Three 'gift' games for Union

Whitecaps' skilled and volatile Eric Hassli.
Whitecaps' skilled and volatile Eric Hassli. (Associated Press)
Posted: June 17, 2011

CALL IT A gift from the Major League Soccer gods.

"It" would be the upcoming string of matches for the Union against clubs that wallow at the bottom of their respective conferences. With victories over all, it's likely the Union can put some distance between itself and a pesky Red Bull New York side that resembles a cold you can't shake.

* This weekend brings a visit to expansion Vancouver (tomorrow, 10 p.m., Comcast Network), last place in the West but revived via its new coach, former D.C. boss Tom Soehn, and brash forward Eric Hassli. Hassli, who looks to be out to set the league record for most ejections in a season (three), also has some of the best goals from the run of play in MLS this season, including last week's ridiculous volley against rival Seattle. But this Vancouver team, at 1-6-8 for 11 points, is inconsistent, especially on the attack. According to defender Wes Knight, Vancouver's game plan is to press hard on the counterattack, take advantage of the Union's propensity to spread the pitch and attack with its outside fullbacks.

Prediction: Union forwards continue to find their rhythm and take shots from distance; the defense remains imposing, and all players (collectively) catch the flight back on Sunday afternoon celebrating three points.

* Next up, a Wednesday showdown at PPL Park against Sporting Kansas City (7:30 p.m., Comcast Network), dead last in the East at 2-6-4 with 10 points. Despite standout forwards Teal Bunbury and Kei Kamara, as a whole, SKC doesn't really impress. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen is doing his best Chris Seitz circa 2010 impression to statistically hold the dishonor as the worst keeper in MLS. Over a nine-game span, Nielsen has a 1.72 goals-against average and has yet to post a shutout. Kansas City takes on San Jose today, coming off a 4-1 rout of FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park last weekend.

Prediction: The Union remains undefeated at home and Faryd Mondragon (0.85 GAA) collects another shutout.

* On little regeneration and virtually no rest, the Union stays in Chester to host Chivas USA (June 25, 8 p.m., 6ABC). Chivas (4-5-5, 17 points) hasn't had as rough a go as the previous two teams and has held its own in a tough Western Division. Chivas' arrival will bring a return of exiled forward Alejandro Moreno, released following a lackluster inaugural campaign with the Union.

Prediction: Tough one to call. While the Union holds a defensive edge, Chivas packs a punch with a relentless offensive attack. If there is to be a slipup, it's very likely that it would be in this match.

But, as aforementioned, the next three matches are a gift. The question now is, will the Union treat them as such?

Q&A with Shea

Due to a knee injury, former Union midfielder Shea Salinas, now with Vancouver, was unable to make the trip to PPL Park in the Union's first meeting with the Whitecaps, but he will be in house tomorrow. Union Meeting caught up with Salinas, who discussed being in the epicenter of Wednesday's riots in Vancouver following the Canucks' Stanley Cup loss and how the Union did him dirty.

Union Meeting: So, tell us, what sparked the riots?

Shea Salinas: My apartment is downtown, right where the riots happened. My wife Julie and I were down at the street viewing the game on this huge monitor and that's right where the first cars were flipped. There were people everywhere and this huge fight broke out right in front of us. I felt there was going to be a riot, there was so much tension and hostility and we were in the middle of it. Plus, it seems like everyone was intoxicated. We got back to my apartment right as police came. They were throwing tear gas, concussion grenades, it was like living in a war zone for a night. There were like four cars right in front of my place that were flipped over. It was crazy. What's sad is that there were like 200,000 people that came downtown, but only about 2,000-3,000 are responsible.

UM: What was it like to know the technical staff here didn't plan to renew your contract even though you'd had a strong season and came at a bargain (MLS minimum $42,000)?

SS: There's no animosity anymore, but at the time I was upset. I mean, I was told by the [Union] technical staff that they planned to protect me. My wife and I were already looking at apartments to stay in Philly for this season. I was shocked to later find out that I was left unprotected and heading to Vancouver. I loved Philadelphia. I felt a part of the city, I felt embraced by the fans, and my wife had a great job. It was upsetting, but everything happens for a reason, right?

UM: How much different is life in Vancouver than in Philly?

SS: Philly isn't as cold, it rains a lot here and it's way more expensive. We had a great group of friends in Philadelphia and a good church group. But to be honest, I feel this is the best team I have ever played with in MLS, some of the names on this team, it's like playing with all-stars every day. But we don't have a winning mentality. I think it really has something to do with being an expansion team, there is always that disconnect.

Odds and endlines

Last year, Peter Nowak answered some of your most interesting questions submitted to Union Meeting regarding the state of his club. Given its success, Nowak has graciously offered to field questions again. Answers will run in next week's column. Have a question for the Union manager? Shoot me an email with your name and hometown and I'll ask him. Not to sound like a personal ad, but only serious inquiries please . . . Kudos to former Union midfielder JT Noone who scored the equalizer in an eventual 2-1 win for Union minor league affiliate Harrisburg that led to a berth in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup . . . The MLS All-Star early First XI was released Wednesday and not a single Union player is on the list. Forward/midfielder Sebastien LeToux is among the leaders in voting, but isn't in a starting lineup that consists of five players from New York and three from Los Angeles. The remaining three hail from D.C. United (forward Charlie Davies), Seattle (goalkeeper Kasey Keller) and San Jose (forward Chris Wondolowski).

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