although the Union will be at full tilt on Saturday, it’s Hackworth’s job to bring the talent together. It’s unknown whether buried striker Jack McInerney or midfielder Amobi Okugo will see the light of the pitch under Hackworth after being overlooked by Nowak.
“With the newcomers in Pajoy and Perlaza, and [Josue] Martinez, who we haven't seen enough of, the key is to pull them all together and make them a team,” said Sakiewicz. “Not just individually talented players.”
Oddly enough, the Union do carry momentum into the contest against the DC United. The Union won a spirited match in the U.S. Open Cup at the Maryland SoccerPlex on June 5. The physical win was a boost for the Union and brought Ben Olsen’s United back to Earth. Olsen stated that he thought his team overlooked the struggling Union, meaning they will enter PPL Park focused and ready for a bit of redemption.
But don’t think that will rattle Hackworth and the Union.
“It’s not my first rodeo,” said Hackworth. “I was a college coach for nine years, head coach for four. Head coach with the [US Men’s] national [program] for four. I’ve been the acting head coach here numerous times, it won’t be different. I don’t think this should be about John Hackworth. I’m honored to be in this position but it’s about the team and players, fans and organization. They all go first. If I do my job, they will be prepared and we’ll get a good result.”E-mail Ryan Bright at email@example.com