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Beginning their three-game, eight-day gauntlet with a win last Saturday, the Union are now set to host the powerful L.A. Galaxy on Wednesday night at PPL Park.
And they are looking for respect.
“There will be a little bit of a feeling that people don’t give us enough respect right now,” said coach John Hackworth. “Even when we win games, it doesn’t seem like we get enough credit for it. Having an opportunity to play L.A. at home is a really good game to make a statement. There will be some extra motivation for sure.”
Fighting fatigue after returning from Chicago, where they defeated the Fire, 1-0, the Union will be motivated to come out and perform at a high level against the Galaxy despite the quick turnaround, Hackworth believes.
“We’re just trying to manage this three-game stretch so our focus is trying to repair from Chicago in a short amount of time,” he said. “The reality is there will be a little more juice. It might not be in the legs but it will be a little more emotional. There is more of a spotlight on you, playing at home - all of those things.”
Along with extra motivation, the Union also have recent history on their side. Although they hold a 1-3-1 all-time record against the two-time reigning MLS Cup-winning Galaxy, the Union hold the last win. With an impressive display by Jack McInerney and Michael Farfan in a memorable 2-1 stoppage time win at the Home Depot Center on July 4, 2012, the Union proved they do have the front-end talent to compete.
“L.A. was really good in that game, and we fought tremendously hard,” Hackworth said. “We were fortunate to pull off a great goal in the end from Michael Farfan. McInerney had a great goal in the first half. But we’re a different team in a different situation in all facets. We want to make sure we show everyone we’re as competitive as any team in this league.”
Looking to continue their run against the Galaxy, the Union, led by McInerney’s seven goals on the season, are 4-3-3 overall and coming off a late win against the Fire last Saturday. More impressive was how the Union succeeded through lineup changes.
Without defensive cornerstone Jeff Parke because of a hamstring injury and right back Sheanon Williams because of a red-card suspension, the Union hit the road with Bakary Soumare at center back, Ray Gaddis at right back and Gabe Farfan on the left side. Though goalie Zac MacMath stole the show, Soumare knocked off the rust and was very strong, impressing the Union coaching staff.
“Baky had a really good game,” said Hackworth, who will get Williams back on Wednesday. “He made a couple very key plays, blocks, tackles. One thing we did very well is that our back line moved and stayed together. He was a catalyst for that. His communication was excellent and his leadership was really good.
“I’ve said it all along, Baky has been a good pro, he’s preparing well and staying fit. The fact that he can jump into his first game in a long time and not only play 90 minutes but thrive, says a lot about him.”
Soumare’s performance was so impressive that although Parke participated in full training, Hackworth didn’t commit to which defender would play against the Galaxy.
“We haven’t made that decision yet,” he said. “We want to be mindful of pushing Jeff too soon with a hamstring injury. It was a right decision not to play him on Saturday. We hope to have him available. He trained in full today, so that’s a good sign.”
While the Union are impressing, the Galaxy aren’t exactly working like a machine. Coming off a frustrating 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, Bruce Arena’s club is on a two-game losing streak and is 2-3-0 in their last five games. The Galaxy are 4-3-2 on the season.
“Anytime you play the two-time defending MLS Cup champs, it’s a great test as to where you are as a team and organization,” said Hackworth. “I have a lot of respect for Bruce Arena and everything he’s done in the game. His teams always find ways to win. They have a very talented lineup and it’s a great challenge for us.”
However, the visitors might be getting some needed reinforcement on offense.
Expected to return on Wednesday from an ankle injury which kept him out of the lineup for three games is forward Robbie Keane, who had 16 goals in 2012 but has just one in three games in 2013.
“It’s very difficult to plan for,” Hackworth said. “Keane is coming off an injury and we don’t know whether he’ll play or not. I wouldn’t put it past them to play [former Union forward] Chandler Hoffman tomorrow, a motivated player facing his previous club.”
With or without Keane, the Galaxy are led by Mike Magee, who has six goals on the season, Landon Donovan and a plethora of young talent.
“McGee is on fire,” said Hackworth. “Keane and Donovan are probably the two most difficult guys to play against when they are combining. Their speed of play and the way they read each other, it gives teams fits. It’s a big challenge for us because not only do you have to worry about their quality but they have other guys that can hurt you. It’s a good test for us.”