IT'S RARE that a coach finds himself frustrated for his team and not because of his team.
Just ask and Union boss Peter Nowak will readily tell you that his club has already defied the unsaid assumptions of what makes a franchise a success in Major League Soccer.
For him, it never will be shelling out dollars for a high-priced superstar or aging stalwart - well, except for names like Veljko Paunovic and Carlos Ruiz, the latter who bounced like a thief in the night, preferring the beaches of Mexico to the scenic Chester waterfront.
For Nowak, building a franchise around young, impressionable, but skilled, talent has paid dividends in just the club's second year. For nearly a third of the season, the Union shared the best record in MLS' Eastern Conference. Currently, its leading goal scorer is 20 years old (Danny Mwanga). The team has one loss all season at home (5-1-6). Its defense is one the best in the league and was arguably cream of the crop earlier this season with the nucleus of Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes holding down central defense and Sheanon Williams and Jordan Harvey securing the flanks. Rookie Gabriel Farfan is solid as Harvey's replacement, but it's evident he's still learning the ropes.
But Nowak's young-man ideology also brings with it a lot of inexperience, a lot of poor decisions and a lot of moments where despite being professionals, many of his players are still trying to figure out what that really means. The Union hasn't won an MLS match since the last time it played New England on July 17. The two were supposed to meet Sunday at PPL Park, but the impending smack the region will receive from Hurricane Irene forced a Sept. 7 reschedule date (8 p.m., Comcast Network, Galavision).
Furthermore, the Union has only pulled three points out of its last five matches and has dropped from guaranteed playoff land into wild-card contention as the fourth-best team in the East.
Not because chances to beat the opposition aren't arriving, the Union just isn't capitalizing.
"The frustrating part for me is that the boys work very hard to be in this position, but now the easiest part isn't coming - finishing," Nowak said matter-of-factly. "It's not fair. I'm not frustrated at them, I'm frustrated as a coach to say we didn't come to any [positive conclusions] from making good decisions. There is only so many times you can say, 'We competed, the back line was good, we put ourselves in position to score' and then come away with a loss or a point.
"At some point, you look at it and you are like, 'Come on man, we need to fix this stuff; we need to put the ball in the back of the net.' "
A mere 10 games remain - five at PPL Park - for the Union to return to the top three in the East and not have to fear being among the bottom four. The beauty is that the Union hold games in hand over the current top three in Columbus, Sporting Kansas City (a game each) and Houston (two).
"They all try so hard, and sometimes I think maybe too hard," said Nowak regarding his roster. "Sometimes I think these guys need to relax; you can't play the game all [hyped up] . . . it's all about concentration, focus and putting the ball where it needs to be. That's what we work on with these guys in training. They have the skills, for a lot of them it's a mental they have to work on."
Nowak's mental in terms of his club's playoff fortunes?
"The last thing you want with 10 games to go is to look at the standings and try to figure out how many points you need and go play accordingly," he continued. "To play that way you are only setting yourself up for heartbreak and disappointment . . . I think in our second year, we are still a very young and inexperienced team and to be where we are shows you how hard these guys work. When you put too much emphasis and pressure on guys that are this young, some of them can take it, some of them can't. It's important for us as a coaching staff not to look forward, but to prepare one game at a time.
"I tell our guys, I don't want to hear anything about what any other team is doing or where they are in the standings, all I care about is getting us there and to do that you have to focus on right now, not the future."
Odds and endlines
Union supporters group the Illegitimates of Section 133 have again teamed up with defender Sheanon Williams' charity Miles4MJ. The group, with the help of Kildare's Irish Pub, plan to hold a charity tailgate on Sept. 10 in the Teber parking lot across from PPL Park. The tailgate begins at 2 p.m. and will conclude an hour before the match against the Portland Timbers. Tickets are $20 and kids are free. The event is to help defeat Neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors . . . Midfielder Kyle Nakazawa doubled as a runway model last night for Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino's second-annual Celebrity Fashion Night at the Union League (Broad and Sansom) . . . Maybe Peter Nowak and Sebastien Le Toux recently joining Twitter has something to do with it, but according to a report from SportsBusiness Daily, MLS saw a 30 percent spike in online viewers and mobile users downloading its MLS Match Day app in July. The report claims more than 3 million unique viewers visited MLSSoccer.com . . . Former Union defender Michael Orozco Fiscal was named to Jurgen Klinsmann's 24-man U.S. men's national team roster for upcoming September friendlies against Costa Rica (Sept. 2) and Belgium (Sept. 6).