Inside the Union: Union facing crucial game against Dynamo

Philadelphia Union winger Danny Cruz. Photo by Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Union winger Danny Cruz. Photo by Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer
Posted: September 14, 2013

Union team manager John Hackworth asked more interesting questions than he was able to give answers to when talking Wednesday about a mystifying performance in Sunday's 1-0 Major League Soccer loss at San Jose.

Needing every point in an air-tight playoff race, the Union basically took the first half off. Adding to the insult, former Union midfielder Shea Salinas scored for the Earthquakes in the 15th minute and this was another case of the Union waking up too late.

Pretty soon they will go into permanent hibernation if they don't snap out of it.

"It was alarming," Hackworth said about the first half performance. "It was unacceptable."

So right now anything but a win on Saturday against an equally struggling Houston Dynamo team at PPL Park would also be unacceptable.

The Union (10-9-9) are clinging loosely to a potential playoff spot. They are fourth in the Eastern Conference, where the top five teams will gain entry. With six games remaining, the Union have 39 points, two ahead of both New England and Houston. Both teams own a game in hand on the Union.

The biggest question is with so much at stake: How could the Union come out with such a lack of fire on Sunday? And please, don't pin it on the long plane ride to California.

"No, we can't blame the trip," midfielder Danny Cruz said. "We weren't sharp from the very beginning and I think it showed."

The Union are 0-2-2 in their last four games, having been outscored by 6-1 during that time. The only consolation is that Houston is 0-3-1 in that same span, allowing the Union to hold their tenuous position in the standings.

When asked if the team has lost confidence offensively, Hackworth didn't retreat.

"Yes and no," he said.

Then he pointed to Jack McInerney, who has 10 goals but hasn't scored in his last 11 games.

"You have Jack McInerney who is struggling right now and we all see him in training and he has been really good but every time a ball doesn't go his way or a play doesn't come off, it adds to him personally," Hackworth said.

McInerney has not been helped by a midfield with offensive abilities that have not put a lot of fear into MLS opponents.

So what are the answers?

Hackworth suggested that there could be some lineup changes in store.

The team gets defender Amobi Okugo back from a two-game suspension for an accumulation of red and yellow cards. Hackworth discounted the possibility of moving Okugo up from his central defender spot to give the midfield some punch.

Still, anything goes, but the main thing is that with so much at stake, and the finish line in view, the team can't come out tentatively.

"The one thing this club has prided itself on and has done well this year is we have responded off of bad performances," midfielder Brian Carroll said. "Everybody has the full attention of doing that again this time."

That is true. After a 4-1 loss to Los Angeles, the Union beat Chicago, 1-0, the next game. Following a 5-1 loss at New England, they played first-place Montreal to a scoreless draw.

Now they have to attempt to regroup once again.

The Union still control their destiny. They will have the home crowd behind them. There will be no excuse for a lackluster effort.

The coach is mystified that it happened in the 28th game. If it occurs in the 29th game, it would continue a downward spiral that may then become out of control.

Contact Marc Narducci at Follow @sjnard on Twitter.

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