Louisville City FC Head Coach John Hackworth and son Memphis 901 FC midfielder Morgan Hackworth could square off for the first time when the two sides meet in the USL Championship Game of the Week on Tuesday night. | Photo courtesy Memphis 901 FC
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Over the history of the USL Championship, it hasn’t been uncommon for siblings to face off on opposing sides. There are currently the likes of Adam and David Najem, or twins Tucker and Walker Hume in the league.
A matchup that sees a father go up against his son, though? That may be a first.
It’s the situation that Louisville City FC Head Coach John Hackworth and son Morgan Hackworth – a midfielder for Memphis 901 FC – will face for the first time in league play on Tuesday night when 901 FC makes the trip to Slugger Field for the USL Championship Game of the Week on ESPN (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN3).
Certainly, since Morgan signed with Memphis as a rookie out of the University of Akron, it’s a date that the family has had circled on its calendar. And, as the date has neared, the level of chatter between father and son has provided some fun back-and-forth.
“We’re just talking a lot of s--- to each other really,” said John this weekend. “He’s trying to be very professional about not giving anything away on what they’re doing and obviously I’m doing the same and we both know that we’re going to have competition and despite the fact that we have the relationship we have, each of us want to be successful so I think that is understood on both our levels.”
For all the talk, though, the interactions the two have had during Morgan’s rise to the professional ranks have continued as always. With Louisville off this past Saturday, John was paying close attention to 901 FC’s game against the Charleston Battery not only to scout his next opponent but to keep an eye on his son’s performance. It’s a habit that John hopes will allow Morgan to continue the progression that began when John was guiding him and his two other brothers as youngsters.
“In general, Morgan and I talk after every game that he plays,” said John, who said he last coached Morgan officially when he was 13 years old. “He usually watches our games, so it’s a normal interaction to say, ‘hey, what did you think? What could have been better? What do you need to work on?’ We just have that kind of relationship.”
It’s that relationship that has helped Morgan become the player he is. There’s been a learning curve from his time at Akron, but John has seen in the games he’s watched Memphis play this season the traits that have helped Morgan get to this level. It might not have shown up yet on the stat-sheet – Morgan has recorded four key passes in six appearances with a rate of 26 passes per 90 minutes, but the soccer IQ that 901 FC Head Coach Tim Mulqueen noted when the club signed the 22-year-old is clearly there.
Memphis 901 FC midfielder Morgan Hackworth has made six appearances so far in his rookie season after featuring for the University of Akron in college. | Photo courtesy Eric Glemser / Memphis 901 FC
“I think he’s tactically a smart player, he reads the game pretty well,” said John. “His work ethic is excellent, just watching his games for Memphis and the amount of ground he’s covering, trying to be a good teammate and team player because he’s got that work rate and a good engine. You could be the hardest worker in the world, you’ve still got to be able to physically do it and he certainly has that.”
The respect he’s earned from John means plenty to Morgan. As much fun as he and his father have had as gameday draws near, it sits on top of a foundation of respect for what John has accomplished in the game, and the path that he’s helped place Morgan on as the eldest of his three sons.
Louisville City FC Head Coach John Hackworth is looking for a second consecutive victory when his side takes on Memphis 901 FC on Tuesday night. | Photograph courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
After the two squared off when Memphis and Louisville met in preseason this February, both were all smiles as they shared a postgame word. That will likely be the case again on Tuesday no matter the result at Slugger Field.
For 90 minutes, though, there will be some emotional detachment before that postgame moment arrives as Louisville and Memphis go after an important victory for both sides.
“It means a lot to have the opportunity to compete against my dad, who I respect more than anyone,” said Morgan. “He’s got a great group of players and we know that it’s going to be a fight ‘til the end. There’s always something to prove in a game like this that is so close to the heart for me, but at the end of the day there’s a job to get done, and we have to get points on the road.”
“Yeah, I’m just going to try to concentrate on what my responsibilities are, not worry too much about the emotional part of it,” added John. “It’s hard to separate being a dad from being a coach in these moments. But it is what is required as of this moment.”
Additional reporting provided by John Arlia