East notes: Nowak building Union
Most clubs spend their training camps trying to assimilate new parts into the previously established team chemistry. Relying on the status quo to develop a cohesive unit simply isn't an option for Philadelphia Union manager Peter Nowak.
Nowak faces the unorthodox task of cobbling together a new group of players, communicating his expectations and forging the collective spirit of an entirely new roster prior to Union's inaugural contest in Seattle on March 25. Nowak said he and his nascent side will have to work together over the next six weeks in order to accomplish those three goals.
"We have to figure out how we're going to work and the guidelines and the rules must be very clear for all of them, but I think there is room for suggestions as well," Nowak said in a conference call on Monday. "This is more about developing the trust and developing the belief that, as a group, we can be stronger."
Developing the team dynamic started well before Union opened their first training camp in the last week of January. Philadelphia assistant coach John Hackworth said the expansion team's technical staff placed a premium on acquiring players with the right attitude to contribute on and off the field.
"I think if you look at who we selected, we put a lot of stock into trying to be very careful about the players who we've brought into this team," Hackworth said during the conference call. "There's a ton of work to be done right now, but we did a lot of work in our selection (process). If you look at the type of people we have on our roster right now from the older guys to the younger guys, you can tell the kind of character (we have) and the type of players and people we want to represent the team."
Selecting Stefani Miglioranzi, Alejandro Moreno and Shavar Thomas in the expansion draft, signing Danny Califf to anchor the backline and acquiring Fred in the trade that sent to Troy Perkins to D.C. established a veteran foundation to provide leadership for the youthful side. Hackworth lauded Fred's leadership skills in particular after his instant contribution to team morale, while Califf, who captained Aalborg when it won the Danish SuperLiga in 2007-08 and served as a stand-in U.S. skipper occasionally, might have the inside track to the armband.
Training camp will ultimately settle those lingering leadership concerns in a relatively isolated setting. Nowak decided to skip the most common spring training spots to limit distractions for his team. Instead of setting up shop in Arizona, southern California or Florida, Nowak opted to take his side to Greensboro, N.C. to avoid the pressures imposed by families, friends and other MLS sides and inspire his team to bond. The chilly weather hasn't cooperated to date, but Nowak said the training camp location worked out as he intended.
"They're pulling together," Nowak said. "They're playing cards together. They are having fun together. With our help, we're trying to establish the soccer part, which, at the end of the day, is very important to us."
Striking solution found for Crew?: Despite a remarkable run of success over the past two seasons, Columbus has yet to fill the one vexing need it has struggled to address since Edson Buddle departed after the 2005 season: a double-digit goalscorer to lead the line.
Not since Buddle's back-to-back double-digit hauls in 2003 (10 goals) and 2004 (11) has a Crew front-runner notched 10 or more goals, though Guillermo Barros Schelotto nabbed 12 strikes this season from a more withdrawn spot. Former Crew coach Sigi Schmid and current boss Robert Warzycha searched offseason after offseason for a striker who could step on to the field with the potential to grab goals consistently, but couldn't land the right player to plug the goalscoring deficiency.
The Crew hope signing former Colombian international forward Sergio Herrera last week after he finished up a three-year stint with Deportivo Cali might have finally filled the need.
Herrera, 28, notched 26 goals in 92 appearances for the Colombian giants in the most recent stop in a nomadic career that has included stints in the top two flights of Colombian football, the Argentinean third division, the Brazilian top flight and the Saudi Arabian league.
Columbus technical director Brian Bliss told The Columbus Dispatch that the 11-times capped Herrera offers a predatory, all-around game. Herrara's polish adds a different look for a Crew strikeforce heavy on more robust options with first-round pick Bright Dike, Jason Garey, Steven Lenhart and Emilio Renteria currently at Warzycha's disposal.
"He's doesn't have the speed of Jeff Cunningham when Jeff was 28 or 29, but he's not Conor Casey, either," Bliss told the Dispatch. "He's got an ability to get separation in the box, some good soccer sense and positioning, and he is clean when he strikes a ball."
New England's Desire to add to midfield options: New England Revolution coach Steve Nicol traveled to Senegal in late January to search for a player or two to add to a squad rocked by defections during the offseason. The lengthy African excursion might have paid dividends for a second consecutive winter.
New England is locked in advanced discussions to sign 23-year-old central midfielder Niouky Desire, according to sources familiar with negotiations. Desire, who has played for Port Autonome for the past four seasons, would increase the competition for places in the center of the park in the wake of the recent departures of Jeff Larentowicz and Steve Ralston.
Former and future teammates in Chicago? Chicago forward Brian McBride remains on the lookout for a new running mate or two in the attacking third after Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Chris Rolfe departed during the close season. The Fire's response to those departures may include one of McBride's former teammates from his time at English Premier League club Fulham.
Former Dutch international striker Collins John joined Chicago on trial last week as he attempts to resurrect a once-promising career that included a pair of caps for his country and 11 Premier League goals for the London-based club during the 2005-06 season.
John struggled to replicate that impact in subsequent seasons after battling injuries and poor form, fell out of the side and failed to impress in a trio of loan stints to Leicester City and Watford in the English Championship and NEC Nijmegen in his homeland. After leaving Fulham when his contract expired at the end of 2008-2009 campaign, John plumped for an ill-fated move to Belgian side KSV Roeselare that ended when the two parties terminated their relationship in December.
Despite John's meanderings over the past few years, McBride backed the 24-year-old forward, a fellow January transfer window signing for the Cottagers back in 2004, to recapture his past form, earn a deal and add to the Fire's attacking options.
"He's a very good player," McBride told the Fire website. "He's powerful, he's strong and he's quick. He likes to score goals and you need that sort of attribute, especially because it's good to have a teammate like that. It'll be good to see him out there with the guys and hopefully we'll be able to get him going again."
Kyle McCarthy covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com and serves as a contributing editor for Goal.com USA. Kyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.