HACKWORTH'S CALMING INFLUENCE LEADING TO LENGTHY OPEN CUP RUN
|(Greg Carroccio / Philadelphia Union)|
Adu: “What's up, boss?”
Sakiewicz: “Two more, baby.”
Adu: “Yep, yep.”
Sakiewicz knows it. Adu knows it. The Union and their supporters know it. They are two victories away from winning the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, following Tuesday's 5-2 thumping of Harrisburg City Islanders. They face Sporting Kansas City, a 3-0 winner over Dayton Dutch Lions, in a July 11 semifinal at PPL Park.
It seems as though the Union's success is a product of playing more loose, which is a product of John Hackworth's impression upon this group.
From playing a more youthful lineup, to those younger players actually pulling their weight (Jack McInerney and Antoine Hoppenot, for example) … from players saying how they feel, to wearing what they like (bowties are a pretty popular look these days in the locker room), the Union are a charismatic group of guys who don't feel any pressure.
“Player management is important, and (Hackworth) has done a great job doing that for us since he's taken over,” Adu said. “Even when he was the assistant coach, he was the guy that – when you're the assistant coach, you have more of a relationship with your assistant coach when you're a player than with your head coach. He's the guy that is kind of quote-unquote your friend. He's the guy you go to to talk to. The head coach is more like the guy you don't approach – the boss.
“Because of that, I think some of the guys feel close to him. The relationship now, the title is different, but the relationship is strong. He's done an amazing job of keeping it the same, where he's really allowing us to really be ourselves. He is himself. He hasn't changed. He's John Hackworth, and we're thankful for that.”
If you don't buy into Hackworth's influence on this group, how else would you rationalize the following:
- The rapid development of Hoppenot, the 51st pick in the supplemental draft, from seldom-used sub to impact reserve with the scoring touch?
- The immediate impact of McInerney, who has transformed from lineup-card omission to goal-scoring starter?
- The emergence of Amobi Okugo, a natural midfielder who has played impeccably at central defense?
Hackworth may not be the best X-and-Os coach in MLS. He may not be the most skilled man to ever hold a clipboard. But he knows how to handle a group of kids looking for a chance. He's given the Union confidence and, in turn, they've given him production. He's shown them faith and, in turn, they're making good on that commitment.
“Hack has always told me the same thing, from the moment I got here,” said Hoppenot, who drew a foul in the box that resulted in Lio Pajoy's 69nd-minute penalty kick goal. “He's been in my corner since Day 1.”
That's why the Union are two wins away from their first piece of hardware.
NOTE: The Union introduced newly signed 26-year-old Bakary Soumare prior to the match. He went from greeting media in pregame to greeting fans during the game. Soumare, a 6-4 centerback, grabbed the mallet and starting playing the bass drum in The River End, Section 137. "I didn't play it too much," Soumare told me, "but it was a lot of fun out there." According to Soumare, his deal with the Union is "long-term." Read about it here.