CHESTER, Pa. — Philadelphia Union manager Peter Nowak is trying to figure out why his team has scored just six goals through nine games this season.
And after going back and reviewing game film, he believes that it’s not for a lack of effort — but perhaps too much effort in the wrong places.
“We spend a lot of time defending, and I think we need to change our perspective on doing certain things,” Nowak said Wednesday at his weekly press conference from PPL Park. “The pressure needs to be applied higher. It seems we spend a lot of energy — sometimes ineffective energy — to try to win the ball. And when we win the ball, we have not enough energy to go forward and create goals.”
What exactly is ineffective energy?
Nowak gave an example of tireless striker Sébastien Le Toux — who he said “can run for three days” — chasing down a defender to make a challenge, only to lose the ball because he doesn’t have enough support behind him. That, of course, would turn a possible offensive attack into the entire team “backpedaling 40, 50 yards,” Nowak said.
“We need to recognize when and how the second, the third, the fourth guy will see that so Seba will not spend his energy running from one guy to another,” the Union manager said. “It’s not about challenges. It’s about how we can get the group of players who can see, anticipate, recognize and read the game well enough to put this kind of pressure on, so we don’t expend energy running from one guy to another, and all of a sudden the ball moves somewhere else.”
Leading up to Saturday’s game against the Chicago Fire at PPL Park (8 pm ET, Direct Kick, MatchDay Live), with the Union (4-3-2) hoping to snap a three-game winless streak and score more than one goal for the first time this season, this kind of “effective running” has been Nowak’s message to his team. The Union manager hopes to see more imagination and anticipation when players make their runs — all of which he believes will lead to far more scoring opportunities.
Still, even though he wants his players to play smarter, that doesn’t mean he wants them to be any less assertive.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Nowak said. “We want to challenge. I want to challenge.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.