Nowak promises tough year ahead

With one exhibition match in the books, a 5-0 win against the University of North Carolina on Saturday night, Philadelphia Union is taking lessons learned and looking ahead to the rest of training camp.

“I wasn't happy with the start of the UNC match and I let them know that,” said Team Manager Peter Nowak. “They have to be ready to play from the very beginning, but once we got going we played much better. Jack (McInerney) played well but needs to finish more consistently. Sebastien (Le Toux) looks good and I’m happy with how he’s adjusting.”

Overall, Nowak is pleased with his team’s progress, but acknowledged that a difficult road lies ahead.

“The training has been great, but the mental strength must be even better,” explained Nowak. “Training camp is long. We’re going to train twice a day, sometimes even three times a day. Everyone must breathe soccer 24 hours a day. The foundation established here in North Carolina has been great. Now we’ll expand with the soccer part and the mental part. The team unity is already there and they know each other’s weaknesses and strengths. We will begin to give them information about systems, tactics, tactical discipline. All of this must be remembered and carried on throughout the season. We want to increase the level of intensity starting with practice and then going into the games.”

The technical staff is very much focused on building a cohesive unit, but they’re also paying attention to the players’ individual needs.

“We try to be creative so every player has his individual workout,” continued Nowak. “Whether it be fitness or weight room, we know what every player needs. The understanding from players has been great and they know that each player needs to focus on certain aspects a little bit more than others. But even though we focus on individual elements, the primary goal is still building as a group.”

Developing versatility has also been key in the early stages of camp. While Le Toux frequently played in the midfield for Seattle last year, his hat trick against UNC shows he’s more than capable of playing up top for Philadelphia Union. Toni Stahl has also demonstrated a willingness to play multiple positions, being featured effectively as a central defender with Shavar Thomas and Michael Orozco both missing from the club’s backline against UNC.

“Toni is like Sebastien, a very versatile guy,” said Nowak. “We talked to him before having him play defense. We want to see how he can play in other positions because we know how he can play as a midfielder. We want to expand his game. Having many guys like that is good for us because you never know what will happen throughout the season. We can’t go with just five defenders and have to make sure we have options going into the season.”

Asked about Chris Seitz’s play in net, Nowak and Assistant Coach/Goalkeeper Coordinator Rob Vartughian sounded happy with all three goalies in camp. But how has Seitz looked?

“He looks big,” joked Nowak. “Seriously, Seitz, (Brad) Knighton and (Brian) Perk all look good. We’re very happy. We’ll use a rotation throughout this camp so that everyone will start a game. They’ll all work together, regardless of who is number 1, 2, 3. There is no front runner right now. At this point, I don’t believe in establishing a number 1. We believe all three are very young, all three need to be ready regardless of the day, month or part of the season. They understand our point of view.”

With Philadelphia Union set to head to Guadalajara, Mexico in the coming days for its next leg of training camp, the club is preparing to be tested in more game situations. UNC reached the semifinals of the 2009 NCAA College Cup, but Nowak and Co. know there will be even tougher challenges ahead.

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