Can they make it four league wins in a row? That's the goal this afternoon as the Union travel up 95 North to Harrison, New Jersey where they'll face the New York Red Bulls (2:30PM/ESPN). To capture their fourth consecutive league win they'll have to do what no other visiting MLS team has been able to this season - walk out of Red Bull Arena with all three points.
I know I've said in the past that Sporting Kansas City can throw some serious offensive firepower at you, but the triumvirate of Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper and recently acquired former Union star Sebastien Le Toux has to be up there too. New York sits second in the Eastern Conference table, one point behind SKC. With a win today they'll leapfrog SKC atop the standings.
The Union are winding down a brutal stretch where they'll have played six games in just 17 days. Despite the compressed schedule the U have regained their footing under interim coach John Hackworth. The ship has been righted and the blue and gold have played their best soccer of the season since the coaching change.
Roles are defined, players are being put in a position to succeed and the results have been coming. Yes, the Union sit in ninth place in the ten team Eastern Conference, but along with Columbus they've played the fewest games in the conference. In fact, the Union sit just four points out of sixth place. With the All-Star break looming (the game is at PPL Park on Wednesday night) they'll finally have an opportunity to rest and gear up for the second half of the season.
Amazingly, the three game winning streak is the first in franchise history. In order to make it four straight they'll likely have to do it without Michael Farfan, who is listed as doubtful with a groin strain. If Marfan can't go then you may see Josue Martinez get the starting nod in the midfield. As much as I'd love to see Roger Torres get the call I do not think he's fit enough to put in a 60-65 minute shift as he works his way back from injury.
Whomever plays in the center of the midfield will have to work hard to interrupt the passing of Dax McCarty, who is one of my favorite under-the-radar MLS players. You don't hear a whole lot about him, but McCarty can pick out a pass and spray the ball around the field.
Oh yeah, there's that Henry guy to worry about too. Carlos Valdes, the lone Union All-Star, and Amobi Okugo cannot let Henry receive the ball in dangerous positions. His first touch is too good, he's too creative and his finishing instincts are still there. This is huge challenge for the U's centerback pairing, who have played so well over the last month or so.
The Union have been incredibly resilient recently. They'll have to work incredibly hard to earn even a point this afternoon. I say the do just that with a 2-2 draw.