CEO: Union's struggles are predominantly the players' responsibility

Posted: June 13, 2014

THIS NEEDED clarification.

Not only is it rare for a sports executive to publicly call out his players, but the comments Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz directed at his charges were so brutally harsh, you wanted to make sure they were in proper context.

For any Union fan wondering why manager John Hackworth got sacked on Tuesday, Sakiewicz said to look no further than the guys in the locker room.

"Yes, I will clarify," Sakiewicz said yesterday at a news conference introducing Jim Curtin as interim coach. "The last time I made a coaching change, it wasn't on the players.

"This time, it is 80 percent on the players . . . In this business, you've got to take accountability as a player. I know that, because I was a player. You need to look yourself in the mirror and say, 'Hey, my bad' when it's your bad. That honesty is really important.

"The players need to be accountable for the situation that we are in. And they also need to be accountable for getting us out of it."

The good news for the players is that Sakiewicz and Curtin think they have the talent and character to turn this around and salvage this MLS season with a strong surge after the World Cup break.

"I think we have a lot of quality in our team," Sakiewicz said, pointing out that the Union has had some successful performances. "We're a good team; we have the quality in the locker room.

"It's [Curtin's] job to unleash that quality and to get more three-point games than one-point games or no-point games."

It has become a bittersweet opportunity of a lifetime in the young coaching career of Curtin, the 34-year-old Oreland native who was an All-America defender at Villanova and went on to play more than 200 games in MLS.

"Is this something I thought was going to happen at the beginning of the year? No it's not," said Curtin, who joined the Union staff in 2010 and became a senior team assistant coach in 2012. "It's not the way I wanted this to go but it is the reality and I'm going to take it and run with it."

The "interim" adjective in front of Curtin's new title is important. Depending on the situation, it can mean different things.

When Hackworth replaced Peter Nowak in 2012, he was the "interim manager," but it was clear from his introductory news conference that the full-time job was his to win or lose. It's not that clear-cut with Curtin.

"We talked about that and we had a very good discussion," Curtin said of his conversation with Sakiewicz about being the interim manager. "I know that I am a 34-year-old coach. I have things to learn, but I do think I know what it takes to win in this league, that's for sure.

"I understand that there is going to be a search for a coach to come in here. That is going to happen. All I ask that Nick keep me informed.

"A search has to happen. I don't care if I'm first in command, second in command, third in command. I care about winning and winning in this city."

Sakiewicz said that, given the interest being shown in the Union job, he would be negligent not to talk to some of the people he has gotten feelers from.

Because of the World Cup break, there is a rare in-season opportunity to bring in a new manager and provide him the opportunity to install his system without the immediate pressure of playing a match within days.

But Sakiewicz said this decision is too important for the fifth-year franchise to rush into anything.

" 'Quickly' is not a word I would use to describe this search," he said. "We're going to be careful, very deliberate.

"Jim is one of the candidates in that search. I've been shocked over the last 48 hours over the quality of the resum├ęs that have been flying into my email, text and phone.

"Some really important people want to coach in this league . . . Having said that, I like my guys in the locker room now. They will have a real shot, a very serious shot at carrying this team forward."

The Union don't play another MLS game until June 28, but Curtin makes his debut as manager on Tuesday at PPL Park against Harrisburg in a U.S. Open Cup game. It will be the players' first chance to show they took Sakiewicz' stern message to heart.

"To put it simply, I'd say we've had a bunch of very good players who had poor first halves of the season," Curtin said, noting there will opportunities for all players to earn playing time through performance. "We have 18 [MLS] games to get this ship right.

"We have the U.S. Open Cup which we will take extremely serious, because this club needs a trophy. There are only two that you can lift, and that's one of them.

"I can sit here and talk tactics, formations and all that, but at the end of the day, what matters in this town is winning."

Sakiewicz left no doubt that the Union players should understand that.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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