Peter Nowak is a complicated man. There are clearly things going on the Philadelphia Union coach's head that we are no privy, too. Trade your best player just a few weeks before the season? Sure, why not. Hand over the starting goalkeeper job to a 20-year-old and not bother to make sure he has a suitable backup? Yep. Bench your only veteran MLS defender? Definitely.
Of all Nowak's recent decisions, though, that last one is absolutely the hardest to fathom. Now, Nowak is swearing up and down that Califf wasn't actually benched and that he's recovering from some kind of knee injury.
Well, Califf doesn't apparently see it that way, telling the Times-Herald that he doesn't have an injury and that he was fully expecting to play:
"I have no idea what’s going on in Peter’s head because he hasn’t said a word to me. To be honest, I don’t really have any idea. I would’ve thought that he at least would have a conversation with me. But he didn’t and maybe that’s his style and that’s the situation right now."
That little piece of honesty seems to have thrown a bit of a wrench into Nowak's explanation. Nowak's version of the story is that Califf recently had a surgery to clean out his meniscus and received a cortisone shot. Most teams report this kind of stuff before a game is played. In fact, MLS's internal rules dictate that they are supposed to do just that. Well, Nowak claims he was keeping it a secret for unknown reasons.
Oh yeah, he also put Califf on the gameday 18 despite his supposed lack of fitness. Here's how Nowak expertly explained that one away:
"Because," Nowak said, "we didn’t know … with Chris (Albright) coming back as well, I think we just wanted to make sure (Califf) would be available for us."
If this all strikes you as a strange way to manage your team, you're surely not alone. The Union have made a bit of a point about wanting to become part of Philadelphia's sporting fabric. They've understandably tried to appeal to a very mainstream audience. In Philadelphia, that means are certain distaste for suffering fools.
After the Union dropped a 2-1 decision at home to the Colorado Rapids despite being a man up for much of the second half and yielding a goal after going up a man, largely because of the mistake Califf's replacement made, Nowak is looking especially foolish.
The Califf decision is just the latest and strangest decision he's made that has put the Union in this position. He's already run off one fan favorite. If this situation with Califf continues to spiral out of control and, more importantly, the team continues to lose, this could get ugly. It would be a real shame if that happens, but it will be entirely of Nowak's making.
A couple months ago, let's remember, the Union were one of the more promising young teams in the league. There were a few veterans to fill in the leadership gaps, but a lot of talent that seemed poised to break out. Now, it just looks like a very young team that is going to experience a lot of growing pains. Say what you will about the inevitable departure of Faryd Mondragon and the supposed economic necessity that greased Sebastien Le Toux's exit, but this thing with Califf is something else entirely.
From the looks of it, this is a power play, plain and simple. Nowak wants everyone remotely associated with the Union to know he's in charge. The question is, who even need to be told? Nowak has acquired every player who has ever suited up for the Union and will, presumably, continue to do so. His status as the unchallenged leader of this team should not be in question. His ability to lead them effectively, though, most certainly is.