Nowak wants to see mental strength from struggling Union

CHESTER, Pa. – In the past five days, the Philadelphia Union have enjoyed their second highest-scoring output of the season as well as one of their more complete defensive efforts.

And yet, despite those positives, the Union’s winless streak extended to eight games as they came away with back-to-back draws against New England and Portland.

This current stretch represents the longest winless skid in franchise history. The most league games they went without winning last year, in their inaugural season, was six.

“It’s about mental strength,” Union manager Peter Nowak said. “How will you overcome this? How will you keep going? There are a lot of things we need to talk about. We need to show players, in some capacity, that we need to do better.”

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Nowak talked a lot about his team’s mental state following Saturday’s scoreless draw with Portland because he was pleased with the team’s physical performance, especially on the defensive end where they earned their first shutout since July 17 against New England – which, not coincidentally, was the last time they won.

The Union manager also had mostly good things to say after the Union came from behind to tie the Revs 4-4 last Wednesday, despite the obvious defensive lapses.

“As I said from the beginning of the season, when we’re trying too hard, sometimes we miss points here and there,” Nowak said Saturday, adding that he thought his team deserved the three points vs. Portland.

“I applaud the effort from the guys. After a tough game Wednesday, you could see some of them get tired at the end of the game. This was a tough stretch for us with three games in one week but we’ve just got to move forward.”

For Nowak, the current winless skid is not about his team’s talent or effort. It’s more about how they’ve been responding to mistakes or bad luck. Instead of getting more determined to make up for what happened, the manager said, they often rue the missed opportunities and let that affect their play moving forward.

As an example, Nowak pointed to one particular moment early in Saturday’s game against Portland when Sébastien Le Toux missed a goal by just a couple of inches.

“Sometimes the ball doesn’t go your way and you miss by a couple of inches,” Nowak said. “I think if we score in the first half from Seba, then I think it’s a very easy game. I think it’s the mental part. If we don’t score the first one, it’s like, ‘Here we go again.’ I think we have to overcome those obstacles and keep going and keep creating chances.

“At some point, we’re going to score the first goal and then it’s going to be easy for all of us.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.