Nowak, Union Honor Polish Victims

Saturday was a day of intense mixed emotions for Team Manager Peter Nowak. Philadelphia Union notched its first victory in club history, but Nowak wasn’t on the sidelines, instead deciding to pay tribute to the victims of a plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski, one of 97 people to die when the plane crashed as it was trying to land at an airport near the city of Smolensk.

"Listen, it is the only way when my whole country is in mourning,” said Nowak. “There is only one way to pay respect to all these people I know, these people who are my friends, and that is to not be on the sideline. I know it is my job to coach these guys, but when there is a tragic event like that, you have to do this.

"I wish to be in the middle of it, because it's the first game, but I can only do what I think I have to do."

In addition to Nowak’s decision to remove himself from the bench, Philadelphia Union honored the victims with a moment of silence before the game. You could hear a pin drop as the crowd showed its solidarity with the nation of Poland.

Nowak is regarded as a soccer legend in his native Poland. After beginning his 23-year professional playing career there in 1979 when he was just 15 years old, Nowak went on to serve as Captain of the Polish National Team for three years. 

When Nowak heard about the crash that included one of his longtime friends, Piotr Nurowski, the head of the Polish Olympic Committee, he had no doubt about stepping away from the sideline and into a booth, where he was still in communication with Coach John Hackworth during the game.

“Today was a very sad day for Peter,” said Hackworth after the game. “My heart goes out to him. He had some close friends unfortunately on the plane crash today and for them he wanted to make sure that he paid respect the right way.”

"Peter was pretty shaken up,” added Captain Danny Califf. "He tried not to let it affect us, but he's captain of the ship. Not having him on the sideline makes a difference. I don't know if we were trying to win it for him, but I'm sure glad we did."

Nowak is glad about the win too, but it didn’t erase the pain caused by a national tragedy earlier in the day. For reasons both happy and sad, April 10th is a day Nowak will never forget.