Hackworth's strategy: rely on Union's youth
CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union's coaching change from hardline Peter Nowak to development-focused John Hackworth had many of the club's followers searching for tangible on-field differences between the two managers.
After a hard-fought and impressive 1-0 loss to DC United in his MLS head coaching debut, Hackworth led the team with only one noticeable change: a sink-or-swim reliance on the team’s plentiful youth.
“Peter and I are very similar when it comes to soccer, so I don’t think the soccer is different,” Hackworth said. “The only difference, and I say this with no disrespect and all the humility, is that I asked [the players] to play with freedom and no fear. And to go after it. I was proud of the way the players took on the challenge.”
Last Saturday at PPL Park, Hackworth made his most drastic roster change by starting 19-year-old exiled striker Jack McInerney, who hadn’t started since Aug. 11, 2011, and hadn’t played since April 28. Under Nowak, McInerney, the seventh-overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, couldn’t sniff the starting 11 and was being left out of friendlies and US Open Cup games.
McInerney had two shots and earned a yellow card in 74 minutes.
Hackworth also removed Lionard Pajoy, Nowak’s high-priced go-to striker, for 22-year-old speedster Josue Martinez, who made his second Union start. Amobi Okugo, at 21 another young player that Nowak grew to ignore, got the call at central defense. It was his second start since Oct. 20, 2011.
What Hackworth received with his radical (compared to Nowak, that is) but fairly obvious youth-focused strategy was an amount of effort and hunger that was missing under the previous coach. For that reason, the Hackworth said to expect more of the same this upcoming Saturday against Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park.
“What the players and I want is some continuity,” Hackworth said. “The plan is not to make big, wholesale changes. We had a good performance and if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. There will be some changes but they won’t be big.”
Hackworth also put a carrot at the end of the stick for impressive strikers Chandler Hoffman and Antoine Hoppenot – two 21-year-olds who impressed in friendly and Open Cup play. Hoppenot subbed on and had two shots in 28 minutes. Hoffman played just 16 minutes. But according to Hackworth, the playing time will be there in the next month.
“Guys are fighting for their time in training and that’s what we want,” Hackworth said. “We have some really important games coming up midweek, Open Cup against Harrisburg [City Islanders on Tuesday], then we go out to Houston [Dynamo] and L.A. [Galaxy]. There will be plenty of chances. July is worse, it feels like we play every three days. We’ll need the depth for sure. This week, when we have a full week to prepare, there will be more continuity to that lineup selection.
"It’s my job to instill faith and confidence in these players – especially the young ones."
And with the coaching swap, that’s exactly what the Union ordered.E-mail Ryan Bright at firstname.lastname@example.org