Can Union turn around their West Coast woes?

Can Union turn around their West Coast woes?
July 8, 2011, 4:50 am
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CHESTER, Pa. -- The West Coast hasnt exactly been kind to the Union. With an 0-3 road record on the sunny side of the country in 2011, the Union have had their share of underwhelming performances, the latest coming in a 1-0 loss to the lowly Vancouver Whitecaps on June 18.

Yet, with prior trouble in the Pacific timezone, the Union understand exactly what they are getting into when they face the San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday.

We have to make sure were ready to play, said midfielder Amobi Okugo, who earned the key penalty kick in the Unions 1-0 win over the Earthquakes on April 30. Theres no excuses on the road, we have to grind out points.

Weve been doing well on the road the past couple games. Traveling the long distance, we have to take special care of our bodies eat right and try to get as much rest as possible.

For coach Peter Nowak, the key to grinding out vital road points in a hostile environment is not limited to his teams blazing start, but more so to stop the opposition from getting off to one as well.

"The most important thing is just getting a good start, not giving up anything cheap, Nowak said. "In Vancouver, 10 minutes in we just backed off. We defended and they countered. We need to realize that we're playing on the road.

Adding incentive to breaking their slide on the coast is the suddenly cramped Eastern Conference standings. Once holding a grip on the top spot in the East, the Union, with four draws in their last six games, including a 2-2 tie to DC United last Saturday, are now one point behind the New York Red Bulls and are tied for second place with the Columbus Crew at 27 points. The Union have a game in hand against the Crew and two against the Red Bulls.

Were heading into the second half the season and others teams are going to work to catch up to us, said Okugo. We have to bring it every game, home or away.

With four results, two wins and two draws, in their last six games, the Earthquakes have slowly began to turn their season around. Now holding a 5-6-6 record and approaching the middle of the pack in the Western Conference, the 'Quakes, coming off a short week and 2-0 loss to Chivas USA on Wednesday, are a formidable offensive force led by forward Chris Wondolowskis six goals. The teams second-leading scorer, forward Steven Lenhart, has five goals but will miss Saturdays contest because of yellow card accumulation.

They are a team thats doing well right now, said Okugo. Wandos back and they are going to want to get revenge against us.

Coming off a road draw against the United, the Union, now 7-4-6, are staying afloat atop the conference with the help of shaky road results. The second-year team is 1-1-2 in its last four road games and are riding a two-game goal scoring streak from leading scorer Carlos Ruiz.

We have a good squad, said Okugo. If we can figure it out and fix the little details, we can turn those ties into wins and that will help us a lot in the standings and even more for our confidence.

New-look back line
The Union will take on the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday with a new look to their defensive back line. Characterized as one of the best defensive teams in the league, the Union curiously traded away steady left back Jordan Harvey on Thursday to the Vancouver Whitecaps for allocation money.

Without a true back replacement, its likely that coach Peter Nowak will post Gabriel or Michael Farfan or even Keon Daniel in Harveys spot. A veteran rear guard, Harvey was known primarily as a defensive defender with little offensive prowess. With him out of the lineup, the Union, at least until the July 15 transfer window opens, will undoubtedly serve up more offensive punch from their back end.

E-mail Ryan Bright at ryanbright13@gmail.com

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