In tight playoff race, Union ready for D.C. United

In tight playoff race, Union ready for D.C. United
August 9, 2013, 11:30 am
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The Union are 9-7-7 headed into Saturday's matchup with D.C. United. (USA Today Images)

CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union find themselves in an Eastern Conference bind.

Just four points from both the conference lead and a spot outside of the playoff picture, Saturday’s match against D.C. United at PPL Park went from a forgiving game against a three-win team to a crucial battle for three points.

“If you look at our standings, we’re two points from second and four points from first,” said Union coach John Hackworth. “And yet, depending how the next 11 games go, we could be in a spot we don’t want to be in.”

The packed playoff picture became a bit more complicated for the Union last week, when the 9-7-7 team dropped a disappointing match to the Chicago Fire at PPL. But if there was something the Union could take from the loss it was motivation.

The poor result stung the players so deeply that early-week practices were reportedly chippy.

“I like the fact that our players are a little pissed off,” Hackworth said. “They are upset with themselves and upset with their performance. They clearly knew I was upset on Saturday. The guys have an opportunity to put that game behind them now. We’re ready to move on.”

Matching up with a somewhat resurgent United squad, which defeated the Montreal Impact, 3-1, last Saturday, the Union know they won’t be facing a typical 3-15-4 team. Immediately after dispatching the Impact, United took down the Fire in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals on Wednesday.

“D.C. is good form right now, they got a great result last week beating Montreal,” said Hackworth, whose club defeated United in MLS play back in April. “Then they turned it around on a short week and get another great result in Chicago.”

But because it’s a rivalry and because United are playing with house money at this point in the season, the Union are expecting strong competition, despite the difference in record.

“They are a young team and guys are playing for their jobs next season,” Hackworth said. “[D.C. United coach] Ben Olsen and his staff have turned things around a little bit. It’s not going to be the game a lot of people thought it would be a couple weeks ago.”

What makes United such a different club is their fresh blood. Against the Impact, they received goals from Luis Silva, Conor Doyle and Jared Jeffrey -- all July acquisitions. In just three games, Silva, the only non-American of the trio, has taken over the club scoring lead with three.

“D.C. is similar to us last year,” said Hackworth, whose team was anchored to the Eastern Conference bottom for much of the season. “From an outsider’s perspective they appear to have made the decision to invest in the future and build on young Americans. I think that’s great.”

On the Union’s roster, Fabinho is expected to make his first start at left back as speedy Ray Gaddis recovers from an ankle injury suffered against the Fire.

“Ray is making great progress,” said Hackworth. “Its a tough injury. He ran a little at the end of training but he has a long way to go. As it stands right now, Fabinho is slotted into that position.”

But as usual when United and the Union meet it’s expected to be a very physical competition. And while Hackworth can’t fully prepare for Olsen’s lineup or tactics, he can plan on a heavy dose of emotion.

“You never know what will happen when D.C. and Philly play,” said the coach. “We want to stay focused on approaching this game as an important one at home. This is a game that is really important for us.”