As empty seats multiply at PPL Park, Saturday could be judgment day for Union manager Hackworth

As empty seats multiply at PPL Park, Saturday could be judgment day for Union manager Hackworth

Union manager John Hackworth has plenty of pressure on his shoulders this season.

This week, I've gotten two emails from the Union pushing tickets for this Saturday's home game against D.C. United (4 p.m. - The Comcast Network). One was about honoring mom for Mother's Day by bringing her to the game, and the other offered a sharp discount offer on the pricier tickets at PPL Park.

Those emails -- and the empty seats that caused them -- are what should have Union manager John Hackworth looking over his shoulder, and what I think could force a change at the top as early as next week, if the fans who do show up on Saturday leave PPL Park disappointed yet again.

There's no doubt Hackworth is feeling the heat.

“We’re going to have to get out of this hole we dug, one step at a time,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com after the 2-1 loss to Seattle last weekend.. “But I know there’s only so much time to have that opportunity.”

I'm never one to call for a coach's firing prematurely. When I said in the preseason that this year was Hackworth's chance to put up or shut up, I assumed that meant he'd get the entire season to figure it out. And he still might. Changing coaches in the middle of the season won't lead to anything more than maybe a short-lived kick in the butt.

This is me, on the record, saying that while I think Hackworth is not the answer, I don't think a midseason firing is either.

But things have been so underwhelming, and so disappointing, that Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz (under pressure from investors weary of a long summer at the turnstiles) may have to pull the trigger much, much sooner, just to appeal to frustrated fans who are tired of spending their money to watch a team that can't score. Even as soon as Sunday or Monday if things don't go well on Saturday.

The Union not only need a win against a decent but beatable D.C. United team, but they need to entertain. They need to show some growth. They need to show some initiative. They need to show some chemistry. They showed a little bit of that in Seattle last weekend, but in the end, it was the same old story: shoulda, coulda, woulda.

The team's near-bottom-of-the-table standing isn't what will push the change. Nor will it be because vocal Union fans on the Internet calling for his head (some have been calling for it since the day he was hired).

It'll be the hard-to-ignore swaths of blue seats sitting empty on Saturday.

If you're at PPL Park, take a look toward the corners, especially the two corners close to the Delaware River. On Saturday, section 133 will be relatively full because D.C. United will bring a large contingent. But sections 101 and 102, as well as 113 and 121 are usually the last ones sold.

While paid attendance has been decent so far this season (according to this site, the team is averaging 94 percent capacity at 17,415), the warm summer months are coming. Kids are almost done with school, tailgating weather is improving, and the Union -- like every MLS team -- are hoping to capitalize on the excitement surrounding the World Cup next month.

Sakiewicz and Co. obviously hoped that the on-field results would fill PPL to capacity through those warm summer months. But if things don't turn around soon, he might have to show Hackworth the door just so he can stand up and say that he really is in it to win it.

Sure, there are other ways for the team to appeal to frustrated fans. The front office could make a splashy move in the summer transfer window (Jozy Altidore to the white courtesy phone...). Hell, they could just unveil another new jersey or offer 10 percent off at the Union Store.

Just kidding.

Firing Hackworth won't solve the Union's problems. Along those lines, it's about time for the players to stand up and take some responsibility for the dumpster fire this season is quickly becoming. Many of them have not performed anywhere near their potential (not you, Zac MacMath ... you're excused).

But at this point, if things don't turn around, Hackworth may be the sacrificial lamb intended to appease frustrated fans.

The Union have six games before the World Cup break.

John Hackworth might be watching some of them on TV.

NBC Sports Philadelphia Internship - Advertising/Sales

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NBC Sports Philadelphia Internship - Advertising/Sales

Position Title: Intern
Department: Advertising/Sales
Company: NBC Sports Philadelphia
# of hours / week: 10 – 20 hours

Deadline: November 20

Basic Function

This position will work closely with the Vice President of Sales in generating revenue through commercial advertisements and sponsorship sales. The intern will gain first-hand sales experience through working with Sales Assistants and AEs on pitches, sales-calls and recapping material.

