Photo and video: Daniel Gajdamowicz
In the post-game press conference after the Philadelphia Union’s scoreless draw with Vancouver Whitecaps, Peter Nowak’s theme was one of positives.
From putting an end to what he described as “the negative series” that has been the team’s start to the 2012 season, to the confidence that Zac MacMath and the defensive line will gain from recording a shutout, the improved play of the defense, to the fighting spirit that the team displayed on the field, Nowak emphasized that the team is making progress.
“It’s gonna help all of the guys with their confidence,” Nowak said. “We stopped the negative series regardless of who you slice it, but we didn’t get the goal.”
“You know, we miss here and there – we hit the crossbar – it’s the little things - you can’t change that,” he said of Saturday’s game. “But, overall I think we’re progressing and that’s not going to stop.”
Nowak praised the overall effort of the defense, which he described as being “very solid” against Vancouver.
“There was, you know, one moment in the second half when we didn’t see what’s coming,” Nowak said, “but overall, [the defense was] very solid.”
“The five guys, six guys in front of Zac played a good job—going forward, to recover—so I think, except for a couple of shots, there was not really a big chance for Vancouver. So, from this perspective, we’re very happy to stop the series of mistakes and keep the zero for Zac. It’s good for his confidence and good for our defensive progress, as well.”
Nowak praised Danny Califf, back for the first time since the season opening loss against Portland. “I think he played a tremendous game today, so it’s my hat off to him.”
Nowak continued, “As I said you’ve gotta be prepared, physically, mentally and I think it was a very good game from Danny.”
“I think the defensive part was very solid. Do we need to polish some things defensively? Yes, 0f course, but that ‘s to come with the confidence, with winning games. I think we’re in a good way now, we have a couple weeks, to polish those things and make sure we’re gonna be more efficient.”
Praise for Garfan and Daniel
Nowak praised Gabriel Farfan for his play both in the midfield and in defense.
“Both sides of the ball, offensively in the right wing, right midfielder, he did very well with Sheanon on the wing. In the second half we had to make a change and so he was very well going forward and also defensively very sound.”
When asked if Farfan’s form might see him replace Porfirio Lopez at left back, Nowak replied, “Well, if he plays like today, yes.”
He went on to say about Farfan at left back, “You know, he’s accustomed to the position. It might not be his natural position but he’s good at it. If [he] is good at this, you’ve got to use it as a team.”
Nowak said taking off Lopez was a tactical decision in the sense that they needed to generate more offense and width on the left. But the change was also defensively motivated. “Gabriel has a tendency to be, he is a little bit faster, he’s a bit – [he has more] composure, I would say in the defense. Both of those things and we bring Michael in to give us a little flair in the midfield and shut it down.”
Nowak also commended the play of Keon Daniel.
“It was very good and I think he’s more comfortable with Sheanon on the right side,” Nowak said. “He’s naturally a left-footed guy but he was very comfortable in the situation and in finding those pockets underneath the forward defenders to push Sheanon to the wing.”
He continued, “I think it’s a good combination. They’ve been already playing in the preseason in this fashion. It was a great performance.”
On the offense’s struggles
Nowak identified a lack of confidence in offense and reiterated the need to be more opportunistic.
“I think the point is still that they’re in the mindset right now of ‘we’ve had a bad series, a bad losing streak,’” Nowak explained, “and the mindset is always to chose the easy way, to chose the safest way.”
“If you are winning you are more confident, you take your chances and [are] more opportunistic.”
“They’re still very young and some of those decisions they’re afraid to take,” he continued. “That’s the point of encouraging to take their chances, to say. ‘I know this is the safest pass but maybe this is another [you can take to be more] successful.
Nowak explained that the offenses struggles are not of the “either, or” variety. “I think that it’s the whole package, it’s not just that they’re afraid to shoot, it’s just more the whole situation of why don’t I take the safe pass instead of be more opportunistic and take a chance on the shot on goal. That need’s to be corrected.”
“The problem’s [not that the players are] confused or [don't] know what to do on the field, its more about being opportunistic and taking your chances.”
While it may not have been evident from the stands, Nowak made clear that Chandler Hoffman was not playing as a midfielder on Saturday. “The idea was that, and we tried this also in the preseason, the idea was—and Chandler did a pretty good job, you know—of coming from outside to inside as a second striker,” Nowak explained. “The chance he had in the second half right after half time, that’s what we’re looking for. We’ve got to work on that, not only for him but for Jack McInerney, as well.”
Nowak went on to describe that the changes in the offense are not further experimentation but the refinement of what has been going on since the preseason. “In the preseason,” he said, “you start trying to find out what is the best possible way to do this thing. We have ideas already there. We’re not experimenting anymore, we’re still trying to find the formula not only going forward but also defensively.”
Nowak said he didn’t think having a break would be a problem in terms of continuing the progress made by the team.
“Where gonna give a couple of days off for the guys to recharge their batteries – same with Freddy, we agreed to give him time off after the Olympic tournament, the Olympic qualifiers – and I think they need a break too a little bit from the whole thing,” Nowak explained. “Just from the routine of coming every single morning, the coach screaming and yelling at you every single morning. Its good for them as well that they’re gonna get away from that.”
“Now its gonna be two good weeks of training and make sure we get the fighting spirit and performance we presented today.” Nowak said. “We’ve been preaching for a long time about the fighting spirit, about fighting for each ball and making tackles at the right time, and going forward. What’s missing is we should shoot more on goal. Take your chances – that’s the part that is missing right now.”
Nowak made clear that the Union’s plan for moving forward is simple. “Our perspective was just getting through the basics, make sure we’re gonna fight for every single ball make sure [we're] gonna be on the end of the cross.”
“We’re missing a little bit here and there but there were a lot of positives,” Nowak said.
“We can’t promise anything. All we can promise is to fight and that’s what the team did today for 90 minutes.”