The Final Whistle: Insider knowledge from team manager John Hackworth

Dear Supporters,

To describe this past offseason, I am opening this letter with a famous line from a Grateful Dead song, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.” As coaches, you start preparing for your next season even before the offseason begins – especially when you know you aren’t contending for a championship.

First, I’d like to close the door on the Carlos Valdes situation. The possibility of him leaving was something that he and I talked about back in October. There were rumors about a move to Santa Fe out there early and often; but in all truth that was not the top target for us, for Colombia’s national team coach Jose Pekerman, and until the very end I honestly don't think it was Carlos’ main target. People think that we were being misleading, but we weren’t. There were multiple possibilities for a loan of Carlos. In the end this is the situation that both the player and club felt was best and we are all in a good position going forward. We wish Carlos all the best and we’ll see how it turns out in the future.

And now to the elephant in the room, if you will, Freddy Adu.

Much like Carlos, this was also a conversation that started before the end of last season. Basically, to make a very long story short, we presented Freddy with an option to come back and play for the Philadelphia Union. However, Freddy chose to stick with his current contract, which was not an option we were willing to accept. At the moment, Freddy has not been sold nor loaned and he continues to be our player, but in reality, while we are paying his salary and while we have his rights – he is not a part of our plans going forward. We have a number of challenges because of moves we have made in the past couple of years that affect us long term and frankly, Freddy Adu is a major one. The next step for him is one that we have been trying to work on since October, which is to see if there is a viable option to sell or loan him that makes sense for our organization and for Freddy.

I am well aware of all the rumors and speculation surrounding both players and I think supporters really need to know that there is much planning and strategic movement that goes into how you want to build a team for the next season. I understand that fans want information and feel the need to get in on all the rumors, but sometimes it’s just not possible to divulge some of those things because it is a business and there is a process you have to go through. If you give secrets away, you tip your hand to your competitor and you may change the face of a deal you are trying to get done.

Which brings me to last Thursday’s SuperDraft, yet another avenue to acquire players in this league. Going into the SuperDraft, we were already successful with our three major player aquisitions of Sebastien Le Toux, Conor Casey and Jeff Parke (Parke was key, knowing that we’d be without Carlos for at least a portion of the season). With a lot of the work to get our three main targets already done, the pressure to bring in a player from the draft who would have an immediate impact was off, which can change how you work in the draft- especially knowing that our first draft pick was at No. 26. In the case of this particular draft, the number of players that signed as homegrown players around the league (and no real disrespect to this pool of potentials) made for a saturated pool to begin with. We were therefore able to go after players that have a ton of potential and we feel that we can develop. Depending on how players take advantage of their opportunity, draft picks are players that could one day become important pieces to the Philadelphia Union and both Don Anding and Stephen Okai fit that philosophy.

And I think it’s time to clear up another misconception…

I know that the draft board described him as a forward, but we did not pick Don Anding as one. We picked him because he was literally one of the most athletic players available in the draft and in fact, the fastest player at the Combine. However, it was Don’s character and the way he approaches playing, that fit perfectly with our style. Not to mention we’d already reached an agreement with Damani Richards, who was on trial with us for the last month of this past season. Damani is a true left back and we feel as though he had more potential to be developed than any left back we saw in the draft. Yes he’s young and we need to develop him, but this is a player with international experience, who is extremely gifted athletically. The chatter of us needing to draft a left back was laughable because we knew what we had in Damani.

As for Okai, he was one of the, if not the, best passers in the entire draft. Physically and mentally, Stephen is probably one of the most ready players to join an MLS club and contribute right away.

These two guys come in and fit well with how we want to build this club. I believe we picked up two players that can push the guys on our current roster and compete for their roster spots immediately. Truth be told, however, both of these guys have to use preseason to earn a contract. We feel comfortable and confident in the group of players we are bringing back and our offseason acquisitions.

So much of professional sports really is about player selection. We believe we have a really strong group of players (and a young core) that through the experience, maturity and development they endured last year, start at an advanced place this year. It’s also addition by subtraction with the players who you don’t bring back. After just a few days of being with the players, we as a coaching staff feel really good about the group in all ways: soccer, character, personality, motivation and work ethic.

When we look at our system of play, we want a mobile attack. We want to have the same type of mobility in our tactics. We feel very strongly that we can play a 4-3-3 in certain situations this year with a combination of Sebastien Le Toux, Conor Casey and Jack McInerney. Danny Cruz, Chandler Hoffman, Antoine Hoppenot will certainly feature in there as well. This gives us a lot of options with that kind of depth. Moreover, the competition on the training field will only push these players to be better. It will make for some difficult decisions for our staff, but those are decisions any coach wants to have.

Now with that said, I think there are always moves to be made in professional athletics. As a coach, you never really think you’re all set, even when you are winning every single game.

There are less than six weeks until First Kick and in that time we plan to have a demanding preseason.

I appreciate your time and your support and look forward to seeing you all very soon.

Sincerely,

John Hackworth
Team Manager
Philadelphia Union
Jungite Aut Perite