Union coach: Seattle lobbied for foul calls

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Peter Nowak called out Seattle for trying to sell calls to the refs after the Union fell to the Sounders, 2-0. (David Maialetti /Staff Photographer)

SEATTLE - Union team manager Peter Nowak talks tough, acts tougher, and wants his players to follow in the same manner.

So after Thursday's 2-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders FC at Qwest Field in the first MLS game in franchise history, Nowak called out the winners for trying to sell calls to the referees.

He also did the same thing after a 2-0 exhibition loss to Dallas FC earlier this month.

Nowak is pure old school, feeling that the game should be played with a certain toughness and that players should never try to sell calls to the referees or complain to them.

Yet there wasn't much selling that had to be done on several occasions. In essence, this overly physical style backfired, and now it's the Union looking to regroup.

"You see flopping, guys falling on the pitch like they got shot," Nowak said in disgust. "We have to recognize those guys are doing this stuff and trying to take advantage of the referees and to make themselves protected."

Union defender Toni Stahl received two yellow cards, the second earning him a red-card ejection, on two hard fouls against the Sounders' best two players. First, Stahl took down Freddie Ljungberg in the 23d minute. Then in the 41st minute, Stahl received his second yellow card after kneeing Fredy Montero in the back.

Still, Nowak was incensed.

"I expect Freddie Ljungberg to score goals," Nowak said. "He was complaining and whining on every call, trying to push the ref to give yellow cards. That is not up to his standards."

Nowak would find few people who agree with that assessment, but back to the bigger issue, what did we learn from the first game?

For one thing, the Sounders appear to be the MLS Cup contenders that they were portrayed as being in the preseason. Also, the Union have a way to go, not surprising for an expansion team that couldn't have been given a more difficult first assignment.

In Montero, who had a goal and an assist, Seattle has the type of dangerous finisher who can consistently break down defenders.

If a player like Montero can withstand the physical pounding, chances are that he will eventually make teams pay, which he did in Thursday's opener.

The plan was to be physical against him, but too many times the Union were overly aggressive.

In a positive development, the Union, even after getting down a goal when Brad Evans scored in the 12th minute, kept taking it to the Sounders, creating chances, but frequently shooting wide of the net.

So the Union showed some fight, until the air was taken out of this balloon after Stahl was ejected in the 41st minute. Montero scored a few minutes later, and the match was essentially over.

When asked about the extreme physical play of his team, Nowak didn't retreat.

"This is a men's world, and this is how the men play," he said.

And if it keeps happening, it will be how the men lose.

Either way, another issue that will get lost in this is the Union's inability to finish. Nowak said he wasn't concerned when the team was shut out in its final two preseason matches.

Now maybe the concern should return.

Nowak was encouraged by how his team played in the second half down a man. That might be true, although Seattle pulled back, content to play conservatively with a man advantage and a 2-0 lead.

Nowak also cited the play of some of the young players, such as 18-year-old Roger Torres, who started, and 17-year-old Jack McInerney, who provided some energy after being inserted in the 78th minute.

And no doubt the Union missed the presence of midfielder Fred, who sat out while serving a one-game suspension for receiving a red card in the season finale last season when he was competing for D.C. United. Fred is from Brazil and, like many soccer players from his country, goes by only one name.

Still, Nowak realizes that this young team is a work in progress.

"We have to have more of a killer instinct," he said. "We must take risks with dribbling and shots from distance."

Then pausing, he added: "We have a lot of work ahead."

That is one statement that nobody will dispute.

 


Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.