As struggles mount, Union part ways with Nowak

Peter Nowak

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Peter Nowak is out as the head coach of the Philadelphia Union after the side struggled to capture the form that led them to the first postseason berth in franchise history last year.

Nowak, who is the only head coach in the club’s three seasons in MLS, will also no longer serve as executive vice president of soccer operations for the club. Assistant coach John Hackworth, who served as Nowak’s right-hand man will take over as the interim head coach, effective immediately.

Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz made the announcement that the two sides had mutually agreed to part ways during a press conference at PPL Park on Wednesday.

Nowak finished with a 21-30-24 record with the Union in more than two seasons on the job, leading them from an expansion side in 2010 to a playoff team last year. They lost both games in their MLS Cup Playoffs quarterfinal series with the Houston Dynamo. 

The Union (2-7-2) face a short turnaround with Hackworth (right) in charge, and plenty of ground to make up in a muddled Eastern Conference. They return to action from the international break at home against I-95 rivals D.C. United on Saturday (7 pm ET, Galavision), and are winless in their last five league games.

Their rough form this year is a start contrast to a breakout season last year, when Nowak piloted the club to the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. They bowed out to the eventual MLS Cup runners-up Houston Dynamo in the conference semifinals, but it appeared that the Union’s mixture of veterans and promising youngsters meant big things on the horizon in Philadelphia.

Those hopes were derailed, however, by dramatic personnel moves off the field and poor play on it, resulting in the league’s second-worst record this season and a loss to previously winless Toronto FC on May 26 that ultimately served as Nowak’s last league game in charge.

Hired by the Union in May 2009 on the heels of a decorated MLS playing and coaching career and a stint as an assistant with the US national team, Nowak likely saw more trouble this season than he ever saw from the bench while leading D.C. United to an MLS Cup and three impressive seasons from 2004-06.

Veteran goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón decided to return to his native Colombia during the offseason, and then striker Sébastien Le Toux publically criticized Nowak for his part in a falling out that eventually led to the Union trading the French striker to Vancouver in January.

Nowak also found himself under the public ire of defender Danny Califf after over a supposed injury kept the veteran off the roster for a period this spring, and Califf was subsequently traded to Chivas USA in May.

The Union also shipped first-ever draft pick Danny Mwanga to Portland earlier this month after some stagnant offensive numbers made him expendable, severing ties with yet another Union original who Nowak personally courted before making him the top pick in the 2010 SuperDraft.

Nowak was rumored to be connected with a coaching position with Scottish side Hearts earlier this week, but he denied those rumors on Tuesday. No word on what his next move will be.