Union hit the road with dire playoff hopes
CHESTER, Pa. -- Following two straight losses, the Union’s already dim postseason light is nearly completely out.
But don’t tell them that.
“I’ll never stop thinking about the playoffs, until the time comes,” said Union midfielder Brian Carroll, whose club is set to face rival DC United at RFK Stadium on Sunday.
“Obviously, we have a hill to climb and it will not be easy. But I will continue to fight and do anything I can to help this team get in the playoffs somehow.
“We have very little margin for error.”
Sitting 13 points out of a playoff spot with a 7-12-2 record, the Union would need a small miracle to make the climb to the post-season. Sinking the Union further were a pair of disappointing losses in consecutive weeks to the Montreal Impact and Chicago Fire, two Eastern Conference playoff-chasers.
“We understand that we didn’t do what we needed to do the last two games,” said Union coach John Hackworth. “We just have to change it going forward, work hard and be efficient. We have to put our best foot forward to correct the mistakes we made and make sure we’re moving in the right direction.”
Despite the Union’s dire situation, optimism reigns.
“All it takes is a run of games and you’re back in the playoff hunt,” said Union defender and midfielder Amobi Okugo. “You see with Houston how they went on a streak and landed in first place. Or with D.C. United and how they were in first but are now in fifth. We missed an opportunity at home, so now we have to win on the road.”
However, winning on the road against 11-8-3 D.C. United is not an easy task. Aside from the United’s 1-3-0 record in their last four games, the Union are 0-1-1 at RFK Stadium in the team’s three-year history. The United will also receive the help of veteran scorer Dwayne De Rosario, who missed D.C.'s last contest -- a 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City.
“I’m sure Dwayne will be back for this game after missing Kansas City, so that will make them immediately better in front of goal and a better attacking team,” said Carroll. “Limiting his touches and making them go through other guys, keying in on [Chris] Pontius, who has been good for them this year, is going to be important. Defending like crazy and being opportunistic.”
But the Union will also be returning a key piece to their offensive puzzle. Charged with a red-card suspension against the Fire, primary striker Jack McInerney, who has four goals this season, will return to the lineup against the United -- a welcome sight for Hackworth, whose team has scored one goal in its last two games.
“You plan your weeks out based off what happened in the last game, what you need to work on and how you need to prepare for your next opponent,” said Hackworth, who also expects to have captain Carlos Valdes and Gabriel Gomez back from international duty. “The fact that we didn’t do a good job putting the ball on frame, that’s certainly been an emphasis for us and we’ll continue to work on it.”
As if the history, proximity and competitive players weren’t enough to make Sunday’s contest interesting, the two teams finalized a trade on Thursday which sent the Union’s leading scorer Lionard Pajoy to the United for 22-year-old midfielder Danny Cruz (see story)
Both players are expected to be in the lineup on Sunday.
"We’ll see which striker scores a goal for their new team,” said Hackworth.
With both teams returning key contributors and adding players, an overlooked variable in the Union’s corner is the revenge factor. In Hackworth’s debut on June 16, the Union lost an emotional contest to the United, 1-0, at PPL Park. It was a game the Union felt they deserved to win, a feeling they haven’t forgotten.
“When you have that feeling that we had, the feeling that D.C. stole three points from us, we want to go and make sure we give them a taste of their own medicine,” said Hackworth, who mentioned his close relationship to United manager Ben Olsen. “I’m sure it will make the bulletin board in the D.C. United locker room. You don’t like that feeling of losing or getting a result that you feel is unjust, so you use it to motivate you and your team.”E-mail Ryan Bright at email@example.com