Philadelphia Union manager Piotr Nowak is one of the best coaching minds in Major League Soccer. The former Polish international knows what is needed to achieve success in MLS. Nowak knows how to recognize talent and make players fit into his system.
After a tough inaugural season, the Union is right up with the best clubs in the Eastern Conference. Currently, Nowak’s squad is in first place and two points ahead of New York Red Bulls. But while New York’s team is filled with highly-paid superstars like Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez, Nowak has built his Union team out of castoffs and MLS veterans.
In many ways, the Union is Nowak’s baby. He has full control over all decisions related to player movement. Piotr has built this team not out of designated players but of dedicated players.
Sebastien Le Toux is a perfect example of the type of player Nowak likes. Le Toux will give 110% from the first minute until the last. Despite his scoring drought this season, Le Toux is working harder than ever. Work rate beats out talent in MLS and Nowak recognizes that.
Nowak is excellent at getting the best out of his players. For example, Brian Carroll looked as if his best times were behind him when he arrived in Philadelphia from Columbus. Nowak, who managed Carroll at D.C. United, has been able to guide Carroll back on track. Playing mainly as a defensive central midfielder, Carroll provides great protection when opposing teams try to counterattack. He is one of Philadelphia’s most important players.
Philadelphia’s back five (counting the keeper) were pathetic last season. So, what does Nowak do? He acquires an experienced keeper in Faryd Mondragon and a solid center back in Carlos Valdes. Both have been key additions that have transformed the defense.
Some have suggested Nowak as the successor to Bob Bradley for coach of the U.S. Men’s national team. As a Union and USMNT supporter, I have mixed feelings about this. Nowak would make a great manager for the national team, but it doesn’t seem logical for him to leave Philly now. First, he will have much more pressure on him as manager of the national team. Second, he may not be able have the sort of control he enjoys with the Union.
Also, as a manager of a national team, there is not as much to do. You pick the squad, play some friendlies, and a tournament every now and then. Your job security is determined by how well your team does during one month every four years. Not all managers are fond of the situation.
Piotr Nowak is sort of the Arsene Wenger of MLS. Nowak has not won as much as Wenger but he is 15 years younger than the Frenchman. Both men know how to identify talent and acquire players to fit in their system. Both also know how to find diamonds in the scraps left behind from other clubs.
Nowak has a chance to build a legacy in Philadelphia. He is turning the Union into a model MLS franchise. Not by buying expensive aging stars, but by innovation and hard work. It’s not the easy way, but it is the Philly way and the Nowak way.