As soon as Peter Nowak, the recently hired manager of the Philadelphia Union, got to the entrance of Tir na Nog Bar & Grill on Arch Street last Wednesday night, he ran into two enthusiastic Major League Soccer fans.

Nowak greeted the two men, joking and laughing like your average Joe outside a bar.

"The history's behind us. Now it's up to us to decide what we're going to do with the future," Nowak told the two fans.

But he isn't your average Joe.

A Polish native, Nowak had an extensive playing career in Europe before coming to the MLS in 1998, where he found success as a player and manager. He is the only man in MLS history to win a championship as a player (with the Chicago Fire in 1998) and manager (with D.C. United in 2004).

In December 2006, he became an assistant to Bob Bradley on the U.S national team and manager of the U-23 U.S. national team, serving in the two roles until being hired away by the Union. His time with the U-23 squad included a 1-1-1 record in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

When Philadelphia was awarded an expansion club for the 2010 season, the front office put Nowak at the top of its list, then landed him.

And the fans are ecstatic with the selection.

"It couldn't have been a better pick. He's top-notch," East Falls native and Union supporter Michael Gibbons said.

But this may be his toughest test, being called upon to lead an expansion MLS club from scratch in an area longing for its own professional soccer team. And Nowak knows it.

"Is it a challenge? Yes, of course," he said. "But I've built my whole career on challenges, as a player, as a coach. And this is probably one of the biggest ones of my career."

The scene at Tir na Nog, which means land of eternal youth in Irish, for the coach's first appearance with Union fans exhibited the area's excitement and support for the new club.

The excited, rowdy fans donned the Union gold and blue with team merchandise, chanting songs before the new manager had even arrived.

"When MLS launched, I thought 'How can you not have a team in Philadelphia?' " said Brad Youtz, a Wilmington native."And then it finally happened. This is a dream come true."

"It's beyond description," Gibbons added.

Union officials said they were impressed but not surprised by the fans' energy and passion. Philadelphia always had been on the league's short list of possible destinations for expansion teams, but the lack of a soccer-exclusive stadium delayed the process.

"There was just never a venue or an entrepreneur that understood the vision of Major League Soccer," Union VP of communications Carl Cherkin said.

When a soccer-only stadium in Chester became possible, so did the notion of an MLS team coming to town.

"I'm happy, but not surprised," Union president Tom Veit said. "Philadelphia is one of the oldest soccer communities in America. The foundation has always been here."

The Union, according to those at the event, will get support from not just the Philly area, but from as far south as northern Maryland.

Tir na Nog, one of the city's popular soccer bars, was approached by City Hall to host the event. Ken Merriman, a native of Ireland and general manager of the bar, said the area's soccer community would only grow with the creation of the pro franchise.

"All my kids grew up playing soccer, and there are lots of people who grow up playing it in the region, but only a few may play in college, and after that they lose it," Merriman said.

"This team will promote soccer and get more people to play, especially when they're older."

Nowak agrees: "Youth soccer is huge here in the region. We just need to give them the opportunity to play at the highest level, and I think with the Philadelphia Union, this is something they can dream of. They can dream of being great players for the Philadelphia Union and playing professionally."