Two new head coaches were welcomed to Washington area professional sports teams this week. While the National Football League's Washington Redskins announced the return of Joe Gibbs, Major League Soccer's D.C. United named former Polish international player Peter Nowak as head coach. Things could not look brighter for the former MLS champions as Nowak brings with him his winning mentality.
Peter Nowak took Major League Soccer by storm in 1998 when he captained the expansion Chicago Fire to the 1998 MLS Cup championship. In the title game he was voted most valuable player (MVP). From there he led Chicago to U.S. Open Cup championships in 2000 and 2001. He was named Poland's player of the year in 1996 and captained the Polish national team for three years.
At D.C. United, the 39-year-old Nowak replaces England's Ray Hudson whose contract was not renewed after two seasons as head coach. Nowak spent his first year away from the playing field as Director of International Relations, and Soccer and Business Advisor for the Chicago Fire. There Nowak worked closely with the coaching staff, youth player development, and community relations. This year marks his first shot at coaching, but he feels that his lack of experience in that department won't hinder the possibilities for the United in 2004.
"You know with experience, if you see around the country, it's not only in soccer, all over the world," he said. "There are a lot of cultures with experience but not with success. We're going to find a way to make the players hungry again for success. I know that the fans have suffered for a couple of years but I'm sure we're going to find a way to bring the glory days back to D.C. United."
One of Nowak's big challenges is how to handle 14-year-old phenom Freddy Adu. The Ghanaian-born Adu will become the youngest professional American athlete in over 100 years, when the United opens its season against the defending champion San Jose Earthquakes in Washington, April 3. According to Kevin Payne, a top soccer official involved with D.C. United, Nowak is no stranger to the situation Adu is in.
"I think one of the things that interested us about Peter was that Peter was only about a year older than Freddy when he turned professional, when he signed his first professional contract," he said. "So he has some first-hand understanding of what it's like to be a very young man trying to play in a man's game."
Peter Nowak's professional career began when he was just 15 years old. D.C. United sees Nowak as the perfect teacher for Freddy Adu. But Nowak realizes the expectations that may come with Adu as well as how the young star will react to the MLS. For the good of team, Nowak knows that the gifted Adu cannot be the clubs's only weapon. Nowak say that he understands that for success, D.C. United has to become just that, united.
"Of course he's the special kid, but you know everyone is going to have a fair share and this is the message for all the players," said Peter Nowak. "But of course because of Freddy's age we are going to check, we are going to evaluate him, we're going to protect him for sure. There's no question about that."
With the season starting in April, Nowak and D.C. United are in no rush to turn towards free agency to fill needs. Instead, they are going to build from their current roster. This strategy could prove costly as the Washington club has made the playoffs only once since it won the MLS Cup during 1999 season. That lone playoff appearance came last year where the team was eliminated in the first round. Nowak has set his sights high and expects hard work from the players he has.
"Everyone is going to have a chance to prove that they are a part of this organization," he said. "If not, then they're going to say good-bye to this place. It's just a very clear message to my players and I think this is the new direction we're going to go."
Nowak has built his entire career on challenges and establishing a winning mentality, and that's exactly what he brings to Washington. D.C. United is close to forgetting that it is a three-time MLS Cup champion and one of the most recognizable teams in the league. With Peter Nowak, the team now has a coach who wants to light a fire under his players and bring them together for one purpose - bringing soccer glory back to D.C.
Before Nowak's career with the Chicago Fire, he had established himself as a staple in the German Bundesliga playing most notably for powerhouse "1860 Munich" from 1994 to 1998. His career began in 1979 playing for Wlokniarz Pabianice . He has also played for Poland's Motor Lublin, Widzew Lodz, and WKS Zawisza Bydgoszcz; Turkey's Bakirkoyspor; Switzerland's Young Boys Berne; and Germany's Kaiserlautern and Dynamo Dresden.