CHESTER, Pa. — After four games this season, the Philadelphia Union have used four different starting lineups.
And that’s just the way Peter Nowak likes it.
“I wish to have a battle at every position,” the Union manager said. “You have your core players you believe will do certain things and you have trust in them. But there are still a couple of positions up for grabs. … It’s not like it’s the first 11 and the rest won’t matter. For all of the youngsters, it’s important to keep them in the loop and make sure they will be a part of this thing.”
Nowak’s philosophy of giving his team’s youngest, most inexperienced players spots in the starting XI has shown through during his two-plus years in charge of the Union.
Last year, for instance, the Philly manager gave teenager Zach Pfeffer starts in two critical late-season contests. And in Philly’s last game – a scoreless draw with Vancouver on March 31 – rookie Chandler Hoffman was handed a surprising start after impressing in training.
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“That’s how we find out what players are all about,” Nowak said. “That’s how we found out Michael Farfan is actually a great player last year. That’s how we found out Cristhian Hernandez can play with the big boys. That’s how we found out Zach Pfeffer can play with the big boys. If we just continue to say this is the first 11 and the rest doesn’t matter, that’s a very bad message for the youngsters. And at some point, they’ll stop believing in themselves and we don’t want to do this. Everybody in this locker room deserves a chance to play and we’re going to give it to them.”
Saying that, Nowak admitted that about eight or nine positions are mostly settled. At this point, the spots that appear to be there for the taking are left back, the second forward position beside Lionard Pajoy and one or two slots in the attacking midfield.
When pressed on whether rotating guys in and out of those positions would hurt his team’s chemistry, Nowak scoffed. If a player is not producing, the manager indicated, someone else will get the chance – and nothing should change in terms of tactics or formations.
“There’s going to be some continuity but we can’t wait forever for something to click,” Nowak said. “If we have [Didier] Drogba, then we’d have no problem. But we have youngsters and at the end of the day, we need to develop them in the right way.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com.