WASHINGTON -- D.C. United's outgoing coach was once the captain of the Polish national team and remains a hero back home. He has a very Eastern European, no-nonsense way of dealing with players and the media.
The new coach is an American who worked his way through one obscure league after another -- APSL, CISL, NPSL and MISL -- before Major League Soccer came along 10 years ago.
But the two became close friends and colleagues, and on Thursday they were at opposite ends of a seamless transition. Peter Nowak is leaving United after three years to become an assistant with the U.S. national team, and he's being replaced by his top assistant, Tom Soehn.
"Peter's style and my style are very different, and that's why we complemented each other so much," Soehn said at a news conference at RFK Stadium. "We used to get into it as players, and we used to get into it as coaches. Ultimately, the final goal was we wanted to do what was best for the team."
The 40-year-old Soehn was an assistant for three seasons with the Chicago Fire, where Nowak was a player before moving to the front office. They came to United together three years ago and won the MLS Cup in their first season in Washington. Nowak, whose contract was to expire this month, turned the franchise back into a winner and leaves with a 42-27-25 record.
"There's not much of a change that's going to take place," Soehn said. "With the experience the players have with me and my experience with the players, the transition's going to be pretty easy. On the outside, you might not see the changes as much, but internally there's going to be differences in the way we communicate with the players, the way we handle training sessions and different aspects."
United had offered Nowak a new contract, and team president Kevin Payne said he was initially surprised when Nowak expressed interest in leaving to take an assistant's position rather than pursue opportunities in Europe. But Payne said Nowak, who has a home in Florida, wanted a job that would allow more family time.
Nowak will assist interim coach Bob Bradley with the U.S. national team and also worked with Bradley on the U.S. Under-23 team as it prepares for the 2008 Olympics.
"This is the next step in my coaching career, and a new chapter in my life," Nowak said in a statement. "I have never shied away from challenges, and I am looking forward to joining U.S. Soccer at such an important time."