Union have tall task against red-hot Crew
CHESTER, Pa. -- Desperate for points and suffering an offensive drought, the Union will have a mountain to climb on Wednesday at PPL Park, when they try to take three points from the surging Columbus Crew.
“It’s going to be a huge game for us,” said Union interim manager John Hackworth. “We’re at a point in the season where we have to make sure to get three points at home. Specifically, getting three points from an [Eastern Conference] opponent makes it a six-point swing. With all our games coming up, we have to look at each of them like that, particularly at home.”
It’s make or break time for the Union, who sit 15 points out of playoff position and are facing down mathematical elimination from the postseason. Coming off a pair of grueling ties where the they needed wins, the young Union needs to take full advantage of its two games in hand over most of the East by defeating a playoff-bound conference rival.
“We still believe we can pull off something pretty special here,” said Hackworth, whose club has played a conference-low 23 games. “Tomorrow night is a really good home game for us -- we believe it’s a six-pointer. If we can get on a little bit of a roll here, things could change quickly. We’re not ready to change our philosophy from the way it’s been the last few months.”
The Union players are also keeping the faith.
“Until somebody tells us we’re mathematically out, the playoffs are on everybody’s mind,” said Union right back Sheanon Williams, who will return against the Crew after serving a one-game red card suspension. “That’s why you play the season and we have games in hand. We obviously put ourselves in a big hole, but it’s not unheard of and it has happened before. No one is putting their head down. We’re going into each game knowing we need three points. We’re trying to keep that alive.”
But to get on the winning track, the Union, 7-12-4, will need to jump start an offense that has lacked any finishing touch of late. With just two goals in their last four games, the Union hit posts, fired wide and appeared frustratingly out of luck.
“The chances are there,” said Union winger Danny Cruz, who admittedly missed an open net against Real Salt Lake on Friday. “It would be one thing if the chances weren’t there, but they are. I missed a pretty good opportunity last week and we had more than a few good chances. We’re just working on finishing and it’ll come. Forwards have ups-and-downs, they go on streaks and go cold. We’re just looking to play positive and get those opportunities. The more opportunities you have, the more they will fall.”
Hackworth believes engaging primary striker Jack McInerney could be the key to solving the team’s slump. McInerney hasn’t scored since July 29 in a 2-1 win over the New England Revolution
“He’s the guy we have to lean on the most right now and he knows that,” Hackworth said of McInerney. “Goal scoring is funny because it comes in waves. He’s doing so many good things which create chances for other players, we need to try and create a few more for Jack. He’s probably the best one at pure execution. We worked on a little bit of that and we hope to put him in good spots and find him.
“I don’t think we found Jack Mac enough. He continually makes really smart runs and we haven’t found him or been late trying to find him on too many occasions. We’ll try to rectify that tomorrow and see if it makes a difference.”
The Union’s most difficult task on Wednesday will be stopping the surging 10-8-6 Crew. Considered a favorite to earn a playoff slot, the Crew are invigorated behind strikers Jairo Arrieta and Frederico Higuain and have rattled off a 2-0-2 record in their last four games.
During that span, the Crew have scored nine goals, three by Arrieta and three from Higuain.
“They are in fantastic form right now and we have to make sure to give them a lot of respect,” said Hackworth. “We need to understand that like any goal-scorers, when you’re hot, you’re hot. They are both in great form. We have to do a good job containing them and limiting their chances. We have a game plan going into tomorrow that I’m confident the players understand and that’s all we can do right now. There’s no question that we’re going up against a very good team.”
One variable for the Union entering the contest is the inclusion of midfielder Freddy Adu. The highest paid player on the Union, Adu played just eight minutes against Real Salt Lake on Friday and was yanked at halftime against the Chicago Fire on August 12.
Adu’s limited playing time and inability to log a full 90 minutes under Hackworth has created a national storyline. However, Adu, despite showing visible disappointment, has said all the right things -- something Hackworth noted.
“The situation with Freddy is that it’s a talking point for [the media] but it’s not for anyone on the inside of this team,” said the coach, who last gave Adu a full game on July 8. “Freddy is important to our team and he had a really good game in DC and we thought we’d end up playing him more against Real Salt Lake than we did. Just like any player in the locker room, Freddy is working hard, he’s being a team player and that’s what we expect. Whatever role he gets asked to play tomorrow, is important to him and our whole team.
“But it’s about the Philadelphia Union and our team -- not any one specific player.”E-mail Ryan Bright at email@example.com