All-Star Game: Nowak returns for second shot vs. Chelsea

Peter Nowak

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CHESTER, Pa. – For what seemed like 25 minutes, Peter Nowak sat alone inside the locker room at Toyota Park, waiting for his team to arrive, puzzled by where everyone could be.

Nowak had just coached the 2006 MLS All-Stars to a memorable 1-0 win over Chelsea FC, and left the field shortly after the final whistle blew, stopping only to wish then-Chelsea manager José Mourinho good luck. What he didn’t realize is that the members of the winning team remained on the field to be honored for their victory.

“That was the first year when MLS awarded a trophy and I didn’t know,” Nowak said. “I thought they just played the game, and after the game they just exchange the jerseys, make a couple of hugs and kisses and then everyone will be in the locker room.”

Nowak, now the manager of the Philadelphia Union, recounted that story Wednesday from the Stadium Club at PPL Park, just moments after being unveiled as the MLS All-Star game manager again, six years later.

And once again, he’ll coach against Chelsea as the English Premier League juggernaut was announced as the opponent for 2012 game on July 25 at PPL Park (8:30 pm ET on ESPN2, ESPN3, TeleFutura, TSN and RDS).

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Perhaps this time he’ll stick around longer if his team pulls off another victory over The Blues.

“It’s always a great honor to coach the all-star game,” Nowak said. “2006 was a long time ago … but I think that was one of the few wins against José Mourinho and Chelsea at that time.”

What allowed the 2006 MLS All-Stars to beat a powerful Chelsea side that featured, among other stars, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Michael Essien and John Terry?

It wasn’t the coaching, Nowak said.

“It was a great camaraderie we had,” said Nowak, the head coach of D.C. United at the time. “It was a good group and everyone was on board to try to win the game. Dwayne De Rosario scored a great goal [20] minutes before the game ended and the boys held up pretty good because Chelsea was coming.

“They were not happy to lose that game,” Nowak added. “José Mourinho was not happy either.”

Chelsea, Nowak acknowledged, may be looking for a bit of revenge in the 2012 game. And the MLS All-Stars will want to win as well. But the Union manager also noted that it’s important to remember that some of the main objectives for the game are having fun, putting on a good show for the fans and representing MLS in the best possible light.

In other words, he’s not planning on overthinking anything in terms of strategy or tactics.

“In Chicago, I probably gave a two-minute pep talk, put the names on [the lineup card] and gave general directions,” Nowak said. “They know their positions. I’m not going to put Thierry Henry as right back, right? I’ll just give them the opportunity to play and basic instructions. I don’t want to go overboard with anything else.”

Nowak, who’s known for his fiery demeanor on the sideline, even admitted that he’ll likely be more relaxed than usual on July 25. His boss, Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz, isn’t buying that, however.

“You’ll never find a human being on this planet more competitive than this man,” Sakiewicz said. “I think it’s an honor to have our team manager lead the All-Stars.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com

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