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A look in the mirror

Photo: Earl Gardner

Philadelphia Union did not play better than Houston in either of their two games.

The Union trotted out yet another poor lineup, with the team’s leading scorer deployed at midfield where he never scores instead of forward where he always scores and a zone defense that confused its own players more than it contained Houston’s.

Philadelphia may have had the better team, but they certainly didn’t show it.

Now that we got the obvious out of the way —

This should be an offseason for some soul-searching.

Not for the players, mind you. From top to bottom, save Juan Diego Gonzalez, everyone earned their pay this year, and then some. They’re clearly disappointed, and they deserve the time to let it all soak in, take a few weeks off, and recover. It was a good year for them, but a tough way to end it. As far as they came, they knew they were better than how they ended.

We’re talking about the man in charge.

Overall, it’s hard to argue Union manager Peter Nowak didn’t have a good season. He took an expansion team and turned it into one of the top eight teams in the league in just their second year. He deserves some recognition for that. So let’s give it to him: He’s an excellent judge of talent. There was a lot to love about this season.

But after the missteps we’ve seen all year were finally exposed this week on a national stage, he has questions to answer, if not publicly, then to himself and his players.

  • Will he adequately develop that talent? Or will Danny Mwanga, Roger Torres, Jack McInerney, and Amobi Okugo stagnate because they can’t get regular playing time or even a regular position?
  • Will he maintain the support of the players themselves? Or will they tune out a seemingly autocratic coach who likes to play the mad soccer scientist role, seldom to positive effect?
  • Will he put his players in positions that accentuate their strengths and downplay their weaknesses?
  • Will he ever take responsibility for a poor decision — or even acknowledge it happened?

There’s more to ask and more to say. We could talk about the Union’s 17 crosses against a team that dominated them in the air, or a variety of other technical things. But let’s be honest: No one wants to read (or write) it now. The Houston hangover lingers. So we’ll keep it short and sweet — for now.

Nowak is the only person to ever win the MLS Cup as a player and a coach. He’s done an excellent job building a team full of players that Philadelphia fans have come to love. Players like Danny Califf and Sebastien Le Toux embody everything that Philly fans love in their teams. The above foursome, the Farfan twins, Sheanon Williams, and Zac MacMath add the feeling that tomorrow can always be better because this team is so young. This isn’t a team that needs many personnel changes. The pieces are there.

But what Nowak has to decide is whether the Union are going to be about those players or about him. Right now, he looks bigger than the team. That won’t cut it next year.


  1. Good article, this is just what I needed. It makes me feel better to know that everyone else feels the same way about this crazy coaching.

    But to look ahead, I have a question about the expansion draft. It’s only the impact, right? So, how many players would end up being unprotected for this draft?

  2. Agreed there was a lot of good this season in two short years we have become a full fledged team with a great ground, super fans and a great bunch of players and you are right credit should be given for that. But I was puzzled by those line ups and the constant tinkering etc so I was interested to see why Nowak left DC United, I came across this comment from 2006:
    “…. Nowak …. Even with the relatively low level of the MLS, it seems to me that he was out of his league at times (e.g. the second leg of the Redbulls playoff). He’s tactically naive”.
    December 20, 2006 at 11:11 PM

    The comment about tactics rings very true today…..

  3. Agree there are coaching issues but I also think we need 3 new players: 1 who is fast like lightning, 1 who can head balls (like Ching), and 1 who can give free kicks like Davis. Without these attacking threats we will not get much further than we got this year.

  4. thank you

  5. I think this article really hits the nail on the head. Could things have been better? Yes. It seems that we had a different line up almost every week in the 1st half of the season. It is difficult to build cohesion and communication on the pitch when the starting XI changes every week. Barring Injuries you have to give the players enough rope to hang themselves. But what the hell do I know?

  6. Kevin Diller says:

    I think the biggest mistake they made was trading Jordan Harvey. The Farfan brothers are hardly reliable.

    Novak’s player selections were incomprehensible in the last three games. They should leave Freddy Adu unprotected in the expansion draft.

    • I completely agree, when Harvey was on that backline the U were putting up clean sheet after clean sheet and then the tinkering began to make room for Adu. Yeah, we may have not been getting a lot of goals but defense wins.

  7. In the off season the union needs to continue to develop its defense, but also work on its offense. A DP player up top and in the midfield is needed to help in the attack. The union is impotent in the oppositions half of the field, and loose possession quickly. The final third problems need to be addressed.

    Set peace: Work on those. At least a few goals should come from set peaces.

    Finally, Nowak: He took the team this far in their second season and should be applauded. But his decision making process, line ups etc… are questionable. Not sure what one can do about his coaching style but certainly many of the problems this year actually stemmed from his poor leadership.

    In short, work on the defense, fix the offense, and the coach. Not a short order at all!

    • Personally bringing in more highly paid players who are wildcards is the LAST thing we need. Especially in midfield. You really don’t think a consistent midfield of like Daniel, Torres, Adu, Marfan and Carrol can’t preform well if given a good opportunity?
      A striker makes more sense, but we already saw Mwanga and Jack Mac lose half a year of decent growth by bringing in Ruiz. And with Le Toux being a cemented started and with the coaches loving Pauno, I don’t want to push Mwanga or Jack MAc down the depth chart anymore than they already are.

      • The Union less need a new aerial presence at striker than they need Danny Mwanga to develop his game so that he becomes that aerial presence. James is right: You don’t want to push them down the depth chart more. But their game does need to develop.

        Sorry for the late reply — was out of town without Internet since Saturday morning — and thanks for the good comments.

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