Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Then and Now: Peter Nowak

What has happened to Peter Nowak? A year ago, fans were in love with the manager. The Union were fighting for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The offense wasn't clicking(like now), but fan favorite Sebastian LeToux was still an integral part of the team. Despite the comparable offense, the team seemed to win the matches they lose this season. And since Nowak sent away most of the players we had last season, we're left to scratch our heads. Why the losses? Is it the players he sent away? Or is it Nowak himself?

First, lets look at who Nowak let go in the off season. The players and positions are varied, but the impact they have on the Union plan of attack is huge. And the two most important are Sebastian LeToux and Faryd Mondragon.

Let's look at goalies first. At first glance, most people would say MacMath is a downgrade from Faryd Mondragon. But I would beg to differ. Modragon finished 2011 with 49 saves. And the Union contended for the Eastern Conference title. That's a tough mantle to live up to. But MacMath already has 26 saves this season. The season isn't even half over, and MacMath has more than half the saves Mondragon had last season. Granted, the team isn't in the same position it was last year, but still. MacMath is playing well.

Now many people will say the defense is a key part to saves. And I would agree. Nowak shipped out captain and stellar defender Danny Califf to Chivas U.S.A. A good move? Only time will tell. But MacMath has been facing offenses without Califf for weeks now. Imagined injuries or not, Califf hasn't played. And MacMath has played well in his absence. So Nowak was right. The youth on the team shines in net. MacMath is at least as good, if not better than Mondragon. Say what you will about experience, I'll take Big Orange in net over Mondragon any day.

So if Nowak made the right call in net, did he go wrong with the rest of the team? Logic would say that if he made one right call, the rest would fall into line. Unfortunately, it isn't that easy. And when examining an attack, one also has to look at the formations played, time on the field, etc. But still, logical conclusions can be drawn about players and managers.

So what do I think of the LeToux trade? Complete and utter nonsense. But before we discuss that, let's look at Lionard Pajoy. Pajoy is 2nd on the team in goals, and 1st on the team in shots. Why is this important? Because LeToux led the team in both these categories last year. I'm not here to lament the LeToux trade because of what we got for him. The trade is over and done with. It's time to move on. I'm here to lament what could have been.

LeToux and Pajoy could have been an amazing tandem. LeToux is scrappy player. Fighting for possession, and fighting for goals. He is always around the ball, and always ready to do what it takes to score. And Pajoy wants to score too. But he isn't LeToux. And the two would have complemented each other perfectly. An attacking striker with deft play and the ability to shoot. And a scrappy player who will fight through anything for the ball. Imagine LeToux of late last season with a Ruiz who fought harder. The tandem could have been unstopppable.

But it wasn't to be. And how Nowak handles it is one of the major problems the Union face this season. Without LeToux, the Union face a significant loss at the striker position. Mwanga has played at striker, and Pajoy has played alone. But the goals have been hard to come by. For the entire offense. But the goals must run through the striker, and as a replacement for LeToux, Pajoy has absorbed much of the blame for lack of offense. But he needs a partner up top to function in the role he is equipped for. And Nowak knows this

So enough about moves and trades and acquisitions. What has Nowak done this season? He has become the Andy Reid of the Philadelphia soccer community. Gone is the good will and the wins. Hello awkward press conferences and a season of doubt and loss. So Nowak has a tough season. His response?

Youth is the answer, we have so often heard. But is it? Does youth see the playing time that we expect from a coach who preaches youth? Adu, Okugo, Daniel, and the Farfans see time. But what about the striker position? What Mwanga? McIrnerney? Hoffman? Fans have accepted that youth is the future. Embraced it even. But not seeing a youth movement in attack does not sit well. Especially with the record the Union have.

So what is Nowak's grade so far? Can you grade him? It's a hard thing to do. I believe in the youth movement that Nowak preaches. I think a young team can go far in the MLS, and I think Nowak can coach them there. But when he preaches youth, and practices something else, that's when I get worried. We have promising rookies playing key roles, like Raymon Gaddis. And young players like MacMath playing key roles for the team. But only seeing youth on defense is not what Union fans expected of Nowak.

So I have to give Nowak a C-. And he has the potential to drop from here. Is the team record important? Yes and no. I want to see Nowak play out his grand experiment. Bring out the youth. I want to see the team I saw in the 2nd half against Real Madrid last season. I want to see the youth come out and take it to the MLS. And I want to see the Peter Nowak lead the charge.

The only question left is, will he?

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