Sent Off: Soccer Manager Sees Red

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Penalty Kick, by flickr user Robert Francis, licensed by Creative Commons.

“That’s poor defending.”

While many people thought soccer in the United States would never make headlines, the coach of a US-based club has proved that thought false. Piotr Nowak, former manager of the MLS’s Philadelphia Union, had filed a lawsuit against the team for wrongful termination. Nowak claims he was never given a fair shake as manager and was unfairly let go from his position. Union CEO Nick Sakiewic begs to differ, and cited the team’s poor performance, lackluster direction, and a number of questionable management decisions as grounds for the firing. With the lawsuit being moved to a new judge, the case files have been released to the public. This has painted Nowak in a terrible light, as there are now details of certain coaching techniques and acts which violate MLS rules and regulations. Nowak had been seeking damages exceeding $115,000.

Rumors had been circulating under Piotr’s tenure that the players were being treated unfairly and he was not very compliant with player needs. While this is not uncommon in the world of sports, things clearly got out of hand in Philadelphia. The documents claim Nowak actively participated in rookie hazing (including spanking players), and even denied some players water to the point of dehydration. He had also not taken any reports of concussions seriously, which is currently a hot-button issue in the NFL. Other actions included the leveraging of MLS employees to find new jobs in American soccer while still managing the Union, violating the collective bargaining agreement with the Player’s Union, and subjecting the club to unnecessary fines. Denying any claims to wrongful termination, arbitrator Margaret Brogan ordered Nowak’s party to pay for the soccer club’s legal fees in full (totaling $450,000), and dismissed the lawsuit.

As a die hard fan of the game of soccer, and MLS season ticket holder with a local club in New York, I am very surprised by Nowak’s actions. Perhaps more impressive is the Philadelphia Union’s tolerance for any of these practices (he was the club’s manager for 2 and a half seasons before they fired him). Ironically, he was voted to coach the MLS All Star Team in 2012, which was the same year he was let go. This is not just a hard-nosed coach with an “old-school” mentality, who was attempting to drive players to work harder by giving them a little tough love. Here, there was moderate physical / mental abuse, and the complete ignoring of sanctions and rules laid out by both the league and player’s association. That is pretty inexcusable, and it is actually quite comical that Nowak thought a wrongful termination lawsuit was a good idea. It seems he still doesn’t have the ability to make a good decision.