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Long Since Time For Nowak To Go


Relationships are tough. The wide range of emotions that flood one’s psyche can cloud the senses and make things seem better (or worse) than they really are. Remorse, nostalgia, jealousy, betrayal, lust – well on a soccer blog, that last one may be a little misplaced – but you get the picture.

So it was no surprise to see Philadelphia Union President and CEO Nick Sakiewicz get sentimental as he announced that Peter Nowak would no longer be the Team Manager. There are certainly many ways in which these guys will have felt like they were in the foxhole together, from scouring through scouting reports leading up to the Expansion Draft, to trying to decide how best to handle journeyman-cum-talisman Sebastien Le Toux when he wanted to talk about a raise. Nowak and Sakiewicz have been around American soccer a long time, and so saying, “Goodbye,” would never be easy when you’re talking the only manager the team has ever known.

Yet Sakiewicz made a bold-yet-sometimes-trite gesture in his press conference, beating the crest on his jacket. Sakiewicz said, “It’s been a tough day because Peter is a friend. I respect him highly for his coaching abilities and his instincts, but in the best interest of this club, this badge will always come first.” (to read his full remarks, follow this link to Chris Vito’s transcript).

It’s clear that Nowak is a demanding fellow, and I would imagine he expects the utmost respect from those who put on the blue and gold. In general, players will follow that creed and typically stand behind the one that makes all the big decisions.

Yet if there is one thing that begets respect, it’s that you show respect first. It’s no secret that Major League Soccer’s salary structure is tough for players trying to make a name for themselves. Many reserve and youth players throughout the league end up on salaries that pale in comparison to the Big 4 sports in this country.

So when a guy like Le Toux – a guy who went from reserve player in Seattle to leading scorer in Philly – doesn’t get his payday, how does that affect both the player and those around him? Le Toux was a castoff from Europe, plying his trade in Seattle in their USL days. Unprotected by Seattle a year after the team jumped to MLS, the Union drafted him. He seized upon his opportunity, scored the first hat-trick in club history, and found his name on many a jersey filling the PPL Park seats.

The Union did try to take care of Le Toux, getting him a trial at then-English Premier League side Bolton Wanderers. Yet like many of us, Le Toux decided he would rather be, “the big fish in the small pond,” as my grandmother used to say. So Le Toux returned to the US, but it was clear that the Frenchman was not a part of the Union’s plans. In fact, in Le Toux’s interview with the aforementioned Chris Vito after the trade, he clearly stated he would never play for Nowak again. Not the Union, but rather Nowak.

In the business, tough decisions are to be made. There’s a chance we will never know if the Le Toux trade was orchestrated by Nowak or ordered from above, but that doesn’t preclude him from respecting players – especially when you remain the coach of his teammates. Yes, we hear of Sir Alex Ferguson providing the “hairdryer treatment” to players who have failed to impress by the intermission, but I would imagine at Manchester United that respect is paid in pounds.

Even after this ugly breakup occurred, the Union stood by their manager. Then as the season started, Nowak began to sit Danny Califf for what he called a nagging knee injury, a complication of a surgery Califf had undergone. Yet Califf was not on the injury report. It was this kind of chicanery that drove fans bonkers, especially as Philadelphia struggled out of the gate. Eventually, Califf was traded to Chivas USA for Michael Lahoud – again under odd circumstances. Califf didn’t give the ugly exit interview Le Toux supplied, but it was clear the situation was mishandled.

Even with the way that Le Toux and Califf left in such an unsettled fashion, it’s interesting that Nowak’s handling of these gentlemen wasn’t enough to earn him a trip out the door. He was still given time enough to orchestrate a trade to send Danny Mwanga, the Union’s first SuperDraft pick, to his hometown Portland Timbers.

The timing of Nowak’s dismissal was interesting, in that it had been nearly two weeks since a competitive match. The most meaningful event leading up to the departure -aside from the Mwanga trade – was a rumor that Nowak tossed his name in the hat for the vacant Heart of Midlothian job (according to the Scotsman – h/t to Philly Soccer Page for spying this over the weekend). If true, it may very well have been that final act of disrespect – towards his employers – that cost Nowak his job.

And so Nowak is gone. As Sakiewicz beat the badge on his chest, he clearly stated that the Union symbol stands for more than that. As many Union fans would suggest, if ownership had only put their collective foot down before the integral parts of the 2011 playoff team were traded…

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  1. IL

    June 17, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Nowak had many issues. The trades were interesting, and the
    beginning of the end for his term at the Union, but if they were
    better handled both with players and fans things could have been
    different. For me the confused team performance on the field (which
    started last season) should have been the reason to fire Nowak. The
    poor performances began a year ago not this season. It was becoming
    clear even then that Nowak was trying to do something with the
    team, but the team was not responding well. He was trying to impose
    a more complex system perhaps. That takes time (and maybe different
    players). Maybe, maybe not. In any case, the problem is not only of
    time to build or rebuild, I don’t think Nowak could properly
    communicate his wishes and needs to the players. This added to the
    confusion on the pitch as well as the locker room adding to the
    teams poor performance, which of course lead to poor team moral. So
    ultimately, what did Nowak in is his “great” personality. He was
    not able to communicate properly with his players or fans or anyone
    else for that matter. Neither the fans nor the players quite
    understood what he was trying to do. Perhaps Nowak wasn’t sure
    himself what exactly he was trying to do.

  2. Cavan

    June 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    It’s a shame that Coach Nowak imploded like that. Get well, Philly.
    I’d rather have United beat a healthy team rather than kicking
    someone while they’re down. I also hope that the Union organization
    can clean up what sounds like was starting to turn into a toxic
    locker room. I don’t want anyone to work in that kind of place,
    including players on a rival MLS team.

  3. eddie

    June 15, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Nowak was is a complete a@@ and had no clue what he was doing. The
    guy is a liability to say the least and no one with common sense
    will allow him to manage a team.

  4. Estefan

    June 14, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Whatever the reason, I agree with the title of this article, “Long
    Since Time For Nowak To Go.” It was apparent that he had/has an ego
    issue, and that anyone who disagreed with him was on the short list
    for relocation. The team is pathetic this season and has lost all
    of it’s chemistry. This is too bad for “The Sons of Ben” most of
    whom will likely remain faithful, but it’s too bad for all the rest
    of us Philly fans as well. What a wasted season. Where ownership is
    concerned, they (ownership) apparently have some issues to work
    through with the community in Chester, as they appear to be
    anything but celebrated in that city, which is also too bad. But
    add these problems to a losing team and fan base that will
    eventually become disgruntled if fortunes are not changed (witness
    Toronto FC’s fan base – once the envy of the league), and I don’t
    blame Sakiewicz for showing Nowak the door. He’s got to be going
    through hell right now! That’s my two cents worth…

  5. Charles

    June 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    This is one of the few things in Philly, for a long time, that
    added up to equal common sense.

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