Kick Off: Up-and-down Nowak era comes to close in Philly

The Peter Nowak era is officially over in Philadelphia, yet another turn in a fascinating – or often times frustrating if you’re a Union fan – coaching tenure in the City of Brotherly Love.

On Wednesday, the Union (2-7-2) announced that they had parted ways with their embattled manager by mutual consent, passed the reins to Nowak’s assistant and right-hand man John Hackworth, who was given the interim coach label. The departure was the final act in what has been three years marked by controversy, especially in the past six months, as key players left the club and results suffered.  

Nowak was recently in the news when reports out of Scotland linked him with an open job at Hearts, forcing the Union boss to deny. Still, Philadelphia CEO Nick Sakiewicz (above) said that rumor wasn’t at the heart of the matter, emphasizing that Nowak had left the club because of “philosophical differences.”

“At some point, you wake up in the morning and you realize this isn’t quite the way you want the Union brand represented,” Sakiewicz said. “I’m not a wine connoisseur, but I know what good wine tastes like. When I sipped the wine recently, it didn’t taste so good.”

In the wake of the move, area columnists came out in force to give their take on the end of the Nowak era.

Philly.com columnist John Smallwood argued there was more to Nowak’s departure than what was publicly said. Another argued that the timing was certainly right to move on from what had become a divisive presence for many involved. Finally, some said it was simply hard to keep someone in charge that kept everyone guessing, especially without results to show for it in 2012.

Nowak wasn’t available for comment, skewing the narrative, but the speculation has already begun as the Union begin the search for their second manager with Steve Davis throwing Richie Williams name into the hat. See how Nowak did compared to other coaches of expansion sides in MLS history.

MLS' lone representative at Euro 2012 has a mountain to climb on Thursday, a Spanish peak to be exact. LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane and the Irish face what amounts to a must-win match against Spain in Gdansk (2:45 pm ET, ESPN2).

Keane has come under fire in the days since Ireland's 3-1 loss to Croatia in the tournament opener for his five-game goalless streak, especially with a group of hungry young strikers waiting their turn behind their nation's captain. If Keane does start against a Spanish side ranked No. 1 in the world, it will surely be in a lone role up top, one that demands better service than Ireland managed in their opening defeat.

"As a group of players, we didn’t do enough to create chances," Keane said. "Am I happy with my form? Yes. You try to play as well as you can and do your best for the team. There’s only one game gone, though, and we have a couple more left. Hopefully we can get a couple of opportunities against Spain, or against Italy, and I can take them.”

Despite the challenge they face, Keane and his teammates haven't given up hope that a shock result will get them right back into the thick of things in Group C:

"For personally, as captain, there is not a chance in hell that I will go into any game thinking that I can't win it," he said. "We have to believe that we have every chance to get a win. It's 11 vs. 11 for 90 minutes. We've played against the biggest teams and beaten them and drawn with them. People have written us off and given us no hope. The fact of the matter is after what happened the other night against Croatia we need to get points on the board."

Croatia face Italy in Thursday's early game (noon ET, ESPN2), with the Italians looking to build on their draw vs. Spain and Slaven Bilic's side hoping chalk up six points before their group finale.

Jimmy Conrad and KICKTV are certainly enjoying themselves in Poland. Check out the latest video from KICKTV and watch as Conrad finds himself right in the middle of Tuesday's clashes between Russian and Polish fans on the streets of Warsaw. Or follow all the action on Twitter if you want minute-by-minute updates from the man himself.

Based on the ratings for ESPN, it seems Americans' interest in soccer increases by the year. Also, read about why many national sides at Euro 2012 are bringing large contingents from successful club sides.

Back in MLS, which is back in full force this weekend after a lengthy international break, the Rapids' Drew Moor has signed an extension with the club that he hopes will keep him in Colorado for the rest of his career. It was a move that made perfect sense for president Tim Hinchey, who called Moor "easily one of the best people in the league, period" on Twitter.

Outside of Moor, however, Colorado manager Oscar Pareja isn't pleased with the way his backline has been playing recently. He said he is especially concerned about the play of his outside backs, making it known that no spot is safe at this point in the season: "There has been inconsistency there in those positions that I don't like," Pareja said. "And I'm going to do my part as a coach, which is take the responsibility on lining up the guys there and choose who is going to play. The players understand that it has to be better. It is a job that is there. I want to see who wants it enough."

In Whitecaps news, young striker Omar Salgado, who had made significant strides in his second professional season, will miss two-to-four months with a broken foot suffered during a game with the US Under-20 team in Uruguay.

After starting five matches so far this season for Martin Rennie, matching his total from a year ago, Salgado said he wasn't happy to be forced out of action but emphasized all he could think about now was recovery : "We're coming into a good moment in the league and, for me personally, coming back into this season and making a difference in the team and then getting injured was disappointing," he said. "But I can't really look back and say I could have done this differently. It happened, and now it's just recovery.

Another burgeoning MLS prospect, Seattle's David Estrada, will also miss significant time with a broken foot. The forward is expected to miss between two and three months, leaving coach Sigi Schmid without a key piece of attacking depth: "Obviously it's not great news," Schmid said. "He's had a fifth metatarsal injury on his right leg when he was at UCLA, so he knows what that feels like; he knows what the recovery is like from that. Hopefully everything will go well in the surgery and he'll be back sooner than later.

Meanwhile, in Columbus, the Crew are struggling to get healthy even after MLS' prolonged break.

Rumors are floating around in Mexico that Pachuca want-away strikers Guillermo Franco and Félix Borja could be headed to MLS. (SPANISH)

One Manchester United assistant coach has high praise for Clint Dempsey, and says the club scouts MLS carefully. Yet, he's never heard of Brek Shea.

A Stoke City prospect has been charged with murder for the fatal stabbing of a 15-year-old girl.

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