Nowak: 'We shot ourselves in the foot'

If you are relatively new to soccer, as I know many of you are, that feeling in your gut last night was one that has been felt many times by fans of the sport around the world.

The Union were dominant for at least 89 of 90 minutes against San Jose last night. But in that one left over, they lost the game. That’s about how much combined time it took the Earthquakes to launch the two counterattacks that led to their goals, and a 2-1 final score.

There were moments of great skill and cohesion during which the Union looked nothing like the expansion team that they are. And there were two moments when it all fell apart, allowing a San Jose team that had lost its last five games to leave PPL Park with three points.

After the game, Peter Nowak hit the nail on the head when he was asked for his perspective. San Jose played with a mix of patience, guile, and just enough veteran experience to know when to sit back and know when to launch forward.

I’m sure the locker room is not happy about [the result], because we had this game in hand. We created enough chances to not only win, but win big, and have a good thing going.

We shot ourselves in the foot today, with probably inexperience – not predicting, not anticipating the things that might happen. And I think from the flow of the game, from the commitment, you can’t really say bad words about this team and how they push forward, even though we expose ourselves.

These are all little things that need to be corrected and fixed very fast, because that’s what the game is all about. It’s not about how many shots you had on goal, is there a handball or not a handball, is it a foul or no foul.

At the end of the day, the result stands, regardless of the situation, and we need to do a better job of anticipating the things that may hurt us. In this category, we did a bad job as a team, and we lost a game we were supposed to win. That hurts us as much as the other losses we’ve had, and we’re supposed to tie or win the games.

Nowak was asked about how his team can improve and prevent this sort of thing from happening again. As with the first question, his answer was right on the money:

We need to know that it’s a fire drill, and we need to prevent it. That comes in some cases with experience, in some cases the imagination of ‘oh boy, it’s coming.’ So now we have to make an adjustment, and even a professional foul, taking a card, that’s the stuff that’s being smart, not being naïve like we were on both goals, and you said about Seattle. This is naïve stuff, this is being very naïve professionally.

So I think it comes with experience, it comes with the minutes, but we’ve made enough progress right now as a team, as a group, to push things forward. And we cannot go into the season thinking that everybody that comes to our house is going to lay down, or go back, and maybe have some chances to score.

Even if they have counterattacks, we have to prevent that, and that’s the job for defenders, for midfielders, for forwards – anybody who’s going to be in the situation. We were chasing our tail for 45 yards and nobody thought it might cause trouble. So that’s the part that we’re naïve with, and we’ve got to chance that. We will change it, for sure.

Most of Nowak’s remarks were aimed at his team’s defense. But he also slipped in a very important message to his attack.

“You’ve got to deliver the good ball,” he said.

Why, when all the focus was on the Union’s defense, did Nowak drop that line into the conversation? Because the easiest way for a team to launch a counterattack is to pick off a bad pass. If there was one thing that really bothered me with this game, it was that time and again the Union just could not get it done in the final third.

Sebastien Le Toux came close twice. He was open after taking a pass from Fred in the 80th minute, and ran on to a brilliant chip through the back line by Roger Torres in the 86th minute. Jon Busch deserves credit for tremendous saves on both opportunities, but it was just that kind of day.

I know I have said it many times over the last few weeks, but you have to finish chances to score goals and win games. If you don’t do that, you leave yourself open to a counterattack (or two), a bad call by the ref (or two, or three, or… well, you get the idea), and anything else that is out of your control.

It happened to the Union last night as it did to Barcelona in the Champions League and the United States time and again in the World Cup. And it would not surprise me one bit if it happens to Spain today in the World Cup final against the Netherlands, because that collection of talent should be scoring far more than one goal a game.

There are people who say Spain delivered a masterpiece of a performance against Germany. It’s certainly hard to argue against the way they possess the ball, moving it across the midfield with grace and precision.

But two moments stand out to me from that game: David Villa’s inability to bury a cross from two yards out, and Pedro’s failure to finish a 2-on-1 with Fernando Torres wide open next to him.

If those kinds of situations arise again today, the Dutch will be happy to absorb the pressure and strike on counterattacks. It’s the kind of situation in which Arjen Roben and Wesley Sneijder are at their very best.

Last night, instead of Robben and Sneijder, we had Arturo Alvarez and Bobby Convey. Obviously, the talent level wasn’t the same, but the final result sure was. The game was there for the taking, and the Union didn’t take it. Instead, it was taken from them. No one ever said soccer is fair, but more often than not teams end up with what they deserve.

Video highlights from the game are below, as is a collection of audio from the postgame press conferences and locker rooms. You’ll also find a video in the player at right with highlights from Peter Nowak and an exclusive interview with Jordan Harvey.

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