WHILE FANS may be rolling out the red carpet on Saturday for former Union forward Sebastien Le Toux, Peter Nowak certainly will not be.
The Union manager, in his weekly news conference, didn't mince words when asked Wednesday for his thoughts on the return of a player once deemed as the face of his young franchise. Le Toux returns to PPL Park with an undefeated Vancouver team Saturday (4 p.m., 6 ABC), and much of the talk has been about the atmosphere in what looks to be a must-win game for the 0-3 Union.
"Are you being serious or are you joking?" Nowak asked. "Because I could look [at the question of how the atmosphere will be] from two different perspectives. I don't know, maybe confetti, maybe banners, maybe a parade? Who knows? I have no idea what the [atmosphere] is going to be. I am focused on our responsibilities."
It's inconceivable that Nowak would think he wouldn't have to answer questions surrounding the biggest news for the Union this past offseason. Le Toux' February trade meant the departure of the team's leading scorer, and came amid allegations of a botched trial with an English Premier League club. He followed with a public lambasting of his former coach.
Still, Nowak said he didn't want the focus on Le Toux, given that he isn't the main concern.
"I am sick of this 'face of the franchise' crap," Nowak said. "You know who is the face of the franchise? Our fans who come every week to support us, the team. They are the face of this franchise. That's who we play for. Not some individual player. I'm not dumb, I know fans loved [Le Toux] and will cheer him, but at the end of the day, it's about the team, our team, and that's where the focus should be."
Along with Le Toux' return, Saturday will mark the return of defender Jordan Harvey and goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who, along with Le Toux, were among the original 10 players selected in the 2009 MLS expansion draft. Still, Le Toux was the hot-button topic of discussion even after his conference call wrapped up. Nowak and a reporter engaged in a heated debate about the importance of fielding questions about the flashy striker.
"The most important thing we can do is inject a fighting spirit, and that's what we are going to do in this game, regardless of who we play," he said. "It's not about one player, and I am not responding to questions about that. I have a playoff team in this locker room, and I have 31 more weeks to prove that. We are taking one game at a time starting with this one."
Trust Saturday's match to come with its own brand of fireworks. The only question is will it be literally, figuratively, or both.
Sad to leave, happy to be back
Perhaps the one positive of the U.S. under-23 national team missing out on its first Olympics since 1976: The Union will get three crucial players back. Defender Sheanon Williams and midfielders Amobi Okugo and Freddy Adu return after Monday's demoralizing 3-3 tie to El Salvador. While it sounds as if Williams and Okugo could be available for Saturday's match, it's likely the same won't happen for Adu, who Nowak said may need some time to recharge his batteries.
"It's not an easy situation for these guys. I know how disappointed they all are," Nowak said. "But they are coming back to work and Freddy played long minutes in all three [qualifying] games in a very short period of time, and we are going to assess that and see where he is physically. The physical part only surrounds Freddy. He was a guy that played three games in 5 days, that's never easy. I am sure Freddy would like to be a part of the team, but we need to talk to him first and assess where he is physically, and then we'll make our decision from that."
Odds and endlines
A player who will be back on the pitch is captain Danny Califf, sidelined the last two matches recovering from offseason knee surgery. Nowak said definitively that Califf is "good to go" and that he expects him to be in the lineup . . . Danny Mwanga was excited at the chance to play Aston Villa, the English Premier League team the Union will host July 18 at PPL Park. Mwanga, 20, underwent a 10-day training spell with Villa during the first week of the Union's preseason camp.
"I look up to a lot of those guys and it'll be a great opportunity to play against them," Mwanga said. "I remember training with them and watching them play a match while I was there, and that was an incredible experience. I look forward to playing them a little bit closer to home."