Travel-weary Union set to face old friends at Dallas
CHESTER, Pa. — It’s the kind of stretch all teams go through at one time or another. But for the Philadelphia Union, that doesn’t make it any easier.
On Saturday night, the Union will play their third game in the past nine days — all in different time zones — when they clash with FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park (8:30 pm ET; Direct Kick and MatchDay Live).
By the time they get back to Philly, they will have logged around 9,000 miles of travel since their game in Portland last Friday, which was followed by a midweek clash with the LA Galaxy at PPL Park.
“One of the worst things in this league is the travel,” Union defender Danny Califf told MLSsoccer.com. “Travel in general is always tiring and then you throw in three games in a week and that stuff is tough. I think over the next month, you’re really going to find out how well we’re going to do going forward.”
The Union were staring at two straight losses before a late goal from Danny Mwanga salvaged a tie against the Galaxy on Wednesday. With a 4-2-2 record, they currently sit just one point behind New York for first place in the Eastern Conference.
FC Dallas, meanwhile, are tied for third in the Western Conference with a 4-3-2 overall mark.
Califf said the key for a tired Philly team will be trying to put pressure on Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, one of the most reliable players in MLS history.
“Over the past year-and-a-half, he’s come up absolutely huge for them against us,” Califf said. “We’re going to have to sharpen some things up in front of the net and make him come up huge again if they want to take points from us.”
Speaking of goalkeepers, Philly’s Faryd Mondragón is likely to play despite straining his groin in Wednesday’s draw with the Galaxy, meaning backup ’keeper Zac MacMath probably won’t need to make his first MLS start.
Interestingly enough, it was last year’s game in Dallas when the Union gave then-backup goalkeeper Brad Knighton his first start over then-starter Chris Seitz, which had disastrous consequences as Knighton was shown a red card very early in an eventual 3-1 loss. Knighton is now in the NASL while Seitz is Hartman’s backup in Dallas, where he’s yet to get into a game.
Another Union original, Andrew Jacobson, is also playing for FC Dallas and has become an important part of the team with six starts in the midfield. Jacobson started 13 games in Philly last year before being dealt in the offseason for a second-round pick in the 2013 SuperDraft.
“Those are great guys and they were big keys in our locker room last year,” Califf said of Seitz and Jacobson. “It’s gonna be great to see them. It stinks to have them be gone but at least they’re successful and happy where they’re at. But when you cross the line, all friendships cease for at least 90 minutes.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.