Baker's City Bites: 10-5-21
Another week and another flurry of activity for St. Louis CITY SC. This week saw our Academy teams return home to host current MLS newcomers Austin FC for only their second home matches of this MLS Next season. There were some fun merch drops from the club's biggest supporters group, the St. Louligans who released new stickers and magnets with a nice call to the club's own crest and colors. Be sure to pick one up at any Academy home matches or Louligan events for a donation to charity. There were more app updates for us to sink into including a look into the future for the 3,000+ supporters. And in what few would argue was the highlight of the week for CITY, the signing of John Hackworth to the coaching staff became official. Our club continues to make moves to create what is already shaping up to be a top tier MLS coaching staff before looking at building a roster that will play to their intended style and continuing to use tools such as their app to keep fans engaged and up to date on the latest news. It's a lot to juggle and clearly not every expansion club can handle as much at one time, but for a club that doesn't start until 2023, we're seeing pieces quickly fall into place that will make 2022 an epic year for building the club and stadium.
We'll start with the biggest news. John Hackworth has officially been announced as our club's Director of Coaching. First reported by The Athletic and alluded to on our podcast and others such as Flyover Footy, Hackworth comes to CITY with a loaded resume and connections throughout the US Soccer landscape. Hackworth played college ball at Wake Forest and wasted no time in dipping his toes into coaching. After spending time as an assistant with his alma mater's women's and men's sides he eventually made his way to the US national scene in 2002 as an assistant to the U17s and eventual head coach of the U17s under Bruce Arena. After Bob Bradley took over the USMNT, Hackworth joined his staff in 2007, as an assistant and technical director of the US Development Academy. In 2009, Hackworth made a move that should draw the attention of every STL CITY SC fan - he joined the Philadelphia Union as a coach and youth development coordinator prior to their first season where Hackworth helped build out their club from the ground up as an expansion side (sound familiar?). Hackworth eventually took over head coaching duties for the Union in 2012 until 2014, when he returned to the national team as U15 head coach under Jurgen Klinsmann. He soon returned to his U17 roots to coach them in their 2017 U17 World Cup cycle and stayed with the USMNT as an assistant through 2018. After this extended stay with the national squads, most of St. Louis started to become familiar with Hackworth as he began coaching Louisville City FC in USL Championship. King's Cup wins aside, he led Lou City to a championship in his first season, a championship final run in his second, and the best regular season conference record in his final season in 2020. Hackworth left Lou City in April 2021 after their first game. There was some uncertainty surrounding the circumstances of his departure, with Lou City only stating that the two parties agreed to mutually terminate his contract. Hackworth was subsequently linked to head coaching positions at Indy Eleven, OKC Energy and Oakland Roots before signing with Lutz and STL CITY SC.
With a resume that long, mostly by the time he turned 50, it is no surprise that STL is abuzz with what this means for our club. With the Athletic reporting back in July that Hackworth signed with STL, we have long speculated at what a man with this resume would be doing at our club. With the focus on our Academy and his history of developing players, would he be the U17/U16 head coach (the Andreas Schumacher news quickly squashed that theory), Academy Director, head coach of our soon to be MLS Reserve (Lower Division League) club that starts in March? Would he have a hybrid position that encompassed a first team assistant plus one of the above, similar to his national team roles? As we found out last Friday, Hackworth is the new Director of Coaching at St. Louis CITY SC. As he put it himself in an excellent article by Zach Lowy on the STL CITY SC app, "I'm going to be mainly responsible in assisting Lutz in literally every facet of building this club." A director of coaching is traditionally thought of as someone who directs, improves, and aligns a club's coaching staff under one philosophy and maximizes what they get out of players at every level of the organization. We know the focus that Lutz has placed on ensuring alignment between the Academy up through the first team - from the physical location of the training grounds next door to the stadium to the desire for them to train side by side - and Hackworth will be the man responsible for this implementation. More than that though, we found out that true to his quote, he will have his hands in a lot of what we see going forward with coaching and roster building for CITY SC.
