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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Nick Sakiewicz press conference, June 10

Apologies for being a little delayed in posting this, but I wanted to make sure I went over it a couple of times to iron out a few slightly confusing details. You'll also find a bit of redundancy, which I can't really control. Here you go.

On the decision to fire John Hackworth:
Yeah, it’s tough. It’s always tough when you have a lot of respect for a person. John’s a great guy, first-class, been with us a long time. But I just felt at this point in the season, halfway through, we needed to make a change. We needed to make a change because first and foremost, I don’t know if any of you were at the game on Saturday, but it was an amazing environment, our biggest crowd of the season and we just had the best fans. And our fans deserve better results on the field. Unfortunately for John, he knows that it’s about results and this is a tough, tough business and you’ve got to make tough decisions. But really we have to go out and we’ve got to find a top, top-class manager that’s going to be able to deliver the results that our fans deserved.

On how long the search will take:
I don’t know. I know that the resumes are flooding in from all over the world. There’s a lot of people that love big markets and love to coach in Major League Soccer, so we’re going to be very careful and deliberate. Very strategic. And the most important thing is to find the right guy who can take this group of players, which frankly I still think is pretty good. I mean this is a team that a few games ago beat the defending champion in their home park. So let’s not lose sight of the fact that there’s a pretty good group of players here that need some direction and need some motivation to win a bunch of games in the remaining part of the year. But beyond that, we need a coach that is going to be able to take this team to an MLS championship.

On the timing during the World Cup break:
Well it certainly gives Jim Curtin a little breathing room and a little time to assess the situation and make whatever adjustments he needs to make. Jim’s been with the organization a long time. He knows our culture. He knows what we’re trying to do. He knows our fanbase. He’s a Philly guy. And he’s got sharp teeth. So I imagine he’s going to put together a plan and this time gives him that opportunity to do that.

On an audition for Curtin:
Pretty much every coach is an interim coach, isn’t he? If you really think about it in any sport. Jim knows what he’s getting into. He’s got an advantage over the many résumés that we’re going to look at, the many people we’re going to talk to, and Jim will have a solid kick at the can for this job.

On discussions with Hackworth about performance:
Sure. We do that every year. In our offseason, our strategic plan is to win. And we’re an ambitious club. We want to win games. We want to win championships. And not making the playoffs is not acceptable. Not going deep is not acceptable. And John knew that. I think in talking to him along the way, he’s first-class and understands that accountability. In a lot of ways, the players also have to take accountability because I think John counted on a bunch of guys who are not having a great season. As a former player myself, you always have to look yourself in the mirror and say ‘What am I doing to help the team’ or ‘What am I not doing to help the team?’ But at the end of the day, it’s a cruel business. It’s a tough sport. It’s an unforgiving sport. And you’re measured by the results on the pitch.

On when the decision was made:
Yeah. Saturday night. I watched the game a second time, like I do every game, and, you know, we didn’t have a good first half. We’re down 2-nil at halftime. And then it takes a motivated player, Michael Lahoud, who hadn’t played a minute for us, to spark our team. That’s not good. We didn’t need a player coming off the bench to spark our team. We should be motivated to win every game. I sat back and I looked at that and realized that if we’ve got a shot at making the playoffs we’re going to have to change the leadership.

On the Union’s playoff chances:
We have a big mountain to climb, but let’s not forget how this team played in the early part of the season. We were scary good. Many people through that we were playing really, really good soccer, and we were. Things didn’t fall our way. And you can say what you want, but we dominated some opponents and maybe walked away with a draw or got an unlucky bounce and lost. Like I said, we beat the defending champion in their home stadium, and had a good game. So there’s quality here. But there’s a big mountain to climb, and my expectation is that the guys and Jim certainly are going to give it a very serious, serious run. But we’ve got to win games. Ties aren’t good anymore. We have to win games. We have the U.S. Open Cup. Big opportunity. It’s a big trophy. It means a lot. It’s a Champions League spot. So we’ve got to approach the Open Cup with an intent to win it, and Jim has assured me he’ll do that.

On when the news was decided and delivered:
I talked to Hackworth on Monday, and we talked about the situation and the team and philosophies, and then it was really shortly after that that I made the decision going into Tuesday, and I met with him this morning. I began to think about it. Honestly, up to that point, I hadn’t thought about it. I was 100 percent in John’s corner and we were trying to figure out a way together how we were going to get some three-point games under our belt. Saturday night was a big disappointment. I know it was great entertainment for you guys and TV with three unanswered goals to get a point. But again, I go back to our fans. They don’t deserve ties at home; they deserve victories. They don’t deserve being near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. They deserve a team that’s going to be near the top. And ultimately at the end of the day, that’s why I made the decision.

On why Curtin was the right man for the job:
Jim’s been with us a long time. He’s a long-time veteran, has over 200 games under his belt in MLS. He’s been an all-star, has won trophies as a player. He’s actually the only coach in our organization that has won a trophy in winning the under-18 Generation Adidas championship, and he knows what the task is. He has sharp teeth. He’s a Philly guy. He doesn’t stand for being No. 2, and he has the right mentality I think to take this group and kind of grab them by their shoulders and say, ‘OK guys, let’s win some games, you’ve got to do that.’ And no matter what happens, we’re going to have a coach that is a top, top level coach that can coach in this league, which by the way has become one of the best leagues in the world right now and is very serious. So we’ve got to be serious about winning games. We’ve got to be serious about the person that’s going to win the club.

