Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
Believe it or not, it’s quite hard to get fired as Philadelphia Union manager.
The only manager the Union ever fired had to first allegedly misuse transfer funds, trade all his fan favorites, abuse his players, implode his career in the most spectacular fashion in MLS history, and generally just be a mean guy. So let’s treat Peter Nowak one as a one-off.
But after the stink bomb dropped in Montreal on Saturday, the clamor for John Hackworth’s dismissal has gotten much louder. Fans are losing patience, and it’s not just the vocal Negadelphian minority anymore.
With that in mind, it seems time to offer some tips on how not to get fired as Union manager.
(Let’s presume that Hackworth already knows not to apply for jobs in Scotland, so we’ll leave that and Nowak’s other silliness off the list.)
I’ve said Hackworth should not be fired, and even a performance as bad as Saturday’s won’t philosophically alter that viewpoint. He is a fundamentally decent individual with good vision for how to construct a soccer team, and he transformed a disgraced club into one top players want to join. He deserves more time to show he can coach them.
But his starting lineup against Montreal makes it harder to defend this position. That lineup looked like panic from a coach feeling the heat.
So, here’s how not to get fired as Union manager, in five easy steps.
1. Never start Fabinho and Danny Cruz on the wings in a must-win game. Ever.
New rule: Any lineup card that includes both Cruz and Fabinho as starting wingers must include the caveat that “Chaco Maidana, Sebastien Le Toux and Leo Fernandes are injured.” Otherwise, it should be immediately lit on fire.
Forget Cruz for a moment. He was actually decent, particularly for a guy coming off an injury.
But Fabinho has no business starting ahead of Maidana or Le Toux, particularly considering both were coming off strong games last week.
Fabinho is a decent reserve left back who does one thing well: Dribble down the left and then cross into the middle.
But he hasn’t done it well lately because opponents know that’s all he can do. Plus, Andrew Wenger has offered no aerial presence in the box anyway, despite looking fairly good otherwise.
It’s one thing to add pacy players to pressure a weak Montreal back line. But “pacy” is no substitute for “good.”
2. Play your best players — the ones who are best in actual games.
Nobody outside the Union locker room cares who is best in practice. Whatever it means for motivating players, fans don’t care.
Only games matter now.
Maidana needs to play nearly all the time. Period, end of story.
Le Toux needs to play. Yes, you need to figure out how to better incorporate him into the lineup, but he has a history of scoring and assisting for the Union. Goals are good. It’s actually the point of the game.
Don’t overthink this.
The Union’s best 11 players may still be up for debate, but few would argue who the best 13 are when fit and in form: Okugo, Nogueira, Edu, Maidana, Le Toux, Williams, Gaddis, Berry, MacMath, Wenger, Casey, Fernandes, and yes, Brian Carroll. (Wheeler is probably No. 14.)
If you start anyone outside that top 13 due to reasons other than injury and then lose, angry Philadelphia fans will want to fire you.
3. Austin Berry must start at center back. Now. Or you will get fired.
If you’re losing games with a converted forward starting at center back ahead of the actual, proven starting center back you traded for, your fans will say bad things about you, like that you can’t coach and should be fired.
This is particularly the case in Philadelphia. I’m sorry. Don’t blame me. I’m from north Jersey. I have nothing to do with this. This is just the way they are here.
Personally, I like the Aaron Wheeler experiment. He’s a beast in the air. He’s very athletic, and he’s just a good soccer player overall. His adjustment has been impressive. Given time, he could become a very good center back.
But the time and place to give him minutes are not in Union games that you must win to save your job. It’s on loan with Harrisburg, for whom he could have gotten 180 minutes last week at center back. As a bonus, Harrisburg could stop playing your first round draft pick midfielder at center back, and you wouldn’t have to relive Wheeler’s ballwatching on the widespread defensive breakdown that led to Montreal’s goal.
The fan base swooned over the trade for former MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry. Berry looked good as a starter before he got hurt. He’s healthy enough to make the 18. You got the trade right. Just play the guy already.
4. It’s time to transition from long term to short term thinking.
Even if you are right in the long term, it will not matter if you get fired in the short term.
American sports have a great tradition of patient rebuilds. Our mechanisms of player drafts, waiver wires, free agency (or a semblance thereof), and no relegation make this a classic, time-honored tradition. Here’s how the process typically works:
- First you clear out the dead weight.
- You build a young foundation.
- You bring in some key veterans.
- The talent level improves.
- The chemistry begins to develop.
- Then you start winning lots of games.
The Union are on step 5. Everyone can see this team is talented. Even against Montreal on the road, they dominated possession and outshot the Impact.
Hackworth’s long-term vision should not be in question. He has proved an astute observer of talent and adept in the MLS trade and transfer markets.
But you can’t always be thinking of building for the long term if you lose the fan base in the short term. Patience is hard, particularly when the coach veers from the vision he wants you to be patient with.
5. Stay consistent with your vision, or you won’t convince your fans to.
It’s hard to argue that fans should be patient if you’re not being patient.
It’s hard argue the team is evolving if you don’t let it evolve.
You can’t jerk around your wingers and start playing your backup left back as an attacker.
Put Maidana and Le Toux in. They’ll figure it out eventually. They’re too good not to. They’re the best hope in the short term and long term.
The same goes for Sheanon Williams and Austin Berry. Yes, Williams looks off the pace, and Berry crapped the bed in his one-game return from injury. But if Berry is fit enough to make the 18, he is fit enough to start at this point. Same with Williams, even if he needs a late game sub right now. (This is how to use Fabinho, by the way. Bring him in when Williams tires, and flip Gaddis to the right.)
Sports are not that complicated. Put in your best players. Let them play.
This is Philadelphia. Stop screwing around. Philadelphia fans don’t have the patience for this kind of thing.