Marc Narducci: With goals and wins, the future looks brighter for Union

Posted: June 30, 2012

It's amazing what two wins and nine goals can to do revitalize a team. Throw in a coaching change and there is a totally different attitude these days surrounding the Union.

For most of the first three months of the Major League Soccer season, little went right for the Union. Now they find themselves as a tournament semifinalist while competing for one championship and attempting to make the long trek up the Eastern Conference standings in order to play for another.

Tuesday's 5-2 win over the USL Pro Harrisburg City Islanders, their minor-league affiliate, earned the Union a berth in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals, where they will host MLS foe Sporting Kansas City, on July 11 at PPL Park in Chester.

Kansas City is the same team the Union began this mini-breakout against, defeating Sporting, 4-0, in a league game last Saturday.

One could suggest the Union clipped Kansas City - especially with a new promotion awarding fans a free haircut when they score three or more goals in a home MLS game. Even interim team manager John Hackworth took advantage of this promotion.

Prior to the 4-0 win, the Union had scored eight goals in their first 12 games.

That was followed by Tuesday's win over Harrisburg. For those downplaying beating a USL Pro team, ask the New York Red Bulls how it felt to lose to Harrisburg, 3-1, in this same tournament. For good measure, Harrisburg also bounced out the MLS New England Revolution, winning on penalty kicks.

Many will point to Hackworth's appointment as having the biggest positive impact on the Union. He has guided the team for three games since the dismissal of Peter Nowak.

The Union lost the first game under Hackworth, 1-0, to D.C. United in a game the losing team totally dominated - except on the scoreboard.

Then came the last two games, in which the offense exploded.

It may not all be Hackworth, but Nowak brought a high level of tension to the organization. Everybody from the players to management were always on their toes when Nowak was in the room.

Hackworth is less volatile and he has also shown a propensity to play the younger players. Even an old-timer such as 23-year-old Freddy Adu (who has been playing professionally since he was 14) seems freer, looser and more dangerous than ever.

The Union still have their work cut out in getting back in the MLS playoff picture, but it is possible. The top five teams in the 10-team Eastern Conference will qualify for the playoffs and the Union are ninth with 11 points.

Chicago, Kansas City and Houston are tied for third with 20 points.

Which brings us to this weekend, when the Union visit the Houston Dynamo in Saturday's key MLS game.

The Union ended their 2011 season in Houston, losing the second of the two-game aggregate-goal series, 1-0, after losing the first game, 2-1, at PPL Park.

The Union are a totally different team than the one that closed the season in Houston. Actually, they seem like a much different team than the group that lost to then-winless Toronto, 1-0, in what turned out to be Nowak's final MLS game with the team on May 26.

So many changes, especially in a season in which there are 34 games, including 21 left to play. It's all about momentum in sports.

Right now the Union have it and are reaping the benefits that include renewed confidence, a couple of key wins - and a free haircut due to a promotion that a few weeks ago would have seemed to be a harebrained idea.

Gaddis suspended. Union defender Raymon Gaddis was suspended one game and fined an undisclosed amount by the MLS disciplinary committee on Thursday for a challenge on Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza in the victory over Sporting.

Gaddis will serve his suspension on Saturday when the Union play Houston.


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

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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