Marc Narducci: Time running out on Union's playoff chances

Posted: August 18, 2012

Some might say the Union are clinging to false hope by continuing to act as if they can extend their season.

Even interim team manager John Hackworth, who vows to keep fighting for a potential playoff spot despite the long odds, admits that he has one hand on the plug.

Either way, with 13 games remaining, a lot could still happen, and Hackworth has made the right decision, looking to see if this team can seriously join the playoff race instead of playing untested performers to see what their future is with the team.

Then again, by playing the regular lineup, Hackworth is seeing if the people he has in place can play. What better way to judge talent than when something is truly on the line? That's not to suggest there isn't a boatload of work to do just to get back in the playoff conversation.

The top five teams in each conference will earn a postseason berth. The Union have 23 points, 13 behind fifth-place D.C. United. (The Union have a game in hand on United.)

To get into the playoffs, the Union might have to do something drastic, such as win four in a row, something they haven't been able to do in their three-year existence.

That brings us to the most important game of the season, Sunday's trip to Washington to face United in a 5 p.m. start. This comes after last week's biggest game of the season, Sunday's 3-1 loss to the visiting Chicago Fire, a game in which the Union coughed up a 1-0 lead.

Chicago entered that game in fifth place and moved ahead of United with the win.

With 11 of their final 13 games against teams either tied with or ahead of them in the standings, the Union will have plenty of matchups against teams either fighting for a playoff spot or a high seed.

The Union have lost two in a row, and Hackworth admitted at his weekly news conference that if the losses keep coming, he might not wait until next year to begin preparing for next year.

At this point, he's still trying to rally the team around the concept that the postseason isn't a pipe dream.

"Right now I still want to compete with that idea in mind," he said about the possibility of making the playoffs. "If we go down and get three points at D.C., we are right back in it."

Maybe not right back, but at least in the conversation of hopefuls.

"I think we all believe it's still possible," midfielder Brian Carroll said about earning a postseason spot.

Of course, nobody is deluding themselves. The Union have to suddenly become a changed team, one that capitalizes on scoring chances. And while they are at it, a few more shots on goal wouldn't hurt. The Union have frequently dominated possession only to come up empty.

The Union have played hard, just not very consistently for extended stretches, thus the 7-12-2 record.

"We have the expectation of how the Union play every time we take the field," Hackworth said.

That expectation is to be aggressive on both sides of the ball and take the action to the opponent. The Union have done that, but there is that one elusive component they haven't mastered - finishing consistently.

And their defense has been far from airtight.

Either way, it's too early to retreat. It would be a bad message to those people who fill PPL Park, averaging 18,418 per game in an 18,500-seat stadium.

So we will see what they are made of. The Union will have to fight hard to make it, but it's a battle that should be waged with nothing else but this year in mind.

Contact Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or Follow @sjnard on Twitter.


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