Say what you will about Peter Nowak, but he certainly had an eventful tenure as Philadelphia Union manager. Here are some of the highs and lows of the past three years:
May 28, 2009 – Nowak resigns from his position with the United States men’s national team to accept the job as head coach of the expansion Union. Philadelphia CEO Nick Sakiewicz would later say he didn’t have a plan to conduct a search for the position because “Peter was my first, second and third choice.”
Nov. 25, 2009 – Nowak builds the foundation of the franchise by selecting 10 players in the Expansion Draft, a group headlined by Sébastien Le Toux, who would become the club’s leading scorer for the next two seasons. Days later, they sign Danny Califf, who would emerge as the team’s leader and captain.
Dec. 23, 2009 – Nowak travels to Portland to convince Danny Mwanga to begin his career in MLS rather than in France. Mwanga later joins Jack McInerney and Amobi Okugo as part of the Union’s highly touted first draft class.
April 10, 2010 – Nowak picks up his first win as Union manager after Le Toux logs a hat trick in a 3-2 victory over D.C. United at Lincoln Financial Field.
May 15, 2010 – In the Union’s next game in Philadelphia, Mwanga scores the first goal of his career – and then runs over to the sideline to give Nowak a bear hug.
June 27, 2010 – In the first game at PPL Park, Nowak guides the Union to a thrilling 3-1 win over Seattle.
Aug. 28, 2010 – New acquisition Justin Mapp delivers a goal and an assist in the final 10 minutes as the Union stun the Revolution for just their second road win. Three days later, Nowak makes another shrewd move in acquiring Sheanon Williams, who would go on to become one of the team’s top defenders.
Sept. 4, 2010 – Nowak publicly rips goalkeeper Chris Seitz for allowing a soft goal in a 1-1 tie against Sporting Kansas City, and later benches him for the rest of the season in favor of backup Brad Knighton. Knighton immediately leads the Union to their first shutout of the season, but Nowak ends up dumping both Seitz and Knighton at the end of the year.
Oct. 16, 2010 – The Union knock off the rival Red Bulls in their final home game of the 2010 season, giving Nowak & Co. reason for optimism heading into the 2011 campaign.
Nov. 22, 2010 – Nowak adds a key veteran in Brian Carroll and then quickly protects him in that day’s expansion draft. In the process, Nowak burns a bridge with Shea Salinas, who claimed he was told he would be protected in the Expansion Draft and wasn’t told otherwise – until the Whitecaps selected him.
Jan. 13, 2011 – Nowak and the rest of the technical staff make a couple of important draft picks in Zac MacMath and Michael Farfan. MacMath would become the Union’s starting goalkeeper in 2012 and Farfan one of their most creative midfielders.
Jan. 20, 2011 – The Union add two more instrumental players in goalie Faryd Mondragón and defender Carlos Valdés. About a month later, they complete their roster overhaul with the addition of premier goalscorer Carlos Ruiz, while parting ways with some key players from their expansion season, including center back Michael Orozco Fiscal.
March 30, 2011 – Nowak adds a new title to his role, being named the club’s executive vice president of soccer operations, which put him in charge of the entire soccer operation. “I’m very thankful for the trust they’ve put in my hands,” Nowak says.
April 30, 2011 – With the veteran Mondragón manning the net, the Union pick up their fourth shutout in their first six games, surging to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
July 29, 2011 – In a dramatic and bizarre postgame press conference, Nowak announces Ruiz would be leaving the club, indicating that the “pre-bias” that fans toward him played a role in the decision. “I always believed fans in the stands will stand behind us and are going to cheer for us and all the players we have on the roster, and not having something against a single player,” Nowak said.
Aug. 12, 2011 – It’s a happy reunion at PPL Park with the Union introducing ex-wunderkind Freddy Adu as the team’s prized transfer window acquisition. Nowak, Adu’s first professional coach, sits by his side throughout and perhaps tries to temper expectations in his own way by repeatedly questioning a reporter over his use of the word “impact.”
Sept. 17, 2011 – Despite fielding one of the youngest lineups in league history, the Union snap out of a slump and win their first game in two months with a key 1-0 triumph over the East-leading Crew. They wouldn’t lose in their next five outings to clinch the franchise’s first MLS Cup Playoffs berth.
Oct. 19, 2011 – A little more than a week before their playoff opener, Nowak delivers maybe his best sound byte during his Union tenure. “For 20 months, we’ve been standing in front of the store, looking through the window at the candies inside,” he says. “After all of our hard work, we’re in the store. But it’s up to us how many candies we will take. Will it be one or three or five? Or are we going to take the whole store?”
Oct. 30, 2011 – In their first playoff game, Nowak makes a highly questionable tactical decision by employing a five-man backline that includes aging midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi as a sweeper. In their next playoff game, he shuffles the starting lineup again, taking out Mapp – a regular – and pairing McInerney up top with Mwanga. It was the first time the two had ever started a league game together. The Union end up getting swept out of the playoffs by Houston.
Jan. 31, 2012 – In the span of two days, the Union part ways with the only two all-stars in franchise history – Le Toux and Mondragón. While Mondragón requested a release to return to his native Colombia, Le Toux was upset about being dealt and bristled over his treatment. When asked what it was like to trade such a popular player like Le Toux, Nowak famously states, “Feelings are not part of my job description.”
March 18, 2012 – After another active offseason, a revamped lineup including Latin American newcomers Lionard Pajoy, Gabriel Gómez and Porfirio López takes the field for the Union’s home opener. But Califf, the team captain, is not among the starters as Nowak decided to hold him out to recover from offseason knee surgery. Confused by the omission, Califf tells reporters after the game that he feels fine and has no idea why he didn’t play.
April 11, 2012 – Nowak is named the head coach of the MLS All-Stars for the 2012 MLS All-Star Game vs. Chelsea on July 25 at PPL Park. Had he not been let go, it would have marked his second time coaching against Chelsea in the All-Star Game.
May 17, 2012 – After a week of rumors and posturing, Califf is traded to Chivas USA for Michael Lahoud. And like Le Toux, Califf expresses disappointment with how he was let go – mainly because Nowak indicated the trade was made because Califf said he wanted to go back to California. The veteran defender contradicts Nowak's explanation, saying he never wanted to leave Philly.
May 26, 2012 – An already disappointing season hits a new low when the Union lose to previously winless Toronto. Afterwards, Nowak blasts the team’s execution and effort.
June 6, 2012 – Nowak says goodbye to yet another Union original when he ships Mwanga to Portland for Jorge Perlaza. It would be his last personnel move as manager of the club.
June 13, 2012 – Nowak is informed by Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz that the club is moving in a different direction. He leaves with a 21-30-24 record – and countless memorable moments – during his two-plus seasons in charge of the Union.