CHESTER, Pa. — Philadelphia Union manager Peter Nowak understands Vancouver’s pain.
The Whitecaps, despite having a fair bit of talent on their squad, have sputtered to a 1-6-8 record in their inaugural season and have already fired head coach Teitur Thordarson.
Last season, Nowak kept his job safe but his Union squad finished their expansion year with a less-than-satisfying 8-15-7 overall record. Philadelphia have since enjoyed a very nice turnaround, and currently sit tied for first atop the Eastern Conference table with a 6-3-4 mark.
Now on opposite ends of the spectrum, the Whitecaps and Union meet Saturday night at Empire Field (10 pm ET, MatchDay Live).
“For expansion teams, having different players coming in and then not only having soccer issues on the field, but also issues off the field," Nowak said. "Families moving in, getting a house, getting into schools — all of these things matter at the end of the day because players don’t have enough time to concentrate on the work. It’s never easy to be a first-year team.”
From his own experiences Nowak recognizes that, often times, expansion woes are derived not from a lack of talent and effort but from bad luck and chemistry. So he’s fully aware that the 'Caps, especially at home, will be a formidable test for his first-place club Saturday night.
The Union are also fully aware that they had some difficulties with Vancouver earlier in the season, beating them by a slim 1-0 margin despite playing at home and up a man for most of the second half.
“We expect, especially them being at home, pressure from the beginning,” Nowak said. “It’s going to be a physical game like it was in the beginning of the season.”
The Union manager also believes the Whitecaps possess a certain aura of desperation now that they have replaced Thordarson with Tom Soehn in the manager’s seat. That, too, will make the Union’s first-ever trip to Vancouver difficult as they look to extend their unbeaten streak to five games.
“Previous coaches who played Vancouver have said how desperate they are about getting points,” Nowak said. “That was the whole concept of changing coaches — to get points and to change the mentality in the locker room. I don’t want to have the feeling like we think it’s going to be an easy game. Because it’s not going to be. That’s our message as a coaching staff.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.