Wednesday, October 18, 2006

3 and out?

I find it funny how so much can change in a few months.

In August, the MLS Some Stars played EPL Champion Chelsea and defeated them, 1-0. Everyone was pouring the accolades on Peter Nowak for doing something that Steve Nicol failed to do a year earlier in Madrid. He was able to gather a group of player together in a short time frame and get them to work as a team, and not only avoid the type of howler that the MLS Select Squad gave up (5-0 ass-whooping for those who have tried to forget), but pulled off the 1-0 victory.

Peter Nowak was riding high, his club was on top of the league and his name was being mentioned on damn near every short list around for the replacement of Bruce Arena for the USMNT coach. At that moment, Peter could have snapped a college kids legs worse than Hristo Stoichkov did a couple of years ago and still come out of it cleaner than a colon after an enema. It is funny how things change after a few months.

Now here we are, 3 days before the start of the MLS Playoffs and everywhere I go in the digital soccer world, I find calls for Peter Nowak to be fired. DC United have sucked for the last two months of the season. They went 3-4-6 in all competitions, 2 of those wins coming against the same club, RBNY (who they face in the first round of the playoffs). This was the same club that had a 13 match unbeaten streak, with a 6 match win streak along the way. United lost their last three matches of the regular season and now seem to have more holes in their defense than the Titanic did as it sank.

So, what happened? Well, several injuries took away guys, namely Esky for four matches and Jaime for at least one. After not really getting any Yellow or Red cards for the beginning of the season, United seemed intent on playing catch up and piled them on like they were going out of style. Something to the tune of 32 yellow cards and 5 Red cards in that same stretch. They had 34 Yellow cards and 1 red for the previous 22 matches in MLS and USOC before that. So needless to say, more guys were given MLS Sponsored Holiday's at the end of the season than they were during the season.

Players aside, most people will and are blaming the late season funk on Peter Nowak. Infact, one side of this can be read here at DCenters. D seems to be dropping less of the blame on Peter, rather than cite other reasons for United failing to get the proper results, such as Jaime seemingly scared to shoot the ball over most of the same time period. If you want to sift through 10 pages of arguments on Big Soccer, then you will see how some other are handling the late season funk.

The one that brought me out to this is from Matchnight. Bill Urban has a long piece about how the club is doing and how everything has transpired...go read it if you want, but here is the last paragraph:

"Nowak clearly rates his abilities at getting the best out of his players above all else and ahead of more mundane personal concerns like tactics and his system of play. His characteristic stubborn refusal to change the system or his tactics as United's season ended with an extended run of poor results, the implicit assumption that he and his players could "turn it on" when necessary, has morphed the conference semifinal tie against the Red Bulls into a sort of referendum on the reign of Peter as a result." -

As D said in his piece, yes Peter Nowak is stubborn. That is one of his characteristics that the club knew about when they hired him. He also cannot stand losing, almost to a fault. He did pick damn near the entire United squad for the Some Star game, and that was so he could win. maybe not the brightest idea considering the season, but he wanted to win, which made Garber & Co. slap happy. Did Jaime really need to play all 90 minutes against Real Madrid? Doubtful, but he was still out there at the end of the match, huffing an puffing, trying to create chances. That was because Peter wanted to win. I would rather a coach who wants to win at all cost than someone who feels complacent with getting everyone on the field.

The biggest point from this paragraph that bugged me was the referendum comment. Does a coach that has produced three straight playoff appearances, 1 MLS Cup, and 1 Supporters Shield in three years, really need to worry that much about his job? Does anyone remember how shitty United were under Ray Hudson? DC united barely remembered what the playoffs were under Ray. So just because the last 13 matches weren't like the first 22, you want to shit can the guy?

I don't buy it. I love that DC United supporters are so rabid and loyal that the moment the ship starts to slow down or looks like it is going under, they want, damn near demand change, but lets face fact here. Peter Nowak has been doing what he was brought here to do. He has been doing what he always has done. He has put his best team on the field and demanded that they get the job done. As injuries and MLS Sponsored holidays took some of those players away from him, he still did the best he could. Not being able to field Gomez, Gros, and Olsen for the same match would be like the Redskins not being able to field Moss, Portis and Brunell (yes, Brunell is a bad example, as he sucks now too).

Peter Nowak has been one of the most successful coaches in MLS. There are few who have had better 3 year terms than he, and it turns out that one of them was the first DC United boss and his opponent, Arena. Bruce will always be the standard for DC United coaches. If they fail to do as well as Bruce, then they need to be fired. Is it fair, no. That is just life in DC.

Peter Nowak doesn't need a referendum on his job. He has done a great job, with the players that he has had. Do I honestly see DC United winning the MLS Cup? No. I see us getting pass RBNY and then losing to Chicago. But I know that funnier things have happened in soccer, like South Korea making the Semi-Finals of the World Cup and the USA beating Portugal. If the LA Galaxy can win the MLS Cup with the worst record of the playoff clubs last year, the club with the best record this year could too, and if Peter Nowak is holding the Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy at the end of this, then I am sure that people will still want him fired.


Blogger The Manly Ferry said...

Good post.

Speaking as someone who still has Peter Nowak on my U.S. coaches short-list, it's fair to acknowledge this doesn't help his cause, but that's about as far as it goes. Near as I can tell, United's troubles start, and nearly end, at the back. They're giving up stupid goals; this not only makes them chase games, but it also removes happy possibilities like that series of 1-0 wins they grinded out during their early summer winning streak. Who's to blame for DC's defensive blunders? The players. Unless Nowak recruits players - and he very well might; I don't know these things - there's really no blaming him; DC doesn't have enough depth in defense to press Boswell, Namoff, Erpen & Co. I'd make that a priority for next season and give Nowak another full-season look and only fire him if he fails spectacularly. If he continues in mediocrity for two years, yeah, then it's time for the sack for the same reason Gansler had to go in KC.

Most of all, though, it's well worth pointing to the Hudson years. DC flat-out sucked back then. Things are better by far under Nowak.

3:41 PM  

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