John Hackworth has visited Talen Energy Stadium many times since the Union fired him in 2014, thanks to his work with the U.S. national team. His latest trip wasn't just for business, though. It was personal.
Morgan Hackworth, John's oldest son, played for Akron last Friday in the NCAA College Cup semifinals. The Zips lost to eventual champion Stanford, but John Hackworth couldn't hide his pride.
"I brought my whole family here this weekend, and I'm combining work with being a soccer dad," he said while in town. "That building provided some amazing memories and experiences."
Morgan Hackworth attended Strath Haven High, and played in Chester back in 2012 with a Union youth squad. Teammates included future Union midfielder Zach Pfeffer and Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen, as well as future Penn State football placekicker Joey Julius. Their coach was current Union manager Jim Curtin.
"It was awesome to be back in this stadium that I watched so many games at," Morgan said. He called his father "one of my biggest role models. He's coached me throughout everything in life [and] had a huge role in where I am today."
John Hackworth also had a huge role in the Union's early seasons, as an assistant to Peter Nowak and then the team's head coach. But he lacked head-coaching experience when he succeeded Nowak, and his teams never made the playoffs.
Hackworth has burnished his reputation since then as the head coach of the U.S. under-17 men's squad. This year, the team made a run to the quarterfinals of the World Cup that captivated American soccer fans.
Perhaps he's better at coaching prospects than grizzled pros? Hackworth has heard the critique plenty, and acknowledged that there are differences. But he believes he can do it at the senior level. He framed some of the issues he faced with the Union as being bigger than just him.
"I have the ability to influence a lot more with the under-17 national team than I did when I was here in Philly," he said. "I don't look back on my time in Philly, in an honest and reflective way, and think: 'You know what? God, I was a bad coach, right? And I needed to do [this or that].' … I have a lot of really good memories, and feel good about the work that was done here, despite the fact that …"
He stopped himself there.
"That's a book. That's not an article," he concluded.
There was no hesitation, though, when asked if he wants another shot at coaching in MLS.
"Yes," he said. "I'm a prideful person, I'm ambitious, and I know that I want to go back into the pro game."
Hackworth was reportedly a candidate for the Colorado Rapids vacancy in late September. There will surely be other opportunities. But he also likes his current job quite a bit. He enjoys being able to teach off the field as much as on it. So he won't go for just any opening.
"I want to go and learn all the valuable lessons, [then] go into a pro environment that I can be successful in," he said. "I'm not going into another professional environment where I just go fix other people's problems and get fired for it at the end. I'm going to go win."