Nowak sees similarities to Crew ahead of matchup
CHESTER, Pa. – Saturday's showdown at PPL Park will be a contest between two teams that battled for first place in the Eastern Conference last year.
Philadelphia and Columbus were neck and neck for much of the 2011 campaign. The clubs split their home and home series and finished just one point apart in the final standings.
While the Union (0-3-1) are in search of their first win this season, the 2012 Crew are off to a six-point start with a 2-2-0 record. Columbus are fresh off a 4-1 home loss to New York in which Robert Warzycha's team did not look like the side that shut out both Toronto and Montreal in the weeks prior.
"I'll say that the result against New York, that's not where we should be looking," Union manager Peter Nowak said on Wednesday. "That was completely different from the game Columbus played against Montreal and especially in Toronto where they were very organized. They had a couple of chances (against Toronto) and scored the goal and won the game. So, we looked more (at those games) instead of getting fooled by last week's result."
When looking at the big picture, the similarities between both clubs are staggering.
Consider first that both teams earned playoff berths in 2011 by playing a blue-collar, disciplined style of soccer. Neither team was flashy, but each played strong defense and figured out how to grind out results.
Both teams have a pair of American veterans leading the way both on the field and in the locker room. Danny Califf and Brian Carroll are staples in the Union lineup, while Eddie Gaven and Chad Marshall have nearly 400 combined appearances for Columbus.
Both teams went to Latin America in search of talent this offseason. The Union picked up four players from the region, while Columbus acquired Chilean international Milovan Mirošević and Costa Rican forward Olman Vargas.
And both teams are coached by Polish managers who happened to play together on the Polish national team in the early 1990's. Robert Warzycha has been with Columbus since 1996, first as a player, then as an assistant coach, and now head coach.
For both Nowak and Warzycha, the approach to this season was the same: add a few pieces to bolster the roster, attempt to incorporate them as quickly as possible, and get back to the playoffs.
"I'm sure Robert is facing the same kind of questions," Nowak said. "How quickly can (new guys get acclimated)? Vargas has been a handful up front. They have help from (Emilio) Renteria and Mirošević is still a guy who can provide a link as well. And of course you have guys like Marshall and Gaven who have been with the team for some time. It's a good combination I believe."
Similar to Philadelphia, Columbus' leading scorer left town in the offseason. Andres Mendoza finished fourth in MLS last year with 14 goals. The Crew also saw the departures of longtime midfielders Robbie Rogers and Emmanuel Ekpo. Both Mirosevic and Vargas were acquired to help fill the gaps.
"Robert Warzycha is my very good friend," Nowak continued. "We've had a lot of chats in between the draft and today. I'm sure he's trying to do the same thing as we all do and accommodate those new pieces. This is a different league. You can't judge those new players today.
"It's the same thing with our guys as well. Josue Martinez, Gabriel Gomez, Lionard Pajoy, and Porfirio Lopez. Time is always working for you and not against you in our league. Anything can change from week to week and as soon as you go on a wave you start getting more and more confident and those things start working together."