Featured / Union

A rule-breaker, autocrat, or something else?

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Saturday’s road game against Chicago is a must-win for Peter Nowak.

Imagine the spectacle on March 31 if Philadelphia Union lose to Chicago and limp into PPL Park winless to host Sebastien Le Toux and the vastly improved Vancouver Whitecaps. What would be louder, the cheers for Le Toux or the jeers for Nowak? Then Philadelphia would face a good Vancouver team featuring three players Nowak discarded in spite of their solid play.

Not a happy scenario for Nowak.

Nowak’s latest controversy surrounds team captain Danny Califf, who showed up at PPL Park on Sunday ready to play, only to find his name left off the lineup card because of an injury Califf says doesn’t exist, despite Nowak’s claims to the contrary.

Califf’s name did not appear on the injury report filed by the team to the league office. The same thing happened a week earlier against Portland, when Roger Torres didn’t appear on the team’s injury report but was a surprise scratch due to what Nowak said was an ankle injury. An anonymous, well-placed source told PSP that Torres was perfectly healthy.

Teams are required to file injury reports with the league office each Tuesday and Friday as a service to media and fans, according to league spokesman Will Kuhns.

“The expectation is that those be as accurate as possible, with the expectations that conditions can change,” Kuhns told me on Monday.

The league can fine a team for inaccurate reports, but league officials usually opt for a common sense fix, Kuhns said.

So did Nowak break league rules by not accurately reporting an injury to the league office?

Not likely.

In all likelihood, Nowak simply wanted to tinker with his lineup, as he often does, and used Califf’s off-season knee issue as justification for excluding Califf from a three-man back line after the center back’s ordinary performance against Portland. Whatever your view on Nowak’s use of a 3-5-2 formation against Colorado’s 4-3-3, a manager has the right to choose his lineups.

What’s notable is that Nowak didn’t personally tell his captain he was sitting out and instead left him in the uncomfortable position of hearing why from the media. Similar incidents happened previously when Le Toux learned via Twitter he was going to be sold.

Players and coaches often differ on a player’s fitness to play, but Nowak thought Califf was healthy enough to warrant a spot on the substitutes’ bench. Nowak’s claims of an injury run up against his captain’s denial that it exists and the fact that Califf isn’t on this week’s injury report either. For his part, the typically candid Califf appears to have simply responded to media inquiries about his injury as he usually does, telling the truth as he knew it.

After spending much of his playing career in Germany, Nowak looks every bit the German autocrat of a coach, in the model of Otto Rehhagel or, perhaps more accurately, Felix Magath, who Goal.com described as “dealing players with the freewheeling abandon of a young child with a PlayStation.” Each has won his share of trophies, but their styles often alienate players and fans along the way.

When Philadelphia native Bobby Convey said during the KYW Philly Soccer Show two years ago he’d never play for Nowak, many presumed the outspoken Convey was the problem child in the equation. Now, considering the pattern emerging with Le Toux and others, it’s not so clear.

Fans have already blackly observed that Califf may be a dead man walking, the next (and only remaining) popular team leader to be shipped out for questioning Nowak. Will that happen? Or will Nowak right the ship?

Tune in Saturday. Same batty time, same batty channel.


  1. Wow. The witch hunt to further vilify Nowak begins. Amazing. Did Fox News help you write this piece?

    • Actually, no, they didn’t. PSP’s a bunch of liberals who talk about lofty, left wing concepts like the beauty of the game and treating players and fans with respect. Hadn’t you heard?

    • Wow. Witchhunt? Is that what you call it? That’s a little melodramatic. How about a very real pattern of poor management and communication. Fox News aren’t the only people seeing the pattern. Your either in denial, or your dating one of Nowak’s daughters.

  2. I’ve got a novel idea. How about players don’t stop at the tail gate party and pre-game with the fans? How about that for a professional? Anyone ever consider it? We’re 0-2. How about a little bit of focus on gameday? I know it’s a crazy thought, but entertain it for a second.

