Piotr Nowak is Building a Legacy at Philadelphia Union

Photo by Daniel Studio Photo

Philadelphia Union manager Piotr Nowak is one of the best coaching minds in Major League Soccer.  The former Polish international knows what is needed to achieve success in MLS.  Nowak knows how to recognize talent and make players fit into his system.

After a tough inaugural season, the Union is right up with the best clubs in the Eastern Conference.  Currently, Nowak’s squad is in first place and two points ahead of New York Red Bulls.  But while New York’s team is filled with highly-paid superstars like Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez, Nowak has built his Union team out of castoffs and MLS veterans.

In many ways, the Union is Nowak’s baby.  He has full control over all decisions related to player movement.  Piotr has built this team not out of designated players but of dedicated players.

Sebastien Le Toux is a perfect example of the type of player Nowak likes.  Le Toux will give 110% from the first minute until the last.  Despite his scoring drought this season, Le Toux is working harder than ever.  Work rate beats out talent in MLS and Nowak recognizes that.

Nowak is excellent at getting the best out of his players.  For example, Brian Carroll looked as if his best times were behind him when he arrived in Philadelphia from Columbus.  Nowak, who managed Carroll at D.C. United, has been able to guide Carroll back on track.  Playing mainly as a defensive central midfielder, Carroll provides great protection when opposing teams try to counterattack.  He is one of Philadelphia’s most important players.

Philadelphia’s back five (counting the keeper) were pathetic last season.  So, what does Nowak do?  He acquires an experienced keeper in Faryd Mondragon and a solid center back in Carlos Valdes.  Both have been key additions that have transformed the defense.

Some have suggested Nowak as the successor to Bob Bradley for coach of the U.S. Men’s national team.  As a Union and USMNT supporter, I have mixed feelings about this.  Nowak would make a great manager for the national team, but it doesn’t seem logical for him to leave Philly now.  First, he will have much more pressure on him as manager of the national team.  Second, he may not be able have the sort of control he enjoys with the Union.

Also, as a manager of a national team, there is not as much to do.  You pick the squad, play some friendlies, and a tournament every now and then.  Your job security is determined by how well your team does during one month every four years.  Not all managers are fond of the situation.

Piotr Nowak is sort of the Arsene Wenger of MLS.  Nowak has not won as much as Wenger but he is 15 years younger than the Frenchman.  Both men know how to identify talent and acquire players to fit in their system.  Both also know how to find diamonds in the scraps left behind from other clubs.

Nowak has a chance to build a legacy in Philadelphia.  He is turning the Union into a model MLS franchise.  Not by buying expensive aging stars, but by innovation and hard work.  It’s not the easy way, but it is the Philly way and the Nowak way.

20 thoughts on “Piotr Nowak is Building a Legacy at Philadelphia Union”

  1. Philadelphia is one of the youngest teams in the league – how does that not make it into your article about Nowak’s legacy? 1. 3 teenagers taken in the first round of the 2010 draft seeing significant minutes. 2. Significant emphasis on building through the draft (stockpiling picks, draft day trades) 3. lots of young players getting a chance to show their mettle on gameday.

    Where are all these castoffs you speak of? 3 players remain from the expansion draft – Le Toux, Harvey, Miglioranzi. The “cast-offs” have largely been, well, cast off. Nowak actually has said repeatedly that he wasn’t going to build a team of MLS castoffs. Yes, the team acquired Justin Mapp and Brian Carroll in trade deals within the league, but neither player fits the category of scrapheap material. Both have a handful of USMNT caps and both have benefited from a change of scenery.

    And I think you drastically underestimate the job of being a national team manager, especially that of the US. Sure, the public evaluation is tournament play largely and that you hit on, but the behind the scenes is endless amounts of scouting your own players around the world and scouting the opposition and (in many cases) includes roles in the youth national teams, development programs, etc.

    1. You make several good points Tim. The cast-offs do not lack talent but their old team no longer wanted them. Nowak has picked these players carefully. Not just any “cast-off” but a handpicked player. Their old team did not see what Nowak saw in them.

      The expansion draft players were sacrificed from their team. So, therefore, cast-offs.

      A national team manager has many staff members to assist them, so let’s not act like it is a one-man job. I still believe club managers have more work to do. That is why I would support a manager of a club team managing the national side. Both teams can be managed with the help of trusted assistants.

      1. Dont forget Sheanon Williams..RSL and the Red Bulls both deemed him not worthy of a roster spot and a 42000 salary cap hit, Nowak recognized the best RB in MLS.

    2. I dont think Nowak would be good for the national team coach. national team coaches can’t spend time giving players time to gel like Carroll and they also have to use the most popular players who are usually big money players. Bobby McMahon, recent audio blog explains this well.

      I like Nowak, he has a good formula for MLS, which works because MLS’s labor law really forces teams economic possibility with labor to match athletic quality parity on the pitch. But, if MLS ever grows beyond that and the clubs start being allowed possibilities based on their market and money, things will change.


  2. Well, I’m not a fan of Phily or Nowak, But USNMT lost a lot ever since he left the national team for the Phily team. I like the job he did in with the Olympic Team too bad that USA got eliminated by Nigeria and the Red card the Orozco got. Anyway I guess he does a good job with players as he did with Chicago Fire back when he was Bob Bradly assistant. Too Bad that BB lost him cause I think Nowak was the man behind technical decision and format.A

  3. gotta say you are being very liberal with the truth. you make a point about castoffs being a big part of the Union identity. the only true castoffs on our team are le toux and harvey. le toux was a steal, harvey is what he is, cast off.

    i will give you credit for not spouting the oft told line about how nowak is good at bringing along young players (he’s not really).

    nowak is good at using veterans to bring together a group and to be competitive. it should be noted in your article that we have the 4th highest payroll in the league as well.

    what needs to be said is that nowak is not great at getting the best out of talented players. getting the best out of workmanlike players? yes he can do that and he can drill them into a cohesive system.

    but its no surprise that we are the lowest scoring team in the league this season as he doesn’t allow his players to express themselves from an attacking perspective. and tactically he is a bit rigid and has recently shown that he is unwilling to try and loosen the reins.

    you can’t argue with first place, but don’t be surprised at the end of the season when we’ve fallen from that perch (lots of away games against quality opponents to come) and we do not do very well in the playoffs. that’s when your weaknessess are truly exposed.

  4. building a concrete team is not all about buying superstars… its by innovation and hardwork as earlier said…. Nowak has done well and there are more room for improvement…His super vision towards the success of the club and really lead to a legacy.

    1. @Lukuman, you say that, but LA is on its way to winning the supporters shield back to back that is adding to a great legacy, and Philadelphia was kicked out of the US Open cup. Nowak can bring success with his ways, but not trophies within the league season anymore, you need money players and teams with greater approaches to the sport.
      Philadelphia’s best chance is the MLS cup which they can win as that trophy has become the available prize while the us and supporters have become. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/8200987/dc_united_game_16.html?cat=9

  5. One of few MLS managers who realized the importance of strong defense.As they say “Attack wins game.Defense wins championship.”I think this year Philly must catch semi final as minimum .

  6. >Piotr Nowak is sort of the Arsene Wenger of MLS.

    Wow, Ive never thought of it that way.
    Next time Union puts me to sleep, Ill try to remember this.

    he may get the most out of his players but Id rather watch golf than Union games.

    I watch soccer to be ENTERTAINED and while being #1 is very entertaining to fans, its really not if you dont have a horse in the race.

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