UNION BOSS Peter Nowak used words like "imagination" and "creativity" in describing the type of mindset he would like his club to possess this season.

The team held a training session yesterday at YSC Sports in Wayne in preparation for a 10-day training stint in Costa Rica. With three matches scheduled on turf every 3 days against a pair of clubs in Costa Rica's first division, in addition to the country's under-20 national team, Nowak wants this phase of the preseason to coincide with his players knowing exactly what to do in "pressure situations."

"One of the toughest things to do is looking at a playbook and trying to translate that onto the field," Nowak said as he spoke with reporters yesterday via conference call. "But at the same time, you have to be open-minded and they have to work with an imagination. We can provide them with the game plan, but decisions are still going to have to be the players', and we try to develop these scenarios in training. We want them to have an understanding of our playbook, but use their own imagination to achieve the goal."

While the camp that wrapped up last weekend in Deltona, Fla., stressed fitness and tactics, Nowak said the Costa Rica session will stress more on building team chemistry and fluidity. But Nowak notes the lineup is still very much a work in progress, with players coming and going from camp in this Olympic year. Midfielders Amobi Okugo and Freddy Adu, along with forward Jack McInerney, are in camp with the U.S. under-23 national team in Frisco, Texas.

"I think we have been working on some really good stuff in Florida. Now it's just a matter of improving," Nowak said. "Now it's working on fitness, formations and getting guys ready for the season. Because of the Olympic qualifiers, it's kind of hard to determine what our set lineup with will be. It's still an open book and we still have a couple of games to play, so we'll just see [March 12] in Portland."

New deal for Williams

The Union announced yesterday that it signed defender Sheanon Williams to a long-term contract.

But it was Williams who revealed his commitment to the franchise through 2015. With speculation surrounding the exact price of his 3-year-deal, many will have to wait until those numbers are released later this year by MLS' players union.

"It's important to improve a player's contract if they are important to the team," Nowak said. "I am not going to go into specifics, but it is a long-term contract that gives him a secure future and makes him a member of the family."

Williams is the sixth player the Union has signed or re-signed this week. The team announced Tuesday that it struck deals with rookies Krystian Witkowski, Raymon Gaddis, Greg Jordan, Antoine Hoppenot and second-year goalkeeper Chase Harrison.

"The rookies we gave contracts to, we just wanted to recognize their hard work and now they have a good foundation to start from," Nowak said.

As for Williams, while the final roster isn't definitively set for the U.S. Olympic team, based on his comments yesterday to reporters, it's very possible that Williams, 22, could be on the outside looking in at a spot on coach Caleb Porter's roster. Porter, unavailable for comment yesterday, did not invite Williams to the current camp in Texas. Furthermore, Williams shrugged off notions that he was still in consideration; though this missed call-up doesn't necessarily mean it's a closed book, Williams is playing the waiting game.

"I have talked to coach Porter, but, really, that's his decision," Williams said. "I have no say in the matter. It'd be a great opportunity, but right now, I am just focused on getting ready for the season with my team and whatever happens, happens."

Odds and endlines

The Union released Nizar Khalfan late yesterday. The speedy Tanzanian midfielder was acquired a few hours after his release from Vancouver on Nov. 22. Khalfan's departure frees up an international spot . . . Union midfielder Amobi Okugo says the U.S. under-23 national team has a "familiarity" now as coach Caleb Porter holds his final camp before Olympic qualifying rounds open against Cuba on March 22. The United States, in Group A, will also play Canada (March 24) and El Salvador (March 26). The top two teams in the group advance to the semifinal rounds, held March 31-April 2 in Kansas City.