    • How about we have a regular formations? How about. Having a consistant defense in front of a young goalkeeper?

    • so you’re angry that califf showed up to a charity event on his way into the stadium and was a human with the fans? it’s not like he was out there pounding beers. i’d rather have a califf than a nowak with this team any day of the week.

    • WilkersonMcLaser says:

      Yeah! That’s crazy! Imagine that — a club that actually interacts with fans, the ultimate source of its livelihood. But we all know what happens to fools who do that: they get shipped to the Great White North.

    • By pre-gaming, do you mean getting to the stadium specifically early to spend 10 minutes talking to fans and supporting a charity event, that all team members and coaches were invited to? Sorry, the dedication and professionalism of the team’s captain has never been an issue.

  3. Dan, it was a charity tailgate. Last year, multiple people stopped by the same exact tailgate, including Nowak himself. I guess he wasn’t focused on game day either last year.

  4. Earl Gardner says:

    I would think that stopping by the tailgate would help pump him up for the match. Fans that love him, supporting him and cheering for him… yeah that’s totally got to bring a player off of their game. It’s not like he was there for hours or drinking. He stopped by, said hello and was sung happy birthday to. I don’t see it being an issue at all.

  5. that had nothing to do with it. By the time Califf would have came out to tailgate he would have found out he was not starting

  6. If my math is right, both Lopez and Williams are out when LT9 comes to town. Can you say, LT hat trick?

  7. It’s alright. Califf’s the next one gone anyway. He’s not that good so he won’t be too missed. When Matchday comes, focus on the game, not interacting with the fans prior to the game.

    • Your point is, quite honestly, a stupid one. Like I said, NOWAK himself stopped by the same exact tailgate last year for maybe 15 minutes. As did Califf and Williams that I can recall. Not sure who else did. Someone should look and see if we won that game because we had a lot of important people who must’ve been unfocused that game if Dan’s logic is right.

      I woudl argue that the majoority of our starting line up was sub par in the Portland game, not just Califf. So why weren’t more of them benched?

      When we had one of the best defenses in the MLS last season, I highly doubt you were out there decrying Califf and the back line.

      Try another line of argument.

    • tailgatefun says:

      Danny Hillard, is that you? Troll your crap elsewhere.

    • Dan are you related to Nowak?

    • Are you even a rational person? No, you are not.

  8. 1. Dan, Califf is a professional and pure class. You think him stopping by for 10 minutes to a charity tailgate really labels him as unfocused and unprepared?

    2. Califf is OUR Captain. You don’t sit the captain of the team and treat the title the way that Nowaks has done. Whats the point of being a Captain then?

    3. If he’s benched again, forced out, or moved during the season there WILL be a revolt. BOOK IT!

    • The Black Hand says:

      Give Nowak three games to right the ship. If he still try’s the power play and we have not improved, then the river end needs to rise up and let him know that we no longer support him.

  9. Is any of the a surprise? I would have thought after Nowak was fired in DC and lost that locker room he would have learned something. Guess not. Now this organization is just biding its time til Nowak get the axe…if ever. Ironic the “man” who thinks no one player is bigger than the organization can’t seem to fathom that the coach isn’t. What a hypocrite!

  10. Dan, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I’ve ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response was there anything that could even be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul!

  11. DarthLos117 says:

    Last year I gave Nowak the benefit of the doubt and at times defended some of his more ill advised decisions but starting Migs at CB during the playoffs has made me a Nowak hater. This off season and the start of this season have reinforced my Nowak hate…but man do I luv the Union!!! Cmon the U!..get rid of Nowak!!!

    • That was so kind of you to overlook the flaws of the manager, managing in a year when he took a 2nd year club to the playoffs. Good on you.

  12. Is it too early for an article on possible coaching replacements yet? I am sure there must be another young prodigy in the USL or NASL ready for the jump to the MLS.

