By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Peter Nowak, who guided D.C. United to the MLS championship in 2004 and the league's best record this year, will leave the club to become a U.S. national team assistant coach, sources close to the situation said last night.
United will hold a news conference this morning at RFK Stadium and, according to sources, introduce Tom Soehn, Nowak's top assistant for three years, as the new coach. Team officials declined to discuss the nature of the announcement.
Nowak's contract with United was to expire this month and although he and team president Kevin Payne had discussed a new deal in recent weeks, the Polish-born coach decided to accept an offer from U.S. interim coach Bob Bradley.
Even if Bradley is replaced by a European or South American candidate this summer, he would remain in charge of the 2008 Olympic squad and keep Nowak at his side.
Nowak was a star midfielder for Bradley's Chicago Fire teams from 1998 to 2002, and they have remained close despite becoming coaching rivals in MLS. Bradley, named to the U.S. post early this month after one season with Chivas USA, will hold his first national team training camp next month at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
"Bob and Peter will work well together -- it's a good match," said one source, who did not want to be identified because the deals had yet to be announced. "Peter felt it was time to move on, and Tommy is the right guy to replace him."
Neither Payne nor agent Ron Waxman, who represents Nowak, Soehn and Bradley, wanted to comment. Nowak and Soehn did not return phone messages. USSF President Sunil Gulati also had no comment.
Despite no previous coaching experience, Nowak had a 42-27-25 record in three seasons with United and helped turn around an organization that had slipped into mediocrity after winning three titles in its first four years. The team captured the MLS title two years ago, lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2005 and, despite running away with the regular season crown this year, was beaten by the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference final.
Besides running the team, Nowak was also put in charge of Freddy Adu's development. While the team became a success, the relationship between Nowak and Adu deteriorated last year amid complaints from the teenage star about playing time.
They seemed to resolve their issues this year, but Adu never felt comfortable playing on the wing in Nowak's system and, after the season, requested a trade to a team that would play him in central midfield. United dealt him to Real Salt Lake last week.
Meantime, Nowak became bothered that United had not offered him a contract extension last summer and said during the playoffs that he would explore his options this winter, including an opportunity with an unidentified European club. Nowak also was among several candidates interviewed for the U.S. national team job this past fall.
Payne said at the time that the delay was tied to the pending sale of the club's operating rights to an investment group. Last week, Payne seemed confident that Nowak would return, saying: "Peter knows that we want him back. We've had some conversations and hopefully we'll come to a resolution quickly."
Nowak had accompanied technical director Dave Kasper to Brazil and Argentina last month on a scouting mission.
Soehn, 40, has been a finalist for several head coaching jobs the last two years and recently interviewed with both FC Dallas and Chivas USA. He was a defender for five years in MLS before becoming a Chicago assistant, then joined United's staff when Nowak was hired in 2004.
Mark Simpson, a former United goalkeeper who has been part of Nowak's staff for three years, is expected to remain with the club.
Said one United player, who is aware of today's announcement and did not want to be identified: "It's an easy transition for us."