The Playmaker

by © 1997

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Walking past a guy in shorts, I grinned and mentally rechecked the date. It was December 16th in Chicago, and the weather was mild, but not that mild. I still needed my gloves that had been inadequate the week before, but someone in shorts was a good omen. Pausing on my way to a Chicago Fire press conference, I studied the celebrity handprints pressed into cement on the wall of the former "Morrie Mages’ Sports Store." Willy Roy and Karl Heinz-Granitza had passed this way too.

The press conference was to introduce the Fire’s first international player, Piotr Nowak, (pronounced Peter NO-vahk). Nowak is the captain for Poland, which did not qualify for the 1998 World Cup, and he has been playing for 1860 Munich of the German Bundesliga. His best year was 1995-96 when he scored 7 goals and had 11 assists in 27 games and was voted best playmaker in the league. 1996-97 saw his play fall off to 3 goals and 8 assists in 26 games. This season, with 2 assists in 12 games, Nowak has not returned to his form of 1995-96.

Peter Wilt, Fire General Manager, opened the press conference by giving credit to Shep Messing, the former North American Soccer League (NASL) goalie, for calling Nowak to the Fire’s attention. Messing no doubt has his handprints on the wall of some New York sport’s emporium. The Fire should come in first place for building good will on Planet Soccer. Wilt also introduced Brent Hall, Head Coach of the Stingers (USISL) and mentioned the Chicago Fire and the Stingers are partners in a cooperative effort that should benefit both teams.

Bob Bradley, Fire Head Coach, spoke with me after the press conference and emphasized that they hope to work closely with other USISL teams as well, so in this holiday season of good will to all, the Fire fit right in.

Bradley was up next and he spoke of his satisfaction with Nowak, saying he "wanted a playmaker" with the "right kind of character and personality." He visited Munich and met with Nowak who impressed him with his knowledge of the MLS by quizzing him on why the Fire didn’t select any DC United players in the draft. Bradley didn’t sign him on the spot though. He called Nowak up at the press conference to sign his contract, of an undisclosed length, and to be introduced.

Nowak was very genial and spoke in heavily accented English. (He has dual citizenship in Poland and Germany.) He caught himself saying football instead of soccer once and generally showed a good command of English. One thing that attracted him to the Fire is his desire for the challenge of building a team. He has friends here and that was a factor too as he feels the Chicago Polish community would make it easier for his family to adjust to this move. Chicago is often said to have the second largest Polish urban population, after Warsaw.

After the formal question period, I was able to talk to Bradley and listen as he answered more questions. He sees Nowak as a playmaker who will set plays, but also score goals. It is clear that he considers him a player with leadership ability and this was a factor in his signing. Now that the first international player has been signed, four more are to follow.

Let us hope they are all as carefully selected and as full as promise as Piotr Nowak. "I want every time winning," he said, revealing the sort of spirit Chicago fans appreciate, no matter what sport they follow. So move over Chicago Fire and Chicago Fuego. Make room for Ogien Chicagowski!

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Page last updated April 16, 2004