CHESTER, Pa. — With a 7-4-5 overall record so far this season, the first-place Philadelphia Union need just one more victory to match last year’s win total.
But even though their turnaround from their inaugural season has already been achieved, Union manager Peter Nowak issued a challenge to his club this week that sounded something like this: Now what?
“As a group, we’ve come a long way together to be in the position we are right now,” Nowak said. “You can see the qualities but do we need more? Do we wish to have more? Are we satisfied and say we’re much better than last year or do we push for whatever is waiting for us? This is the part the coaching staff is still trying to encourage to players.”
Nowak’s message came as the Union prepared to embark on a three-game road swing, beginning with Saturday’s clash against D.C. United at RFK Stadium (7 pm ET, FOX Soccer) and followed by games in San Jose and New England.
If the Union, who don’t play a league home match until July 29, do not match last year’s win total during this upcoming stretch, they likely won’t be able to remain atop the Eastern Conference table.
“Being consistent on the road is one thing we want to improve,” said Nowak, whose club is 2-4-1 away from PPL Park. “In a lot of cases, we played well on the road, but some weren’t so good. We’re going to try to keep the same routine and the same mentality as home games.”
In order to deal with the constant road trips through the month of July, Nowak said that he hopes to lean on the club’s more seasoned players like Faryd Mondragón, Danny Califf, Brian Carroll, Carlos Ruiz and Carlos Valdés. The Union manager hopes those veterans will encourage and support some of the younger guys on the club who may not be used to stretches like these.
As for those younger players, Nowak indicated that he will continue to shuffle them in and out of the lineup, because, coming from college, they’re not used to playing so many games in a season.
“You see over the years the same stories happening,” said Nowak, pointing specifically to his usage of Danny Mwanga, Philly’s 19-year-old leading scorer who’s started less than half of the club’s games this year. “They start the season quite well but after three months, they are just empty, mentally and physically.”
Luckily for Nowak, with his team completely healthy, he has plenty of options at his disposal, and can keep players fresh with Reserve League matches in DC this weekend and in New England on July 18, as well as with international exhibitions vs. Everton and Real Madrid later this month.
And, reiterating what he said following Philly’s exciting 3-2 win over Chivas USA this past Saturday, Nowak not only has a very deep team but one that has the kind of character and resolve he appreciates.
“We’ve found a very good group of players and we’ve started to believe we can do something special,” the Union manager said. “I hope and wish it will continue this way.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.