One of the first things Peter Nowak did when he took the reins as D.C. United's new head coach was to institute a more professional atmosphere within the squad. From new rules governing media access to the locker room to codes of conduct during team meetings, Nowak has run a much tighter ship than his predecessors.
Even down to the smallest details, such as requiring players to remove their soccer shoes outside the locker room and clean any mud or dirt off them immediately after practice, Nowak's system of discipline has been widely accepted by the players, indeed embraced, so it is no surprise that the players and staff are fans of the latest change under Nowak.
Although D.C. United has always been governed by a dress code traveling to away games, it was an entirely new entourage that stepped off the plane in New England this past weekend. From the head coach to the equipment manager, D.C. United was decked out in suit and tie.
A step up from the polo shirts and Bermuda shorts of earlier this season, this is one of the final pieces of Nowak's plan for a new, professional D.C. United. The team responded with a business-like performance against the Revs, taking a valuable road point in a 0-0 draw.
As the 2004 MLS campaign winds down, D.C. United find themselves locked in a battle for their playoff hopes, but in a better position than in 2003. With seven games remaining in the 2003 season, the Black-and-Red had two matches against Western Conference opponents, affording little chance to gain ground on their Eastern Conference rivals.
Over the final seven matches of 2004, United and the Chicago Fire are the most blessed, facing only one out-of-conference match. Coincidentally, the playoff fates of Chicago and D.C. are tightly linked. The Black-and-Red occupy consecutive spots on the Fire's schedule, on September 4 and September 18. Wins in both matches would virtually guarantee United playoff glory, as it would reduce their magic number against Chicago to five.
Back to School
Players at the Landon School in Bethesda had a surprise visitor to their practice session on Monday. Freddy Adu visited the school, located in his hometown, as part of a promotional piece to be aired on MTV's Total Request Live. Adu took the team through its paces in a training session, leading up to the Bears' season-opener against Georgetown Day School. You can catch Freddy's coaching debut next Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET on TRL.
Coaching the coaches
In a midweek change of pace, D.C. United trained on the RFK Stadium field today in front of a small audience. Nearly 100 members of D.C. United's Coaches Association took part in a coaching clinic as a perk of their membership.
Participants watched, many taking copious notes, as Nowak put the Black-and-Red through a grueling training session. After a short address from United technical director Dave Kasper and a lunch break, the youth coaches got a taste of the first team training.
Assistant coaches Tom Soehn and Mark Simpson, along with Kasper and cirector of youth development John Harkes, worked with the youth coaches, sharing the drills and practice plans used by the first team.
For more information on the D.C. United Coaches Association, click here or call 202-587-5000.
John Roushkolb is a contributor to DCUnited.com.