PIOTR "PETER" NOWAK is a big name and a good hire to be the Philadelphia Union's first coach.
Unless the Union wanted to extend its coaching search beyond the U.S. borders and delve into Europe or South America, Nowak, who will be introduced today, might be the best name currently available to the expansion franchise, which will begin play next spring.
You want experience both domestically and internationally?
Nowak has it.
He was the head coach of D.C. United for 3 years, and then an assistant to the U.S. men's national team. He coached the United States in the under-23 CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2007 and last summer at the Olympics in Beijing.
You want championship experience?
Nowak took over at D.C. United in 2004 and immediately guided it to the Major League Soccer title. He took United to the playoffs in his other two seasons.
As a player, Nowak joined the expansion Chicago Fire in 1998 and led it to the MLS Cup title.
You want a no-nonsense coach who puts the team above individual players?
Look at Nowak's experience with D.C. United.
In 2004, he was given 14-year-old prodigy Freddy Adu and all the pressure and hype that came along with coaching the player many heralded as America's Pele.
But Nowak quickly realized that while Adu might have had ability beyond his years, he was still a child with all of the immaturities of a teenager.
While many around United, including its rabid fan base, clamored for Adu to be put on the field right away, Nowak treated him like any other player and made him earn his playing time. Adu played in all 30 games for United as a rookie, but started only about half the time.
In the end, Nowak's handling of Adu proved correct for the team, as United won the championship.
The coach of a soccer club is one of the more influential coaching jobs in sports. The system and style that a soccer team plays becomes its identity, and the coach, not the players, almost exclusively dictates that.
By hiring Nowak almost a year before it plays its first game, the Union already has taken the huge step of determining what kind of soccer team it wants to be.
In my conversations with Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz, a former goalkeeper who played professionally in France and Portugal, I get the feeling he is a fan of the European style of soccer, particularly the English Premier League and German Bundesliga.
Playing for his native Poland, Nowak earned 24 caps playing midfield and was a three-time captain. He played professionally in the first divisions in Poland, Turkey and Switzerland before moving to the Bundesliga.
D.C. United led MLS in scoring in two of Nowak's three seasons, but also ranked among the leaders in scoring defense. He went 42-27-25 in his three seasons there.
Under Nowak, expect the Union to play an entertaining style that emphasizes attacking soccer, but also pays attention to defense.
The Union could have gone with someone who has coached overseas, but the lack of understanding of MLS and the American player generally has been a recipe for disaster. It's no coincidence that MLS coaches generally have a lot of experience playing and/or coaching in the United States.
As a former player and coach, Nowak understands MLS. He has a solid grasp of the American player, but also is benefited by a wealth of international experience.
The Union wanted a solid coach, not just a recognizable name, to began its existence. In Peter Nowak, it got both. *
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