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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Light schedule gives Union chance to bulk up point total

No one even had to ask Danny Cruz about it.

In the locker room of RFK Stadium Sunday after the Philadelphia Union’s 3-2 win over D.C. United, Cruz shifted gears faster than a NASCAR driver on a road course. In describing the elation that he felt in topping his old team – and in the process seeing the Union takes its first ever points at RFK – Cruz couldn’t help but look to the big picture, even without being pushed that way.

Even after claiming a win over D.C. United Sunday,
Union midfielder Danny Cruz and his teammates have their eyes
on more points this weekend at New England (AP).

“(I’m happy) especially for the team because we separated ourselves from other teams, which is most important,” Cruz said. “And we go into next week playing a team that’s a little bit down right now and is going to be scrapping just like they did, so we’re extremely excited. I’m definitely excited. I’m happy about where we’re going as a club.”

That team is New England, sitting ninth in the Eastern Conference and coming off a 4-1 defeat at the hands of New York.

Politics and gamesmanship aside, the Union face two realities: 1.) The Eastern Conference is very crowded, making head-to-head points extremely valuable; and 2.) They have a stretch of games coming up against teams that have underperformed of late. It’s a very real opportunity to pick up points in bunches and determine if this team is truly a contender.

Consider this schedule:

April 21: at D.C. United (10th in East), a 3-2 win
April 7: at New England (9th in East)
May 4: vs. Seattle (9th in East)
May 11: at Chicago (8th in East)

That’s four games – albeit three on the road – against teams that have five combined wins this season.

Manager John Hackworth, though, has downplayed the significance of those numbers, like a cumulative 5-15-6 record.

“I think those stats are deceiving, especially in this league,” he said at his weekly press conference Wednesday. “It’s early in the season. Teams are still trying to find their way, especially with having and early start to the season. I think you’re seeing more teams struggle early, and yet history will tells us that those teams that are talented, those teams that have a good infrastructure will be there at the end of the year.”

Hackworth took pains to especially point out Seattle, a team he still believes to be among the best in the West when healthy, as an example of the deception.

Part of the reluctance to shine too bright a light on these games no doubt stems from the emphasis on approach, a desire to keep intact a run of good form that sees the Union with playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

“We don’t take that for granted,” Hackworth said. “I didn’t think that last week when we were going into D.C. Untied. I know their team, I know their coach. I think they’re very good and certainly we got a taste of that last weekend. I think in this league it’s very difficult. I think you have to prepare each week like the team you’re playing is in top form and that you’re going to expect to get their best. And when you do that, I think you’re going to respect them a little more and that’s the most positive approach you can take.”

On paper, though, this is a chance, a chance to, as many players said in reference to D.C. last week, keep a team that has been struggling down. All four of those teams are better than the results they’ve produced so far this season, as Hackworth is ready to agree. Catching them before they figure themselves out in this early juncture is a major opportunity to cement an early playoff claim.

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