  13. This is getting out of control with Nowak. We can only hope he is not protected the Andy Reid is by the Eagles. For better or worse Danny Califf is our center back and our captain, no matter the coaching style you owe that player on your team the consideration of telling him why he is not in the line up.

    Roget Torres: Why would Nowak spend money on Roger and then not play him. This guy should have been in our starting 11 since day one. Nowak talks about him as if he is a key to the team, yet still he is not on the field. We play too many defensive players at one time anyway, so if he is a liability defensivley this should not be an issue. Stick him up top with Mwanga and Pajoy…somebody has to score goal.

    It will be a lost season if we cannot grab points against both Chicago and Vancouver at home coming up.

    PRR and the Black Hand will soon be taking the reigns from the SoB….you heard it here first

  14. MikeRSoccer says:

    I’m truly becoming concerned with Nowaks health. He must have taken a knock to the head before the Houston play off games last season. First the Migz inclusion, the jettisoning of Le Toux and Mondragon, the lying and bizzare decisions. Is this a change or have we just met the true Nowak? If we lose to Chicago I’m calling for Nowaks firing. Dan may blame Califf, Macmath etc, but all of these are reflections on Nowaks leadership.

  15. I questioned Brendan Burke on the non-selection of Califf on the Reading United Soccer Scene (shown on the 3rd Monday of the month on BCTV or BCTV.org). Here’s a link Monday’s show, with my questions coming in around the 9 minute mark.


    Burke cited experimentation with the line-up and the number of matches the Union will be playing over the course of the season and an effort to limit wear and tear on Califf. He called it “a calculated risk” that didn’t payoff.

    • Thank you for posting this – Burke’s response is hilarious. Have to ask – did a damage control memo make the rounds? OK to play 3000 miles away in a monsoon …. limit the wear and tear. WHATEVER.

  16. crying is not the answer. everyone try again.

    • Sir crying is ALWAYS the answer.

      • as a commenter, my job is to tell the truth. my job description does not involve feelings.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Dan, you are a fool.

      • Alright Dan I just spent ten minutes reading the long comment chain you inspired…tell us, what is wrong with the Union? If Nowak’s moves, player management, formations, and game management are not the problem…what is….here is your shot.

      • CityHeroesSpursZeros says:

        Nowak is wearing on me, but i am not ready to become part of the witchhunt. Do you think that our goalies mistakes had anything to do with our record?

      • DarthLos117 says:

        Please enlighten me with the truth? In regards to the Union? And Nowak’s coaching decisions? And how your related to Nowak?

      • the douchbag is inanimate and thus cannot feel.

      • You use my name in vain to Trollololololo?

        FOR SHAME.

  17. The most important part of the team is ME the great Nowak!
    Not the fans,not the captain ,not the fans favorite player,not the MVP,not the top scorer, not the club and it’s future.
    Repeat after me ” I am the great Nowak ”
    Say this three times, you’ll be fine.

  18. Section 116 says:

    Generally unrelated points about these messes:

    1) Califf is overpriced and not a good investment of 2013 cap space.

    2) Califf has been a classy captain (and non-captain in 11) and should be beloved for his role with the team if not his relatively pedestrian play.

    3) Nowak seems to have incredibly poor skills when it comes to interacting with key players. Makes you play therapist.

    4) This is entirely Nowak’s team now. He’s responsible for 0-2 and should be held accountable if the team regresses.

    4A (related to 4)) If he wants to play the 3-5-2 or the X-X-X du jour, or swap LeToux for Pajoy, or whatever, it’s his call. But don’t tell me the team is building for the future — if that was the case, you pick a formation and let the guys learn in it and don’t bring in a 30 year old to take PT from young guys. But then it’s on ownership to hold him strictly accountable.

    • Yeah. Califf’s out. Everyone better say their goodbyes to him at the next pre-game tailgate, cause he’s done.

  19. Yeah there’s absolutely zero doubt that Califf is going to be traded to Vancouver for allocation money in the near future.

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