With All-Star hangover, Union prep for NE
CHESTER, Pa. -- Playing hosts of the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday and taking part in a rare break from their season, the Union will be battling more than the New England Revolution on Sunday night at PPL Park.
“As a coach, you always want to be confident in your players and get a sense of where their heads are at through the week in preparation,” coach John Hackworth said. “I’m surprised at how well the players have dealt with everything and have stayed focused. They are trying to do everything the right way to put themselves in the position to be successful on Sunday.”
Although keeping focus is a major factor entering Sunday’s contest, the Union are handling it properly. Loaded with wall-to-wall youth, it’s the professionalism that has impressed Hackworth.
“Full credit to the guys in the locker room because their focus has been really good all week long,” Hackworth said, who is 4-3-0 as Union manager. “The All-Star game could have been a big distraction in a lot of ways but it wasn’t. Guys trained really good all week long, they understand their roles, did a lot of player appearances and were great professionals all week long. It’s a testament to them.”
Having their three-game winning streak slashed by the New York Red Bulls, 2-0, last Saturday, the Union had a rare week to prepare before taking on the Revolution. Playing their seventh game in a month, the Union have also embraced the trip back to schedule normalcy.
“It’s been nice to have a week between games, it’s the first time it has happened for us in a month,” Hackworth said. “Our preparation has been more regular but certainly, the opportunity to get out there and compete in an an important game, especially after the Red Bull game, we’re ready.”
The 6-9-5 Revolution enter the match on a three-game winless bender, scoring just two goals in the process. Led by Saer Sene’s eight goals on the year, the Revs sit just three points ahead of the Union in the Eastern Conference standings with two games in hand. Both clubs are eager get back in the win column and stay within arm’s length of the playoff race. Because of that, Hackworth expects an entertaining bout.
“Coach [Jay] Heaps is in his first year and he’s done a really good job,” Hackworth said. “They have a mix of veterans and some young guys that have shown very well. It’s typical of the Eastern Conference right now, where you have a bunch of teams playing really good soccer. They are like us and have had some up-and-down results, but they have been a really good team. We watched a lot of video and they are really dangerous coming here. We both are in position where we need three points, so I expect to see another game like we have the past couple weekends, where both teams are going after it. It makes for entertaining soccer but more stress on the sidelines.”
The Union, 3-1 in their last four games, also hold the historical advantage. Undefeated against the Revs (2-0-2 all time), the Union have scored 10 goals in four games against their opponent. The most notable contest came on Sept. 7, 2011, as the Union came back from a three-goal deficit to steal a dramatic tie.
However, Hackworth isn’t interested in testing his team’s comeback theory twice.
“I’m not expecting a three-goal comeback,” Hackworth said with a smile. “One thing I don’t think we’ve done as a team this year is come back from down a goal. When we give up the goal, I don’t think we come back. Hopefully we don’t have to do it on Sunday. Because both teams are trying to play soccer the right way, you may see some goals on Sunday, but it will be a matter of both teams fighting until the 90th minute.”
With a new coach at the helm, Hackworth also expects this Revolution team to be completely different.
“I would say it’s hard to compare the New England teams of the past to this one; it’s a very different team with coach Heaps in charge now,” Hackworth said. “Anything that happened in the past is not going to be reflective of this game on Sunday. I expect them to be a different team a little bit, as I expect us to do the same. I don’t think the goals that were scored years past will come into play. It’s two teams that need three points and will go get it.”
For the first time since being acquired on June 25, 6-foot-4 central defender Bakary Soumare could be available off the bench for the Union on Sunday.
“Soumare is coming back; this week has been good for him -- having a full week of training with the first team,” Hackworth said. “He’s turned the corner and is now making strides. I think I could put him on the bench possibly on Sunday. I want to make sure he will be fully cleared to do so by our medical staff. From watching him, it’s been great.”
Recovering from knee injury and displaced by the Union’s success and emergence of Amobi Okugo as a center back, Sourmare, 26, has been able to take his time in returning to fully grasp the system and get back in game shape.
“When you're coming off an injury, it’s a lot of things,” Hackworth said. “For sure, when you’re trying to get rhythm and sensations of your body, and trying to get it in-sync with your mind and get in a place where you feel confident in your movement, deceleration, your touch, your ideas and executing that. Especially after a long layoff and injury, it’s tough for a player. In my short amount of time working with Baky, I’m impressed with how professional he has been about it and how attentive he’s been in trying to make sure every little detail is right for him. He looks really good in training and that’s a very positive thing for all of us.”
Also returning to the Union lineup will be Freddy Adu, who was suspended by the team against the Red Bulls for breaking an undisclosed team rule.
“Freddy has looked great in training all week long; very focused,” Hackworth said. “He’s doing everything he can to be ready for the game. It’ll be good to have him back.”E-mail Ryan Bright at email@example.com.