John Hackworth sacked as Philadelphia Union Head Coach – What does PWP indicate?

It didn’t take long for the first casualty within the MLS Coaching ranks this year; duly noted.

For me, John Hackworth was kinda stuck between a rock and hard place.  For most of last year the Union attempted a direct attack approach – not so much this year – and it probably cost him his job.

Why?  Well he probably had the wrong players and wrong assistant coaches to make a short-passing style work; if you hadn’t considered that transition going on perhaps the performance indicators from 2013 and 2014 may help paint that picture.

So how did things go last year…  as a reminder here’s where Philadelphia lined up in the Composite PWP Index:

End of Season 2013 CPWP Index
End of Season 2013 CPWP Index

Note that the Union finished just above San Jose (who also changed managers mid-season last year).

Also note the legend to the left and the colored stars on the Index…

Before seeing how things appear in the CPWP Index this year let’s review some critical team performance indicators from last year.

Philadelphia Union averaged 360 passes per game with a 48.29% in possession.

Their passing accuracy hovered at 75% – just slightly below the league average; 13th best overall.

Their average penetration per passes completed was just 19.45%; 3rd worst and their overall passing accuracy in their attacking final third was 56.69% – worst in MLS.

They finished on 46 points, respectable in some fashion in that it was only 5 points adrift of Houston, who are also wallowing this year (read more on Houston here).

Bottom line they were a marginal team on the cusp of the Playoffs but caught looking from the outside by seasons end.

So how about this year?  Here’s the CPWP Index after Week 14:

CPWP Through Week 14
CPWP Through Week 14

Here they are again on the margin; but there is a difference in this team this year compared to last; let’s review and see…

The Philadelphia Union Passing Accuracy is 75.93%; slightly better but not by much but the bigger difference is in the volume of passes attempted as a whole; recall last year was 360 per game – this year the average is 461.8 per game – a HUGE difference and a primary indicator that points towards a team moving from direct attack to ground-based (short passing) possession based attack.

In addition; this year the Union increased their average amount of possession to 52.30%; up almost 4% from last year; again… for most, that would signal a trend towards a more possession based attack – and with the addition of Maurice Edu in the middle that makes some sense.

As for penetrating the Attacking Final Third based upon overall possession; their number increased from 19.45% to 22.32%.  Another jump in overall productivity from last year to this year and… another reasonable indicator pointing towards playing a more possession based approach in lieu of a direct attacking approach.

If that wasn’t enough to convince you this might help – the Union passing accuracy within the Final Third increased from 56.69% to 66.54%; that’s a significant increase in accuracy within the Final Third – and again – beginning to sound like a broken record here – a reasonable indicator that the Union were working to play more possession-based than direct-attacking based.

In looking at Shots taken – a very interesting indicator this year; their percentage last year was 26.34%; that number this year is 20.22%.

So this year is lower – and you might think the Union were less productive in this category – you would be right!

But here’s the thing – throughout this year and last year most winning teams take fewer shots but score more goals…  And to reinforce that view consider this next point below.

When it came to putting shots on goal and goals score this year; the Union percentages were 30.42% and 37.17% respectively…

Last year those same numbers were 31.55% and 31.45%; a slight decrease in shots on goal but an increase of 6% in goals scored.

Bottom line here is the decision to sack John Hackworth SHOULD NOT have been about how poorly this team was attacking; to be honest they really weren’t that bad for a team transitioning from direct attack to possession-based football.  

I seem to recall last year, around this time, that Frank Yallop got sacked by San Jose while also looking to transition from a direct attack to a ground-based approach.

I don’t recall Mark Watson leading San Jose to the Playoffs last year and they still seem to hover near the lower end of overall team performance this year.

All told, in my opinion, transitions like this require at least a year to happen and patience, as well as communication and trust are important.

This isn’t me sending a signal that John Hackworth isn’t accountable for what he does and his outputs – he is.

In closing…

Bottom line is the Union team performance indicators were improving quite a bit from last year and the league table simply didn’t reflect that yet…

I don’t have a crystal ball but consider other teams who play possession based and then the teams that don’t – which ones have the latest history of making the playoffs and which ones don’t?

My view on this is that John Hackworth fell victim to pressure; be it uninformed front office personnel, media, or fans/supporters is hard to say but the team was improving – just not with points in the league table… yet???

Best, Chris

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