- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2006

The winter break is over for D.C. United coach Peter Nowak. This week the Polish native left his home in Florida and headed to the MLS combine in Carson, Calif., ready for another season.

The offseason has been a time of reflection for Nowak, whose team lost to the Chicago Fire in the first round of last year’s playoffs after a 16-10-6 regular season. United had won the MLS Cup in 2004, the first season with the team for Nowak and prodigy Freddy Adu.

Just as the playoffs loomed last season, Nowak was in the middle of a media storm after the 16-year-old Adu complained about his playing time. Then United uncharacteristically crashed out of the playoffs in a stunning 4-0 loss before its home fans and had a key player — Christian Gomez — ejected for spitting on an opponent.

“I was a second-year coach, and I made mistakes,” Nowak said this week by telephone from Florida. “We did come up short. Maybe we weren’t that hungry, and it was my responsibility to make them hungry. I learned some important lessons, but I can’t look back. ”

As for the situation with Adu, who was upset about not starting the last game of the regular season and hinted about playing elsewhere, Nowak said he felt it was important to give credit to all his players at the time.

“With the Freddy thing, everyone was talking about what I should do, but if someone had come up to me with the recipe on how to work with Freddy Adu, I would have used it,” Nowak said. “Look, I was once the same kid [as Adu]. I was the same rebel. … There was a misunderstanding, and I’ve talked to Freddy about it.”

Nowak and Adu met last month in Florida, and Adu has committed himself to the club.

“Right now we are both very committed to this,” Nowak said. “Freddy has to realize that he can’t win by himself. He needs to slow down and I need to slow down and both get on the same page. You can’t win championships by yourself. Kobe Bryant is a great player, but he can’t win championships by himself. … I’m sure we will find a way to work together. The World Cup is coming up, so every player will try and shine as individuals, but we must play as a team.”

Nowak also spoke about his relationship with Jim Fannin, a top performance coach and motivational consultant, whose book, “S.C.O.R.E. for Life: The Secret Formula for Thinking Like a Champion,” was published this month.

Nowak has been getting guidance from Fannin since 2001.

“I wish I met him earlier in my career,” Nowak said. “Jim is the kind of guy that will help you with any challenge. Jim opened my eyes to what I want to do with my career.”

Fannin coaches numerous sports figures, including New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who wrote the foreword to his new book. His goal is to get people into “the zone” where they are free from stress and can perform to their potential. He has spoken to D.C. United the past two seasons and has worked closely with several players.

“I trust Jim’s judgment,” Nowak said. “Most national teams are now using sports psychologists. There was a big controversy in Germany when Jurgen Klinsmann used a sports psychologist from the U.S.”

Nowak believes motivational counseling can help because “a lot of players are fragile, but you have to fight to stay in the game. We have a lot of players in MLS who fade away if the game is not going their way.”

U.S. team news — The U.S. team is gearing up for the World Cup with a slate of exhibition games. The team will play Guatemala on Feb. 19 at the new soccer stadium in Frisco, Texas, home to FC Dallas. The Americans are also scheduled to play Canada in San Diego on Jan. 22, Norway in Carson, Calif., on Jan. 29 and Japan in San Francisco on Feb.10. The team will travel to play Poland at Kaiserslautern, Germany, on March 1, although that match is not yet official, and then will meet World Cup host Germany at Dortmund on March 22.

Iron woman — If U.S. captain Kristine Lilly plays against Norway on Wednesday in the U.S. team’s opening of the Four Nations Cup in Guangzhou, China, she will become the first player, man or woman, to play 300 times for her nation. Lilly is the only active player remaining from the American team that beat Norway 2-1 in Guangzhou on Nov. 30, 1991, to win the inaugural Women’s World Cup.

Notes — Spanish leader Barcelona is riding a record 16-game winning streak in all competitions. After tomorrow’s game at home against lowly Athletic Bilbao, Barca temporarily will lose top striker Samuel Eto’o (18 goals), who will play for Cameroon in the African Nations Cup. Meantime, Real Madrid is in sixth place in the Spanish league with stars Raul and Ronaldo both injured.

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