Eleven days ago, the Philly Soccer Page sought to take the pulse of the local soccer scene when it comes to Philadelphia Union. We put together a poll of key questions we hear Union fans talking about the most. Then, we sat back to see what you said.
The results were eye-opening, sometimes predictable, but often surprising. More than 250 readers took the time to respond, which was a decent sampling for our first poll.
We learned that a solid majority of you think:
- John Hackworth earned the right to return as manager in 2014;
- Amobi Okugo was the team’s best player in 2013;
- Nick Sakiewicz has done a poor job as chief executive of the Union;
- Danny Cruz should not start for the Union, but he has a role to play for them;
- The Union desperately need a center attacking midfielder.
Let’s explore each of the questions to gauge what we should take from them.
Readers: John Hackworth should return as manager
Nearly two-thirds of you — 65% — said Hackworth should return as manager in 2014.
This was surprising, not because I disagree — I don’t — but because a very vocal minority thinks otherwise and repeatedly says so. Of course, now we see they are in fact the minority.
What should we conclude from this?
- Negadelphians are vocal. (Those non-Negadelphians who want Hackworth replaced might be vocal too, but we’re not sure.)
- A large, quieter majority recognizes the deep salary cap mess in which Hackworth’s predecessor, Peter Nowak, had buried the team.
- Most Philadelphia fans are patient.
- Hackworth must produce this year, judging by the more than one-third of you who wanted to replace him this year.
Readers: Nick Sakiewicz has not done a good job as Union CEO
Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz has not fared as well as Hackworth, with 70% saying he has not done a good job in his role. That shows a sharp contrast compared to how Hackworth fared, although to be fair, the questions were phrased differently. (There has never been much question of whether Sakiewicz would return in 2014, as he is part of the ownership team.)
Also to be fair, remember that Sakiewicz is the face of the Union ownership team, but he is just a minority shareholder. The primary stakeholder is Jay Sugarman, who generally makes no public statements on the Union and is rarely seen around the stadium. So Sakiewicz could also be taking the heat for an ownership group that many fans view as unwilling to spend enough money on the team.
Regardless, it’s not a good sign for Sakiewicz, who could use a good season from the Union to bolster his standing among the fans.
Readers: Amobi Okugo was the Union’s best player in 2013 …
This one wasn’t close, with Okugo taking 64% of the vote. Right back Sheanon Williams placed second (11%), followed by Conor Casey (10%), Jeff Parke (7%), Jack McInerney (6%), and Sebastien Le Toux (1%).
… but readers want him to play midfield …
A whopping 66% of you feel Okugo should play defensive midfield instead of center back.
Okugo played both positions as a youth international, but once he reached UCLA for his lone college season, he stayed primarily in midfield. Hackworth has preferred him at center back and plans to keep him there. That has never sat well with many, and the debate has yet to die down.
Personally, I’m OK with Okugo at center back. His talent ceiling there is high, his national team prospects are solid at center back, and he’s on his way to being one of the best in the league there. An extended run at midfield, however, could show Okugo has a whole other level. Don’t expect this debate to die down among fans if the Union midfield is weak again in 2014.
… and value him more than Jack McInerney
Okugo and McInerney are the last of the Union originals who have played all their games with the Union, they were first round picks in that inaugural 2010 draft class, and they both emerged as breakout players at the same time. As a result, they’ll probably always be linked together.
They also will see their rookie contracts expire at the end of next season, which prompted our poll question, “If the Union could only keep one [Okugo or McInerney], who would you keep?”
84% of you chose Okugo.
In part, we can attribute that to McInerney’s cold spell for most of the season’s second half. Would many of you say the same thing if McInerney was on another hot streak? A few minds would surely change. Gifted goal-scorers like McInerney are hard to find.
But there’s also something else, and that’s probably fans’ sense that McInerney can be a bit petulant on the field. Yes, it’s understandable that McInerney would grow frustrated with his lack of adequate service from midfield. After all, thousands of Union fans are frustrated with it too. It’s another thing entirely to show up your teammates by pouting, gesturing, or otherwise making clear to the thousands watching the game that you don’t think much of your teammates. This may be common in European soccer, but it runs counter to American sports sensibilities.
On the other hand, Okugo looks like someone who, if he stays with the Union long-term instead of going to Europe, could be a future team captain.
Readers: The Union desperately need a No. 10
A whopping 88% of you said the Union’s biggest positional need was for a central attacking midfielder. No other poll question saw as lopsided a result. Fortunately, Hackworth recognizes this is the key missing piece. Captain Obvious also recognizes this.
Readers: Danny Cruz should not start, but the Union should keep him
Several takeaways from our question on what to do with Danny Cruz:
- 95% of you think he should not start for the Union;
- 63% said he should stay with the Union as a substitute.
- 32% said he should be cut or traded.
- Just 5% said he should be a starter.
Union fans clearly recognize that Cruz, perhaps the team’s most polarizing player, brings something of value to the team. They probably like his hard-nosed style, as well as his pure athleticism. Maybe he even has a bit of Brian Dawkins to him.
But they also recognize that isn’t enough to be a guaranteed starter, particularly when it often meant displacing Sebastien Le Toux and Michael Farfan from right midfield in 2013. Cruz’s best role may be off the bench, running at tired defenders, drawing fouls, and creating a spark.
Either way, you all just gave him some motivational material for the off-season, and with a determined athlete like Cruz, that could produce some results.
Readers: Winning is more important than looking pretty, but …
We asked the question of whether it was more important to win, even if it looked ugly, or to play attractive, flowing, attacking soccer. It was fairly close, but 55% said winning was most important.
This largely validates Hackworth’s pragmatic tactical approach in 2013.
But the fact that nearly half of you were willing to sacrifice wins for attractive soccer, even if it results in losses, suggests that there is a strong desire to see a more elegant product on the field at PPL Park in 2013.
Readers: Split on biggest Union rival
This was another fairly close vote, with 52% of you feeling the Red Bulls were the Union’s biggest rival but 42% thinking it was D.C. United.
What was interesting was that 5% of you said someone else.
If you voted for someone else, who did you suggest, and why? Tell us in the Comments section below.
Readers: Death to Machinehead
Finally, 71% of you said the Bush song, “Machinehead”, should never again be played or spoken of at PPL Park. PSP concurs.