Union faces key game in runup to break

Posted: June 06, 2014

ANDREW WENGER and some of his Union teammates found themselves looking at the Major League Soccer standings the other day.

"For how bad we've played at times and some of our results and the way I think we've felt directly after games, we're not that far out of it," Wenger said.

The first-year Philadelphia forward then rephrased his comment. "I shouldn't even say we're that far out of it," he said. "We're on the cusp."

That's certainly an optimistic view for a club with fewer points (14) than games played (15). But at least this much is certain: Tomorrow's 7 p.m. home match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Union's last contest before MLS breaks 3 weeks for the World Cup, is crucial if any chances remain to turn around this season.

Win and you feel good entering the break. Lose and you have 21 days to sit on the loss before visiting the first-place New England Revolution on June 28.

"It's exactly that," Union manager John Hackworth said. "This is a really important game, coming back home, coming off a good result on the road. But we know we have to put them together. I think Vancouver is one of the best teams in the league right now . . . It's a big game for us, for sure."

The Union (3-7-5), in eighth place in the 10-team Eastern Conference, is coming off a 3-0 road win against a struggling Chivas USA squad. Tomorrow, the Philly club returns to the pitch at PPL Park, where it owns a 1-3-2 record. It hasn't won at home since its March 15 home opener against New England.

Ending that streak won't be easy against Vancouver (5-2-5), the Western Conference's fourth-place team.

"We need to use [home field] to our advantage," Hackworth said. "Especially the last couple of games at home have not been the kind of performance that's acceptable to this club, and we have to make sure that we try to make this stadium with the support, with the fans, with the passion that's in this building, we need to make sure we play to a level that allows us to be successful."

Once the World Cup break commences, the Union players will be shut down for a short period of time, Hackworth said. A fourth-round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match against the Harrisburg City Islanders, the Union's USL PRO affiliate, is set for June 17 at PPL Park.

The Union's staff will use the break to scout players and determine whether there's an addition worth bringing in during the summer transfer window. But as Hackworth has stressed time and time again during the recent stretch, "it has to be the right player or players."

Before all that occurs, the Union is focused on closing out this portion of the season with a positive result.

"At this point, every game is important," Wenger said, "but it always feels good probably to go off on the break with a win, because that will just keep our spirits and minds in the right place.

"It's an important game for us."

Wheeler experiment ends

After starting eight games on the back line this season, it appears the efforts of converting Aaron Wheeler to a center back are over.

Wheeler, who has not played since May 17, is back to training more as a forward, Hackworth said. Wheeler did not travel for the Union's Los Angeles road trip.

"Not to say that we won't ever use him in the back again," Hackworth said, "but I think we made that conscious decision going into the LA Galaxy game."

Wheeler logged 722 minutes over 11 appearances on defense this season. Last year, his first with Philadelphia, he scored one goal and recorded one assist in 129 minutes logged as a forward.


Forward Sebastien Le Toux is back in training after missing the last two games with a back injury. However, with a 3-week break coming up, that doesn't necessarily mean he will play tomorrow. "It does pose a question of whether you want to put a guy who's coming off of injury back into one game when you know you have a little block of time where, ideally and in our plan, this is a time for all of our players to regenerate and recover from a tough first part of this season," John Hackworth said . . . Maurice Edu's is the 14th-highest selling jersey in MLS this year, according to a list the league revealed. Not surprisingly, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley rank Nos. 1 through 3 on the list, respectively.


Union (3-7-5) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (5-2-5)

When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m.

Where: PPL Park, Chester


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