Peter Nowak cherished every moment he spent in Chicago.
There were so many memories, so many good times and so many victories, capped by an MLS Cup championship in 1998.
It was just several days after the MLS Cup that Nowak guided the Fire to a victory over the Columbus Crew in the ’98 U.S. Open Cup. Two years later, the Fire captured another U.S. Open Cup.
After his retirement in ’02, he was recognized by the organization as the first member to be inducted into the Ring of Fire, where his name and his No. 10 jersey hang at Toyota Park.
There was also an ultra-successful stop with D.C. United which included an MLS Cup title as a Team Manager in 2004.
The goal now is to lead the expansion Philadelphia Union in 2010 and beyond. The club is coming off a huge 3-2 win at Houston – its first on the road. Next up is a visit to Toyota Park to face the Fire on Saturday night.
Sure, there will be some reminiscing and friends to visit.
In the end, it’s about winning. It always is with the fiery Nowak.
“We left a lot of friends there when we moved from Chicago after I retired and went to Florida,” Nowak said. “I still have a lot of friends and a lot of close relationships there. From a soccer perspective, nothing is different right now. My past relationships are very important. But business is business. The rest of it on the field we’ll see on Saturday.”
Nowak has seen two straight gutsy performances from his club, a 1-1 draw against FC Dallas and the one-goal win over the Dynamo. With one more road game looming at Kansas City before the PPL Park opener against Seattle on June 27, this game is big for multiple reasons.
While he downplayed the return to Chicago, getting a win over the Fire would be sweet. A win or tie would extend the Union's unbeaten streak to three games.
“This is an evolution and we’re trying to get faster and stronger,” Nowak said. “We’re trying to play the game the right way. … I said from Day One that we could be a pretty good team from the beginning with the roster we assembled. It’s a learning process. We have a lot of talent and potential here.”
Young players such as Danny Mwanga, Roger Torres, Jack McInerney and Chris Seitz, just to name some, have improved immensely through the first eight matches. This club will continue jelling under the direction of Nowak, coach John Hackworth and assistant coach/goalkeeper coordinator Rob Vartughian.
Coming together away from home is not an easy task. And it won’t be easy when Nowak returns to familiar surroundings to play a talented but underachieving Fire.
“These young guys are staying together,” Nowak said about his expansion side. “They have to keep working together, and as a team keep moving in the right direction. That’s what I’m looking for. It’s never about me. It’s never going to be about me. … I want to help them build the right structure and show them the way to the door. I’m not going to go through the door. They’re going to have to go through the door. I’ll show them the way.”
Well, the door is open for another road victory at Chicago. We'll see tonight if the Union walk through it.