A youth holds up a Philadelphia Union jersey in Poland.

Nowak promotes MLS, discusses strategies on Poland trip

CHESTER, Pa. — It was certainly a bit strange that while the Philadelphia Union hosted the LA Galaxy last week, Union manager Peter Nowak was watching the game, on his iPad, more than 4,000 miles away.

But going to his native Poland to play in a charity soccer game rather than stay home to coach his own team is a decision he doesn’t regret. In the grand scheme of things, Nowak said Wednesday that it was well worth the trip.

“A lot of people might not know, but the main reason for me to go was to open the minds of Europeans that we belong on the world stage,” Nowak said. “I’m glad I had permission to do that.”

In addition to playing in the “Match of the Stars” — a game pitting former Polish internationals against retired “Stars of Europe” — Nowak said he gave a lecture at the Royal Castle in Warsaw. In front of Polish government employees and many soccer officials from England, Germany, Italy and other European countries, the Union manager spoke of the growth of soccer in this country.

“They don’t know American soccer,” Nowak said. “They don’t know about the youth system, they don’t know about the structure, they don’t know about the players, except maybe [Landon] Donovan, [Tim] Howard and [Clint] Dempsey. So my lecture over there was to introduce American soccer and the Philadelphia Union to the European world.”

According to Nowak — who also did an interview with a Polish TV station — many people were impressed with MLS, especially with the soccer-specific stadiums across the country. The hope is that his presentation will help convince European players to not only respect the league but also realize it’s a good place to expand their own careers.

Nowak said he also discussed strategies and youth development with other lifelong soccer men. And, of course, he got to see many old friends while showing off his soccer skills — although Nowak’s “Stars of Europe” side lost a 3-1 decision.

All in all, it was a good trip for Nowak, who even got to exchange text messages with assistant John Hackworth while watching Philly’s 1-1 tie with the Galaxy in real time last Wednesday.

“The opportunity to introduce our league, I don’t think too many coaches — maybe Aron Winter — will have the opportunity to do that,” Nowak said. “We need to go outside. We need to show we’re a soccer nation as well. We belong because our football is good, our national team is good, our league is good. That’s the main reason I went there.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.