On how that differs from Hackworth:
No, what I mean by serious is I mean an experienced coach that has been there and has performed at a very high level and that has delivered results. Jim may very well have the inside pole position to get the job, but he’s going to be on audition and he’s going to be interviewing for that. I don’t think he’s concerned about that. I think he’s like the rest of us and just wants to win games.

On how this is different than the coaching search in 2012:
We’re looking for experience. We’re looking for a coach that has been there, done that, that has won and knows how to win championships, and that’s a really important ingredient in the modern MLS. Modern MLS is, you guys do that math. Name the best leagues in the world, and when you get to 10, 11 or 12, you’re kind of talking about MLS. So we’ve got to have coaches and technical staff that can compete at that level, deal with the fan pressure, deal with the media pressure, because it’s not MLS of 10 years ago. I take away a lot from that. We’ve got to find the right guy in the big market to win games and provide the fans confidence that we’re going to deliver a championship someday.

On possibly searching outside the organization:
We’ve got to find the right guy, and whether that comes from Europe or Asia or Africa or the U.S. or Mexico or South America, we’ve got to find the right guy and we’re going to be slow and diligent and very careful in finding the right guy.

On possibly restructuring the Union’s hierarchy:
That’s something that I’m re-evaluating. When Peter (Nowak) came in, he came in as a general manger and a manger of the team. And certainly, no one questioned his credentials and his ability to do that. Unfortunately, it wasn’t about wins and losses that he left. It was a whole other set of reasons, and we all know about those. But with John, it’s a little bit different story. It is about wins and losses and performance, and he knows that. I’m evaluating the structure, and I’m evaluating what is the best model out there. Different teams do it differently, so that may change. It may not. … That structure is my decision.

On input from the players:
No. I've been in this game 30 years, six as a player, 24 as an executive, and I didn't need to talk to any players to see what was going on. We have a great locker room. Our locker room is very solid, good bunch of guys. It's not a locker room issue. It's not, in a lot of respects, a coaching issue. Some players are in slumps and not having good years. A lot of this is on them. They've got to look in the mirror and be accountable for that. I think they know who they are. But I haven't talked to any player. There's no need to.

On whether Hackworth’s decision was a tactical issue:
No, it's not. Sometimes good coaches, for whatever reason, can't get the results. It's about the results, it's about making the playoffs. It's about instilling hope that we can still win the U.S. Open Cup and get in a playoff spot and make a run at the MLS Cup. It's about wins and losses, period. It has nothing to do with tactics, or a bad locker room. We don't have a bad locker room. It's not even about having good or bad players. We actually have pretty good players. We've dominated our opponents in most of the games we've played, but the ball hasn't gone in the net. Sometimes that's not the coach’s fault, but the coach (takes the fall) for that.

On how a coaching change affects summer transfer moves:
No, it doesn't. We're having a great year, actually, in a lot of respects. Nothing changes. We're still going to play all of our games. We're going to pack the house at PPL. Our business operation is running the best it ever has. We're about to make some big announcements on the business side. All of that is good. Nothing really changes. The only thing that has to change is that we have to win some games. … None of that changes. We're still going to be very active in this transfer market. We've looked at hundreds of players. We need to fill some spots. It's no secret we need a dangerous attacking player. Those guys are difficult to find, they don't come along very often and they're expensive. That's something we have to do to help Conor (Casey) out. Conor was a hero on Saturday night. But he can't be our only weapon . We need more. We need more guys to deliver on the field in our locker room, and we have to look to bring in some other pieces that were missing from outside our locker room.

On the possible complacency of the players this season:
I don’t know. I don’t spend a lot of time in the locker room. That’s John’s domain. That’s the coach’s domain. I don’t spend any time in the locker room. I rarely go to practice and when I do it’s usually with some important people to watch practice. So the team is the coach’s domain, and I didn’t sense that there was any complacency. You look at the goal celebration after Danny Cruz scored in Kansas City. That’s not a celebration of a complacent team or a team that thinks it’s too easy with their coach. I didn’t smell that at all.

On the coaching search:
Sure. Today it begins. I haven’t even checked my iPhone but the resumes are flooding in I’m being told. Phone calls are being made. There’s a lot of interest in coaching in MLS overseas. Big coaches. Big coaches don’t want to coach in MLS if MLS isn’t a big league. It’s not me saying it. It’s great to see. You guys will hear some big names.

On adjusting a foreign coach to MLS:
If it ultimately is a foreign coach, we have to make sure we surround that foreign coach with someone who knows MLS and someone who knows the salary cap. Right now we have guys in the front office in the management technical side, people like Chris Albright and Jim certainly, they know the salary cap. So no matter who comes in, I don’t expect guys like that to depart. They’re part of the fabric of the Union and they’re going to continue to be with us in support, whether it’s a domestic coach who knows the league or someone who comes in from the outside that doesn’t. But that’s really important because MLS is a different league and has a lot of complicated rules and structure. I’ve seen a lot of foreign coaches – very good ones that have won World Cups – fail in MLS because they didn’t have the knowledge of the league or the patience to understand it.

On the changing roles of assistant coaches:
It’s up to Jim. I handed Jim the keys to morning and said it’s your bus to drive and you let me know how I can help you. Jim will be involved in the interview process, as a candidate. I’m just here to support the Jim the best way that I can.

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