Two months without a win for Union

Union defender Carlos Valdes tumbles as he challenges Portland's Jorge Perlaza in Saturday's scoreless tie with the Timbers. The Union's last win was on July 17 against New England.
Union defender Carlos Valdes tumbles as he challenges Portland's Jorge Perlaza in Saturday's scoreless tie with the Timbers. The Union's last win was on July 17 against New England. (H. RUMPH JR / Associated Press)
Posted: September 16, 2011

As far as anniversaries go, the Union didn't expect to be celebrating one that arrives Saturday. When the Union host the Columbus Crew in Saturday's 7:30 p.m. Major League Soccer matchup at PPL Park in Chester, it will mark the two-month anniversary of their last win.

It's hard to believe that the last time the Union earned three points was with a 3-0 win at the New England Revolution on July 17. Since then, the Union are 0-3-5.

What is amazing is that the Union are still very much alive in the playoff race, one that has no shortage of contenders.

Ten of the 18 MLS teams will earn postseason berths.

So the positive side is that despite the prolonged slump, the Union haven't played their way out of the postseason. In fact, things are so close that, with seven games remaining, the Union (8-7-12) could still earn first place in the Eastern Conference - or find themselves out of the postseason.

Each non-victory, however, adds another dent to the Union's collective psyche.

"I think it's a mental part, we don't score the first one and we go, 'Here we go again,' " Union team manager Peter Nowak said after Saturday's scoreless draw against the visiting Portland Timbers. "And I think we need to overcome those thoughts, because we need to keep going, keep creating chances. It's important to score that first goal, then it will be easier to play for all of us."

That's true, and not scoring first has been a fairly consistent pattern during this swoon.

In the eight recent winless games, the Union have scored the first goal only twice. That came in a 1-1 draw at Chicago and a 1-1 draw against visiting Houston.

What is interesting is that the Union have scored in seven of the eight games, with the only exception being Saturday's draw with Portland.

Another constant pattern, and it hasn't just been these last eight games, is that the Union continue to fail to cash in on golden scoring opportunities.

The biggest came last Saturday, when Kyle Nakazawa hit the crossbar in the 88th minute.

So maybe the Union are starting to feel a little snakebit.

"Definitely," said defender Sheanon Williams.

At least the Union aren't lowering their expectations.

They were disappointed, especially with their last two draws. Despite dominating possession against Portland, the mood in the locker room was more one of a loss.

And despite trailing, 4-1, at halftime and coming back for a 4-4 draw Sept. 7 against visiting New England, there was no postgame celebration.

Yes, they talked about their character in coming back, but the Union realized they had squandered an excellent chance to earn three points against one of the league's weaker teams.

That brings another point. There are no gimmes in MLS.

Want an example?

Columbus is the leader in the Eastern Conference and on Saturday the Crew lost, 4-2, to a Toronto team that took a 4-12-12 record into the contest. To top it off, the game was in Columbus.

While the Union have made a big leap in their second season and have earned leaguewide respect, opponents believe they have a shot at them. Especially now with the Union struggling.

Everybody associated with the team keeps suggesting that it will take only one win to turn things around.

That could be the case. But the Union can only hope there won't be any talk of a three-month anniversary of a streak that can't end soon enough for the players and Nowak.


Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225, mnarducci@phillynews.com or @sjnard on Twitter.

 

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