CHESTER, Pa. -- One major contributor to the Union’s impressive 3-2-2 start has been the club’s uncanny ability to earn tough results on the road in even tougher environments. The type of results the young club wasn’t getting all of last season.
But with a newfound confidence, the young Union look to push that trend on Saturday at Gillette Stadium, when they take on the New England Revolution for the second time this season.
“We want to continue that,” coach John Hackworth said of finding points on the road. “It’s not a fluke that we’re doing things better. We’ve tried to be consistent about the way we play and approach these games. We hope we can continue that this weekend.”
Coming off a strong 3-2 win over desperate D.C. United at RFK Stadium last Saturday, the Union have a 2-1-1 record on the road -- a complete turn from 2012, when the Union won just three road games and finished the season 3-10-4 away from PPL Park.
With wins over D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids and a draw against the Columbus Crew, along with sitting tied for first in MLS with seven road goals, the Union are building quite the road resume.
But why the sudden change?
“Maturity and keeping the guys together,” said Union defender Ray Gaddis. “Last year, you would see us go on the road and not get a result in games like we did this year in D.C. and Colorado. We would concede a goal or wouldn’t score a goal. It’s maturity -- a lot of us have grown up. We’re taking responsibility this year. We have a young team but we’re embracing what has been put on our shoulders.”
Yet, while the Union are getting results, they are still a flawed team looking to improve. They have allowed six goals in their last four games and 10 through seven games this season.
“I wouldn’t call it bleeding,” Hackworth said. “I think our defense has been very good. It’s not a secret that we’ve let up goals when we had better control of the game -- we did it twice on Sunday against a team that was playing quite well. But I think a lot of that has to do with our opponent and the fact that we still need to improve. At the moment we feel really good with the way we’re defending as a unit, but we know we can be better.”
Despite defensive struggles, the Union’s lone shutout this season came against the Revolution, in a 1-0 win at PPL Park. And though Hackworth wants his club to be confident against the 1-3-2 Revs, he also wants his team to show the utmost respect.
Led by Jerry Bengtson, the Revolution have scored just two goals in six games this season.
“Stats are deceiving, especially in this league,” Hackworth said. “It’s early in the season and teams are still trying to find their way. With an early start to the season, you’re starting to see more teams struggle early, but history will tell us that talented teams with a good infrastructure will be there at the end of the day. We don’t take it for granted. You have to prepare like the opponent you’re playing is in top form. When you do that, you respect them more and that’s the most positive approach you can take.”
The Union players believe Saturday’s contest will play out much like the game against the United, in that they are facing a desperate team backed up against a wall.
“We know it’ll be a game similar to D.C.,” said Union leading scorer Jack McInerney, who scored twice against the United and is currently leading the MLS in goals with six. “They are going to fight and do everything they can to get points. If we come out like we did last week, we’ll be alright.”
The Revolution are coming off a 4-1 loss to the Red Bulls and haven’t seen a win since March 9 against the Chicago Fire. However, the hosts will find added motivation, as Saturday's contest will be the first game at Gillette Stadium since the Boston Marathon bombings took three lives on April 15.
“New England comes off a game where they played good against New York but were a little unlucky,” Hackworth said. “I think we’ll see a different lineup. It’ll be at home so they will have a huge emotional day at Foxborough, the first sporting event held there since everything happened in Boston. We won’t just have to deal with the opponent but the emotions on the day.”