Not so fast: Why Mike Wise is Premature to Write Nowak's Obit
Mike Wise, as has been noted here and elsewhere, basically wrote an article saying that Nowak's days should be numbered with DC United. I think he's jumping the gun, and perhaps wrong on multiple points. First, if I can summarize this fairly, Wise has essentially two arguments:
- United is not getting up for big games.
- Nowak is too rigid and inflexible to manage the team successfullly.
Let's take the first point. Wise writes:
[Gomez] potentially saved third-year coach Peter Nowak from two straight first-round exits at home. For the most decorated MLS franchise in the 10-year-old league's history, those are grounds for termination. You can't explain away two first-round-and-outs to a club that has won four titles, including the 2004 MLS championship team coached by Nowak, back when United showed up in seminal games.There may be some truth to that... but there haven't been two consecutive out in the first round matches. To some degree, Nowak may still be living off of lowered expectations from the Rongren/Hudson years of playoff futility, but DC isn't out of it yet. They won, and their first game in New Jersey was a game where I personally felt that DC was up for the significance of the occasion. The problem is that they rested once they felt secure. Going into the Conference Final's one-and-done scenario, that won't be a problem unless United somehow goes up two-nil.
...his players, who all like and respect him, don't get up for big games like they once did for Nowak. Dating back to last year, they have gotten blown out or outplayed in some key matches, none worse than their 4-0 playoff loss to Chicago at RFK.Correct, but one paragraph before, Wise admitted
Nowak coached the MLS all-stars to a victory over Chelsea of the English Premier League and coached United to a breathtaking 1-1 draw against Real Madrid in Seattle, a riveting match that really brought out everything Nowak's no-guts-no-glory approach has been about with United.
If we can summarize, here are the games that have had some large meaning that Nowak has coached since he came here:
- 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinal (4-nil over NYRB).
- 2004 Eastern Conference Final (3-3 PK victory over the Revs).
- 2004 MLS Cup (3-2 over Kansas City).
- 2005 Friendly against Chelsea (2-1 defeat)
- 2005 Conference Semifinal against Chicago (4-0 defeat)
- 2006 Friendlies against Real Madrid and Celtic (a draw and a win).
- 2006 All Star Game (win over Chelsea 1-0).
- 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinal (2-1 win).
Still, it seems not to be Wise's major argument, the familiar chestnut that Nowak is too old-world, too rigid, and too stubborn to carry his team onward:
What kills Nowak's chances are the same character traits that will eventually lead to his departure in Washington: his inflexibility and inability to change strategies and preparation. His intolerance for fatigue. He refused to give Jaime Moreno and other worn-down United players a needed rest earlier this season. By the time some of his beat-up and beleaguered players got some time off, they were already physically shot.
As you know, I have some sympathy with this argument while still saying "I don't think the full record is written yet." I think Nowak, as time has gone on, has shown more and more flexibility. But you know my feelings on that. The one issue that I think Wise nails is Nowak's intolerance of fatigue. The idea that any problem can be solved by fitness sessions and running the team ragged. I think while Nowak has learned positional flexibility and adaptability, he still struggles with player management and fatigue related issues. That's a legitimate criticsm, and with international play looming next year, it will be a bigger issue. Still, Wise assumes that Nowak will just never learn to manage such things. I feel like he might. And I'd be willing to give him the chance.
Wise writes "Nowak's contract expires in December, and management has not exactly been knocking down his door to begin extension talks." However, Washington Post-mate Steve Goff already explained this to my satisfaction:
Contract talks have been delayed, Payne explained, because the club's operating rights are in the process of being sold by Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz to a local investment group, believed to be led by former Duke basketball player Brian Davis.
That strikes me as a very legitimate thing to say, and something that Washington Nationals fans no doubt will find familiar. You don't saddle new ownership with people they aren't comfortable with. As for Nowak choosing to go somewhere else, that is his prerogative, but Wise summarized his feelings neatly:
The force of Nowak's gruff personality has pried everything he can possibly wring from United in three years. If his players find a way to pull another championship out of their physically shot legs, he will have accomplished a minor miracle. Either way, it is time to go another direction next season.
Only if you believe that Nowak won't have new ideas for next season, and if you want to treat soccer coaches like hockey coaches. I remain unconvinced that Nowak is another Ron Wilson for DC. But Wise, a man who covered hockey for many years, no doubt views this sport through a similar filter. And if somehow DC does get its act together next Sunday, then perhaps Wise should rethink.