Inside the Union: This is a game the Union really must win

Union players (from left) Sheanon Williams, Fabio Alves, and Jose Kleberson know that even if they win Saturday, they need help to get into the MLS playoffs.       PETER McCABE / AP
Union players (from left) Sheanon Williams, Fabio Alves, and Jose Kleberson know that even if they win Saturday, they need help to get into the MLS playoffs.       PETER McCABE / AP
Posted: October 26, 2013

All season, the Union players have talked about must-win games. Finally, they will end the regular Major League Soccer season with a true must-win match, one that is needed to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.

The Union host Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at 3 p.m.

With a 12-11-10 record and 46 points, the Union must win to stay alive and then plan for some serious scoreboard watching on Sunday.

Not only must the Union win, but New England will have to lose at Columbus, and Houston must either lose or tie by a low score while visiting the worst MLS team, D.C. United. (If Houston ties and the Union win, the two would have 13 wins, which is the first tiebreaker. The Union enter action with two more goals than Houston, which is the second tiebreaker.)

KC (16-10-7, 55 points) is one point behind the New York Red Bulls for the Supporters' Shield, which goes to the team with the most regular-season points. That's no small reward, especially since the team with the most points will be the host of the MLS championship game.

"It's all or nothing," Union defender Jeff Parke said.

At least for the Union it is. KC already has clinched a playoff berth.

What is interesting is that one of the Union's most impressive wins was a 1-0 victory at Sporting KC on Sept. 27. That snapped an 0-3-2 streak and appeared to put the Union back on track.

Yet after finishing in a 1-1 draw at D.C. United on Oct. 12, then squandering a 1-0 lead and losing, 2-1, on Saturday at Montreal, the Union put themselves in an unenviable position.

KC, which is guided by former Delran star Peter Vermes, is 2-0-1 in MLS games since that loss to the Union.

"I think we kind of woke them up a little bit," said defender Sheanon Williams, who on Saturday will become the first player in the Union's four-year history to play 100 games for the team. "I think they thought they didn't play their best."

So Williams will be ready for a KC team that won't be in a sporting mood.

"It happens at least once a year when they come in and kind of think they are better than us and we get a win, and all of a sudden they come into the second game ready to go and we definitely need to be aware of that."

The teams opened against each other on March 2, when KC earned a 3-1 win at PPL Park in Chester. Yes, the season has been going on that long, and the Union will do anything possible to extend it.

The Union players and manager John Hackworth say that every match for the last month or so has felt like a playoff game.

"The pressure of the last month has been pretty immense," Hackworth said. "That is a good kind of pressure."

The difference is that the Union were afforded some margin of error. Now, none exists.


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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