By John McMullen
Chester, PA (The Phanatic Magazine) - Peter Nowak's Nightmare at PPL Park was about to cone true on the Delaware Riverfront in front of 17,189 fans on Saturday.
In the end, however, Freddy Krueger must have been in a giving mood.
Sebastien Le Toux was set up all alone in the area during the 83rd minute but sent an uncontested shot harmlessly over the crossbar.
Instead of piling on, the disfigured dream stalker only handed Nowak a run of the mill bad dream.
His nemesis, Le Toux, never tallied to rub salt in some pretty deep wounds and the Union finally earned a point in 2012, playing to a scoreless draw with Vancouver.
“I am disappointed with myself,” Le Toux said. “I didn’t do a good job and I rushed my shot.”
Gray skies, chilly temperatures and a nice ovation greeted Le Toux in his return to PPL. That and a Union team that hadn't recorded a point in their first three games without him.
A playoff team last season with the French striker, Philadelphia has looked anything but during an 0-3 start in which they have managed just two goals.
The popular Le Toux, of course, was traded to the Whitecaps in the offseason after an ill-fated trial with Bolton. He was by far the Union's leading scorer, netting 25 goals and adding 20 assists during the franchise's first two years. Perhaps, more importantly, he was also the public face of the franchise, something that seems to rub the often surly Nowak the wrong way.
With the pressure mounting on Nowak after the slow start, the team manager even butted heads with a Philadelphia Inquirer beat reporter this week, wondering why Le Toux's return was the story.
I, in turn, expected Andy Dufresne to show up from Shawshank and ask the Polish mentor why he was being so obtuse.
Le Toux returned to find a familiar Nowak team, one with wild lineup changes from week
Nowak was moderately successful with that approach when Le Toux, the one proven finisher in Philadelphia, was at his disposal This season, Nowak's charges have found the back of the net a grand total of two times in 360 minutes of soccer and are 0-3-1.
Le Toux had a couple of opportunities in the first half, tracking through the Philadelphia area in the 27th minute but losing the ball while trying to center as two Union defenders converged.
In the 31st, Le Toux sent in a cross that Carlos Valdes was able to block and keep it in play for Zac MacMath to gather it up. By the 44th, the Frenchman crossed into the middle but no one was there.
The Union's best chance in the opening frame came in the 27th minute when Lionard Pajoy unleashed a well-struck shot from 20 yards out that went just wide of the post.
Philadelphia pressed early after intermission with Valdes getting a foot on and hitting the post off a Keon Daniel corner in the 47th minute.
Two minutes later Gabriel Gomez sent a curling cross to the far post, but Joe Cannon saved Brian Carroll's one-timer on the goal line.
In the 55th minute, Daniel was it again, cracking from distance but Cannon was up to the task again and Pajoy's rebound was off the mark.
Vancouver responded from there and had far more opportunities late but MacMath had his best game of the season, making sound and prudent decisions en route to his first clean sheet of 2012.
“Overall we progressed and that is not going to stop,” Nowak said.
A little self esteem can go a long way in life. In fact, successful people in any endeavor tend to have a healthy belief in themselves.
That said, too much of anything can turn things sour. Nowak is not the only Philadelphia coach to think he's the smartest guy in the room, he's just the latest. But, he's running the Union straight into the ground with a narcissistic approach laced with little self awareness.
A playoff team in just its second season, Philadelphia has taken a major step back in year 3 thanks in large part to the losses of veteran goalkeeper Fayrd Mondragon along with Le Toux, the only two All-Stars in Union history.
Blaming personnel moves on the team manager in MLS isn't always prudent. League transaction rules are far more complicated than the major U.S. sports and its conceivable that left to his own devices Nowak didn't want either Mondragon or Le Toux out of Chester.
What's incontrovertible is that someone did. In Mondragon's case, the Union attempted to paint it liked the veteran wanted to return to his native Columbia but it was also reportedly a money issue and moving on from a 40-year-old-guy to a teenager that was the No. 5 selection in the 2011 SuperDraft is probably a prudent decision, at least for the long term.
Le Toux's absence, however, is much tougher to explain but also all about money. According to the Frenchman, who was in on over 56 percent of the Union's scoring plays during their first two seasons, he was forced out.
With his modestly priced contract with MLS set to expire after this season, he wanted a raise. Philadelphia wasn't on board and with an eye on allocation money, sent him on a trial with Bolton.
Le Toux claimed the ill-fated trial was described to him as just a "visit." After he performed poorly, Nowak and the Union were incensed and shipped him out to Vancouver.
The Union get a bit of a breather, a fell two weeks off before hosting the Columbus Crew on April 14.
“I think we’re in a good way right now,” Nowak said. “We have a couple of weeks to polish things and I think we’re going to be more efficient.”
PHL: Gomez Yellow ‘43
PHL: Carroll Yellow ‘56
VAN: Harris Yellow ‘65
PHL: M. Farfan Yellow ‘77
Philadelphia Union: MacMath, Williams, Califf, Valdes, Lopez (M. Farfan ’45), Carroll, Daniel (Mwanga ’86), G. Farfan, Pajoy, Hoffman (McInerney ’51)
Subs Not Used: Harrison, Albright, Okugo, Martinez
SHOTS: 9, SOG: 2, CORNERS: 5; FOULS: 20; OFFSIDES: 3
Vancouver Whitecaps: Cannon, DeMerit, Pyo Lee, Bonjour, Harvey, Thorrington (Koffie ’59), Watson, Davidson, Chiumiento, Le Toux, Harris (Tan ’70)
Subs Not Used: Knighton, Mitchell, Salgado, Koffie, Klazura, Franks
SHOTS: 9 SOG: 0, CORNERS: 4; FOULS: 13; OFFSIDES: 2