Duties and Responsibilities

• Assist Account Executive on preparation of Sales Presentations
• Cultivate new account leads for local sales
• Track sponsorships in specified programs
• Assist as point of contact with sponsors on game night set up and pre-game hospitality elements.
• Assist with collection of all proof of performance materials.
• Perform Competitive Network Analysis
• Update Customer database
• Other various projects as assigned

Requirements

1. Good oral and written communication skills.
2. Knowledge of sports.
3. Ability to work non-traditional hours, weekends & holidays
4. Ability to work in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment
5. Must be 19 years of age or older
6. Must be a student in pursuit of an Associate, Bachelor, Master or Juris Doctor degree
7. Must have unrestricted authorization to work in the US
8. Must have sophomore standing or above
9. Must have a 3.0 GPA

Interested students should apply here and specify they're interested in the ad/sales internship.

About NBC internships

5 minutes with Roob: Corey Graham still playing great football at 32

5 minutes with Roob: Corey Graham still playing great football at 32

In today's "Five Minutes with Roob," Reuben Frank chats with Eagles safety Corey Graham:

Roob: We’re here with Eagles safety Corey Graham. Welcome to Philadelphia.
 
Graham: Glad to be here.
 
Roob: I didn’t realize when you missed a game earlier this month you had a streak of 159 straight games played plus six playoff games so 165 consecutive games. A little hammy, how tough was it to see that streak end?
 
Graham: It was tough. You don’t want to think about stuff like that too much but obviously, things happen. You are thinking like, 'It's just a little hamstring, I can play through a hamstring,' and you don’t want to miss a game or anything like that when you haven’t missed one. I tried to play through it the game before and that is when I messed it up a little more and tore it. It wasn’t smart for the long haul.
 
Roob: You've been around the league and you played on some different teams, what is the feeling you get in this locker room? You have been on a Super Bowl team. What do you think so far? The team is doing well.
 
Graham: Very impressed. Offense, defense, special teams. Guys are flying around and are very upbeat. We are a great team. We need to stay on pace and we need to continue to work our butt off. Don’t get too high because things can always start out great and things can get bad. We just have to take it one game at a time and not believe all of the hype and the noise going on outside of this locker room.
 
Roob: I've got to ask you about probably the best game you ever played. Correct me if I am wrong. Playoff game against Denver in the AFC Conference semifinals in 2012, you had two interceptions off Peyton Manning, a Hall of Famer, one was a pick-six and the other was in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal. You went on to the semifinals and then won the Super Bowl (with the Ravens). Was that the greatest game you ever played?
 
Graham: An NFL game, yes. I had a better game in high school. It was my greatest NFL game because it was on the big stage and everything was on the line. We knew we had to win the game and I was just glad I was in position to make some of those plays. That’s how it goes sometimes. It was a great experience and I was glad we were able to go on and win the whole thing. It was a great ride, I loved being a part of that team and I loved everything I could do to help.
 
Roob: It was a little surprising Buffalo let you go since you played well last year. You were on the street a lot longer than a lot of people expected. How difficult of a process was it in the offseason leaving there and not really knowing where you were going to end up and then you came here and fit in real quick?
 
Graham: It was difficult being released because no one wants to get released. But when it was all said and done, I could have signed with someone right after, but I wanted to wait and spend some time with my family. That is why I prolonged it a lot until the end of July. Being released by the Bills in my hometown and wanting so much to go to the playoffs and end that streak. That was one of my biggest goals and to not accomplish that, it sucked.

Roob: You are in Year 11 now and you have played your best football in your 30s. You've made a Pro Bowl as a special teamer. As far as playing safety and defensive back, what still drives you in Year 11?
 
Graham: I love the game. That is the reason why I signed here. I wanted to be part of a good team and a good organization. I love being around the guys. We're having a lot of fun right now and we're enjoying the game of football. I just want to go out out and make a difference and that’s what pushes me. I want to be great, enjoy the game and play it the right way. When all is said and done we want to win. The last few years in Buffalo, we didn’t make the playoffs those three years. Leaving Baltimore after winning the Super Bowl and going home and not winning sucks. And no one wants to be a part of that. No one wants to lose. I want to win.