In a newly released podcast on the STL CITY SC app titled The CITY Voice, Pete Wood, VP of Content, interviewed both Lutz and Hackworth as part of the content blitz that introduced Hackworth on Friday. In this interview, Hackworth mentioned specifically his experience with the Union in building that club from scratch and having to navigate the MLS single entity structure with unique roster rules. This is highly noteworthy, and I've talked in numerous formats about the need to have MLS specific experience on our staff to help understand the DP/GAM/TAM/wam bam thank you ma'am rules that make up an MLS roster and it has only gotten more complicated since Hackworth's Union stint. New rules such as the Under-22 initiative that prioritize signing younger players along with Generation Adidas and homegrown rules make Hackworth's experience invaluable.
Hackworth also detailed that over the next year, their priority is to identify the right players to bring in that will fit the style of play they're looking for while developing the current crop of Academy players and coaches so that we may see some of them with the reserve team next year and eventually the MLS squad in 2023. This is what Hackworth described as what a good first year for him looks like - having a clear plan of action, to start the reserve squad in March as a team playing the style they want, succeeding with Academy players on that squad (more on this below), and having their foundation set from top to bottom. Hackworth also said they have specific player profiles already built out for who they are looking for. These profiles consist of complete players on the field who can meet the highest demands of the sport. While players may excel in one area, if they aren't holistic in their attacking, defending, high press and transition styles that CITY is looking for, they may not be the right fit.
The Hackworth news dominated most of the app content on Friday with the previously mentioned long form Zach Lowy article, a "Get to Know" gallery, and the podcast feature, but there were a few other exciting pieces to take in, including a kickoff of sorts for FIFA 22 featuring Academy assistant coach Elvir Kafedzic and our eMLS athlete Hasib Zulfic. They took to the controller for a US friendly in an entertaining video on the app. We also saw additional videos and coverage from the prior weekend's Marquette Park Futsal court kickoff (read more about that in my 9/28 CITY Bites). A quick but incredibly exciting video teaser that came out featured a walkthrough from the supporter's section. As I also discussed in last week's article, we are now just 2 weeks away from supporter section season tickets going on sale and as a sneak peek we saw a walk out from behind that section and a glimpse of what the field and stadium will look like from that steep and imposing point of view. I know I am already excited to call myself a season ticket holder on 10/19, but for anyone on the fence, this might push you over the edge (figuratively). The last app content came out just recently with a gallery review of our Academy matches against Austin FC last weekend.
On that note, our Academy clubs finally returned home after a 3-game road trip with another dominating home performance against Austin FC. Our U16 squad, playing second in the day, continued their dominating performance in all competitions with a convincing 5-2 victory on the backs of a goal and assist by Jackson Delkus, bringing him up to 12 goals on the season in all competitions, a goal and assist by Zach VanHee, and a goal and assist by Omar Cilic. Goals each by Edin Prgo and Thomas Pratl were the exclamation points this squad needed to carry on their winning ways. Our U17 squad returned to their play-from-behind style by allowing an early goal just 28 seconds into the match. However, our team was up to the challenge and after a back-and-forth match, came away with a 4-3 win in MLS Next league play. Noteworthy were two goals by Jacob Lusignan and one each by Josh Maher and Miguel Perez carried our squad to victory. This performance pulled our U17 squad back to .500 in MLS Next with a 3-3 record. Full Match Day recap by the club can be found here - https://www.stlcitysc.com/st-louis-city-sc-subdue-austin-fc-academy/.
As I alluded to earlier and have described before, we continue to see a bit of separation in games started and minutes played with a seemingly core group of U17 players. Josh Maher and Jacob Lusignan have started all 6 matches for the U17s, Nathan Yao has started 5, and Anthony Faupel, Miguel Perez, Aaron Heard, Fritz Volmar, Caden Glover (playing two years ahead of his age group) and Owen Spore (GK) have all started 4 matches. While it is early, and by no means a confirmation of anything, it continues to be striking to see who is receiving the most playing time and making the most of it, as our MLS reserve squad begins play in just 5 months. Hackworth's comments further the theory that this reserve squad will look to move some players up from our U17 group and provide the first evidence of upward movement within our system. Our U17 squad is also incredibly deep, with 28 players, so as we add the reserve squad in March, this group would seem to have plenty of available players to fill any gaps.
Next week, as we can now track on the club's own website, our U17 squad returns to MLS Next play against FC Cincinnati on Saturday and against Columbus Crew on Sunday. If history holds true, our U16s will look to play friendlies against one or both of those clubs as well as they will not return to league play until 10/16 at home as part of the doubleheader against FC Dallas.
By Matt Baker