Union manager John Hackworth had heard the growing criticism, no matter how much he has tried to distance himself.
His team has been winless a franchise-record nine consecutive games and stands just 1-5-5 while traveling to face Eastern Conference coleader Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday. During a 1-0 loss to D.C. United on Saturday at PPL Park, chants of "Fire Hackworth" were not lost on the manager.
"I certainly heard the fans on Saturday and it's impossible not to hear a lot of the talk," Hackworth said during a conference call on Tuesday when asked about criticism and speculation on his job status. "I tried to be very diligent of staying away from reading stuff in the press lately."
It hasn't helped.
"The reality is that it is impossible not to be affected by it and I wouldn't say me as much as the players," Hackworth said. "I think with this position you have to understand this is part of the business. For the players, it is an entirely different thing."
According to Hackworth, all the speculation about his job and the criticism have been detrimental to the team.
"It can certainly have a negative impact on [the players], and to be honest I think it has," he said.
To Hackworth's credit, he doesn't appear to have lost the locker room. Countless players said after Saturday's loss that the coaching staff has been doing the job.
The Union are not finishing, that is obvious, having scored 10 goals in 11 games. Not having players who can break down defenders one-on-one has led to a stagnant offense.
Now with Hackworth under the gun, the players appear to be pressing.
"When I say [the players are] negatively impacted, it is harder for them to be in the stadium and have their best performance with that as a distraction," Hackworth said about the chants calling for his job. "That is just my personal opinion. I want them to know it is not of concern on my end and I will be all right either way and we have to focus on our performance."
He understands that it will take a win to even momentarily silence the critics. It won't be easy over a 5-2-2 Sporting Kansas City team coached by Delran product Peter Vermes.
Last Sept. 27, the Union had arguably their biggest win of the year when they prevailed, 1-0, at Sporting Kansas City while the Union were still in the running for a playoff spot.
Things are much different as Hackworth and the Union look to end a winless streak that nobody saw coming.
Union at Sporting Kansas City
What: Major League Soccer,
Union (1-5-5, 8 points) at Sporting Kansas City (5-2-2, 17 points)
When: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kan.
Goals for: Union, 10; Sporting Kansas City, 14
Goals against: Union, 14; Sporting Kansas City, 6.
Union on the road: 0-4-2
Sporting Kansas City at home: 3-0-2.
Outlook: The Union set a franchise record by going winless for a ninth consecutive game with Saturday's 1-0 loss to visiting D.C. United. Midfielder Maurice Edu, who shares the team lead with two goals, will be leaving after the game to join the U.S. national team. Edu was named to the preliminary 30-man World Cup roster. . . . The Union's only win came over a New England team that is tied for first place with Sporting in the Eastern Conference. . . . Midfielder Brian Carroll, who tweaked his groin and played only the first half in Saturday's loss, returned to training, and manager John Hackworth hopes he will be available. . . . Union keeper Zac MacMath is 11th in goals-against average (1.27) in MLS. . . . Coached by Delran product Peter Vermes, Sporting K.C.'s goal differential of plus-8 is the second best in MLS. . . . Dom Dyer leads Sporting K.C. with six goals, while Graham Zusi has four assists. . . . Zusi and Matt Besler, also on the U.S. preliminary 30-man roster, will play against the Union before departing for camp. . . . Sporting K.C. forward Sal Zisso, who has missed the last two games with a groin strain, has resumed training. . . . Sporting K.C. keeper Eric Kronberg leads MLS with five shutouts and is second with a 0.67 goals-against average.
- Marc Narducci