Rolling Union gear up for 27-day gauntlet
For the first time in 2012, the hard-luck Union can consider themselves on a roll. With two wins and nine goals in their last three games, things are certainly beginning to click for the young club.
But facing an upcoming rapid-fire road gauntlet, starting with the Houston Dynamo on Saturday at the brand new BBVA Compass Stadium and followed by the LA Galaxy on Wednesday at The Home Depot Center, the Union’s latest success will be tested for authenticity.
“We’re playing the two defending MLS cup finalists and LA is the champion, so it can’t get harder in a 4-5 day road swing,” said coach John Hackworth. “It’s one trip and will be huge challenge but we set goals for ourselves in blocks and this block is important. We need results on the road. I don’t think we want to change our style or back down, so we’ll go after it. The style we play consists of so much energy and commitment that you have to make sure guys can recover and go a full 90, which is why you’ll see our depth come into play.”
While the three goals apiece from Jack McInerney and Lionard Pajoy, along with the extremely potent bench play of Antoine Hoppenot, has given the Union life in the three-game span since Hackworth took over the team from Peter Nowak, the Union’s depth will need to produce to continue the winning ways. Players like Josue Martinez, Jorge Perlaza, Roger Torres, Keon Daniel and Zach Pfeffer will be leaned on.
“We’re going to have to manage minutes of guys really well,” said Hackworth. “We’ll have to rely on depth in our locker room, guys will get opportunities to play and will be important pieces starting and coming off the bench. We’ll have to do an excellent job with the medical staff in regeneration and recovery and hopefully we can stay healthy. It's a challenge we’re looking forward to and guys recognize chance and good opportunity for them."
However, the extensive run goes beyond the team’s two games in five days. It gets worse.
“By the time we play LA next Wednesday, we’ll have played four games in 12 days,” said Hackworth, who is 1-1 in MLS play as head coach of the Union. “We play the semis [of the Open Cup on July 11], which will be six games in 17 days. By the time we play [the] Montreal [Impact on July 14], seven games in 20 days. By July 21st, it will be nine games in 27 days. That’s a game every three days. It’s a pretty stacked stretch.”
Returning for this scheduling mess will be Union right back Sheanon Williams, who is recovering from an injured toe. Striker Chandler Hoffman, out with the same injury, will need more time.
“Sheanon is looking good and could potentially be back. He was striking ball pregame [versus the Harrisburg City Islanders] and felt good, so hopefully we’ll have him back.
“Chandler is a couple weeks away, Sheanon is the closest coming back.”
The Union will also be without the services of newly acquired center back
Bakary Soumare, who is coming off a knee injury, not in game shape and trying to enter a roster that is suddenly doing well.
“I think we’ll be conservative with him,” Hackworth said of Soumare. “We’re playing really well right now, Amobi Okugo is turning out to be a fantastic center back and his consistency alone has been great. [Soumare] has to come in and beat Amobi and Carlos [Valdes] for a job right now. But with nine games in 27 days, there’s an opportunity to spread minutes around. Injuries, card situations, we will need to rely on our depth.”
Going 2-1-0 during the three-game run against DC United and Sporting Kansas City and a US Open Cup win over the City Islanders gives the Union a springboard of momentum into their most taxing challenge of the season. Pushing their overall record to 3-8-2, the Union are on the road to recovery against the 5-5-5 Dynamo and 6-8-2 Galaxy.
“It will be a tough mental challenge,” said Hackworth. “We’ve played three really good games in a row. If you play one great game you can write it off, if you play two you start to think you can do it every time, but if you play three, it’s very encouraging that we’re playing same way, same style, same energy, and same effort in all three games. They’ve been outstanding.”E-mail Ryan Bright at email@example.com