CHESTER, Pa. -- Less than two weeks ago, Ethan White was the odd-man out on the Union back line. He was patiently waiting for time at a center back position that featured almost every option but him.
Two starts later, White’s patience has paid off as he goes for a third consecutive appearance Saturday at Toyota Park against the Chicago Fire.
“It feels good,” White said following the Union’s 3-1 home win over the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday. “Obviously it’s different from training to a game but I’m familiar with every guy on the field.”
Union interim manager Jim Curtin had nothing but praise for White, who was benched for 18 games before entering the lineup last Saturday against the Colorado Rapids. While White suffered brief lapses of concentration at times, his overall game has been good.
“Ethan was a beast again,” Curtin said. “That’s two games in a row now. He’s accepted the challenge, embraced it and done extremely well.”
White’s teammates have also taken notice
“Ethan is a quality player, I always felt he could come in and play,” Union back Ray Gaddis said. “This is probably the deepest we’ve been in my three years I’ve been here. His number has been called upon and he has risen to the occasion. He’s done a great job in there. He competes like crazy.”
Compete is exactly what the Union need more of if they plan to continue their improbable run toward the playoffs. Coming off a draw and win, the once forgotten Union are now 5-8-7 and sitting just two points from joining the postseason picture.
The Fire are 3-4-10 and unbeaten in their last six games in all competitions.
“At this point, we have 14 games left,” Union defender Sheanon Williams said. “We need all the points we can get, we’re chasing people. Chicago has been having a good run lately, so it’s a different challenge than New York. We’ll have to be ready with the short turnaround.
“We’re right in the mix, fortunately nobody’s really running away with the East right now so you’re a couple wins out of being in a top spot.”
Barring the miraculous return of former Union All-Star and center back, Carlos Valdes, who was released from San Lorenzo and is on his way back to MLS, according to reports, White is expected to start on the back line against the Fire.
However, not all Union positions are as certain.
Midway through Wednesday’s match, Cristian Maidana, the Union’s leading assist man, left the game with a mild hamstring pull. His status is unknown for Saturday. If he can’t go, Fred will likely take his place as center attacking midfield.
“Chicago is a huge league game but after that there’s a little bit of a break,” Curtin said. “We don’t think it’s too serious. He’s a guy that’s playing as good as anyone in the league right now. If we are going to miss him, which I hope we don’t, that’s a big loss.”
Conor Casey could also be a question mark for Saturday. The veteran striker has started six consecutive games and has six goals over that span. He’s the Union’s offensive catalyst, but his aging body might not be ready to complete three games in seven days.
“He recovers pretty well for an older guy,” Curtin said of the 32-year-old forward. “But he’s as dialed into his body as he can possibly be, so he knows when it’s right and ready to go. And he’ll be honest with me, so I trust him.”
Yet, even with the potential roster turnover and tired legs, White and the Union are pushing toward their next goal -- Eastern Conference relevancy.
"Did we dig a hole early in the year, yeah we did," Curtin said. "But we’re going to fight our way out, we’re right in the mix. Fortunately, nobody’s really running away with the East right now so you’re a couple wins out of being in a top spot.”