CHESTER, Pa. -- In an instant, the Union’s optimistic outlook changed.
Arriving in New York last week with a two-game winning streak, coach John Hackworth’s club was humbled by Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls in a 2-1 loss.
Now facing an always-tough Columbus Crew team on Saturday at Columbus Crew Stadium, the Union are intent on not having their former winning streak turn into a losing one.
“This league is tough in terms of streaks,” Hackworth said. “We know we will have points where we’re pretty good and winning, and some that go against us. This is a tough stretch of games for us. It’s really important that we go to Columbus and get a result. That’s our focus, especially after not getting a point or three points in New York.
“The pressure is that we don’t want to turn the momentum we’ve established early in the year. The last thing we want to do is go on a two-game losing streak and have to regain that positive momentum. It’s not pressure, we have a tough task in front of us and it’s tougher now because we didn’t get a point in New York.”
But getting a point in Columbus hasn’t been easy work for the Union. With a 0-3-0 all-time record in Ohio, the Union are 2-5-0 overall against the Crew. Throw in the fact that this current Crew squad is 2-1-1 with wins over Chivas USA and DC United, and the 2-2-0 Union will undoubtedly be tested.
“It stings a little bit, what happened last week,” Hackworth said. “Now we have a different challenge in front of us. Columbus has been good so far this year and particularly good on the road. This is only their second home game so it will be interesting to see how they adjust and come out against us. We want to go in and see if we can get three points in Columbus.”
Although they have never earned even a single point in Columbus, Hackworth isn’t worried. The Union, one of the worst road teams in the MLS last season, took down the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in the second game of the season, giving them the confidence to get result points anywhere.
“When you go on the road in this league, these are tough environments,” Hackworth said. “You know you’re playing 12 men or it feels that way. We’ve proven we can get points on the road this year and we’ve proven we can play even when we’re not playing our best. That gives us confidence. It doesn’t matter what the venue is, we understand it’s going to be hard. Columbus is a very difficult place for us and has been. We hope to change that.”
One reason the Crew are a difficult club is playmaker Federico Higuain, who paces the offense. With a goal and assist this season, Higuain is a potent weapon the Union are focusing on.
“Not giving him time and space on the ball,” Union defender Sheanon Williams said, when asked how to stop Higuain. “When he has time and space, he can do things that not a lot of people can. If we can close him down and limit his time on the ball, we can be successful, at least against him. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on him and it’ll be the job of defenders and midfielders to limit his space.”
Hackworth agreed, but also noted forward Jairo Arrieta as someone the Union have to keep an eye on.
“The way they play is difficult because Higuain pops up underneath in a lot of different places, he’s very active on the ball,” said Hackworth. “Arrieta is the high guy and makes runs; he gets on the end of things and is very busy. But it’s more than just those two guys. Their outside backs get in the attack a lot and try to overload one side or the other. Having Eddie Gaven underneath, Chad Marshall, who has been a stalwart in this league and continues to play at a high level, we definitely know going in that it will not be easy.”
Fortunately, the Union have their health, Gabe Farfan has recovered from a hamstring injury and veteran striker Conor Casey scored the Union’s only goal against the Red Bulls in his first game back from injury. Although ...
“Michael Farfan is carrying a knock,” said Hackworth. “He was hit hard. He’s dinged up but we will hopefully have him back. He’s the only injury at the moment.”
They might also have a secret weapon. Shortly after being acquired from Brazil for Freddy Adu, midfielder Jose Kleberson could potentially make his Union debut against the Crew to help solve the club’s shaky midfield issues.
“He’s a guy we’re talking about a lot right now,” Hackworth said. “He has to be the right choice to give us the best chance to be successful in Columbus. The following point is that we feel like our midfield needs to do a better job with the ball and needs to be better in possession. I don’t think that’s a secret at all. He is certainly a guy who has a really good tactical sense and sense of where he can find the ball, his touches are exceptional. If we feel he’s the best choice for us, he’s available for selection on Saturday.”