Union motivated to win East

Posted: October 20, 2011

THE ODDS ARE really stacked in Union boss Peter Nowak's favor.

Inwardly, he knows it and claims he doesn't need to say much to his locker room, one hungry to lock up its first regular-season Eastern Conference title - in the arena of its most bitter rival, a venue where the Union still seeks its first win.

Tonight, when the Union and Red Bull New York clash in the regular-season finale at Red Bull Arena, the Union will travel with those big aspirations in mind.

In terms of his potential starters, Nowak said the team will travel with almost no players on the mend, except forward Veljko Paunovic, who will miss tonight's match with a strained right hamstring.

The Union also brings an eight-match unbeaten streak to northern New Jersey, earning a win in three of its last six matches. A win tonight gives the Union a chance to lock up the top seed in the East outright, providing Sporting Kansas City loses its regular-season finale Saturday against D.C. United. SKC and the Union both have 48 points, with SKC holding the tiebreaker for wins.

A victory would guarantee the Union the second seed in the East and earn the team more than a week to prepare for the opening of the conference semifinals, which will begin Saturday, Oct. 29, or Sunday, Oct. 30. While there is separation out West, the Eastern race is coming down to the final weekend, as Columbus (47 points) and Houston (46) also are in the hunt to nab one of the top three spots and avoid the wild card, which begins next Wednesday and Thursday.

"We have a rivalry with these guys, and we know they are hungry, but so are we," defender Sheanon Williams said of Red Bull. "They still have a chance to grab a playoff spot, but we want to be Eastern Conference champions. To me, that is something way more substantial to play for. It's not going to be easy. It never is when you play New York, but we know what it would mean to this locker room [to win the East], and we are ready to go after it."

While Nowak won't acknowledge it, another plus for the Union is New York's loss of its top goal scorer, Thierry Henry, who is out after getting a red card in a 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. Before his ejection, Henry, with a team-high 14 goals, was in the running to capture MLS' Golden Boot honors, given to the league's top goal scorer. However, Nowak noted that even with RBNY's loss of Henry, the Union cannot sleep on its rival, which also needs a win to sustain any chance of earning a wild-card spot.

RBNY still will have teen forward sensation Juan Agudelo (six goals, two assists), forward Dane Richards (six goals, seven assists), midfielder Luke Rodgers (nine goals, three assists) and playmaker Joel Lindpere, (seven goals, seven assists).

"As I said before, we control our destiny," Nowak said. "I think the guys know how much this game means and what the implications are, so there really isn't too much I need to tell them, because they can see and know for themselves. We aren't worried about it being an away game or the crowd; we just need to be prepared and take care of business and that's what we are going to do."

AGENDA

Union (11-7-15, 48 points) at New York (9-8-16, 43 points)

When: Tonight, 8 o'clock

Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.

TV: ESPN2

On the web: Streaming online at MLSSoccer.com

Last time out: Union won, 1-0, at PPL Park on April 9, but is 0-2 in all competitions at Red Bull Arena.

INJURY REPORT (As of Tuesday)

Out for the Union: Thorne Holder, GK (concussion); Levi Houapeu, FW (left ankle strain); Veljko Paunovic, FW (right hamstring strain)

Doubtful: Joe Tait, DF (right ankle sprain)

Probable: Zac MacMath, GK (left ankle sprain)

Out for New York: Chris Albright, DF (right calf strain); Sacir Hot, MF (right knee surgery); Carl Robinson, MF (right knee contusion); Mike Jones, DF (right knee MCL sprain).

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