Union seek first West Coast points on journey to San Jose
CHESTER, Pa. — If you drew a map of the three time zones inhabited by MLS clubs in the United States and Canada, and then compared that map with Philadelphia's road games in 2011, you'd notice a clear trend: The further the Union travel west, the less likely they are to earn a positive result.
Philadelphia opened the season in Texas, claiming a big win in Houston. They thumped Toronto in Canada, and came back to steal a point in D.C.
In fact, Peter Nowak's side hasn't lost to an Eastern Conference team this season, home or away.
However, in three games in the Pacific Time Zone, it's been different story. The team has returned home with three 1-0 defeats.
This Saturday's match against the San Jose Earthquakes (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online) is an opportunity to buck the trend – but it won't be easy.
"There are always a lot of factors included in the West Coast trips," Nowak told the media at PPL Park on Wednesday. "In some capacity, you aren't sure what's going to work. We've tried different things. We kept one routine for a couple games, then tried something different. We've trained before the games, just to loosen the players up, and make sure we have good concentration during the game."
The Union played well enough in two of the three losses to at least earn a point.
Back in April, a 10-man Galaxy squad were able to stave off the Union offense and ride out a set piece goal to victory. Against Portland, a makeshift Philadelphia defense held strong until the final 15 minutes, again falling on a set piece.
The Vancouver trip, despite sharing the same scoreline as the other two losses, was a throw-away game in which the Union conceded an early goal and never established any sort of rhythm.
Nowak and his players have steered clear of blaming sub-par performances on fatigue or jet lag, but they do recognize the challenge.
"The most important thing is just getting a good start, not giving up anything cheap," Nowak explained. "Vancouver, 10 minutes in, we just backed off, defended, and they countered. We need to realize we're playing on the road. If we have good possession, we can keep the ball on the ground, pick our spots, and defend as a team."
At 2-4-2 away from PPL Park, the Union have already eclipsed their total of seven road points in 2010. There's clear progress, but the stakes are raised in a tight race for the Eastern Conference title.
Following Wednesday's press conference, several players reiterated that, regardless of venue, the objective is to impose the club's style of play on the opposition.
"All of the other teams have to do the same traveling," said midfielder Amobi Okugo, who grew up not far from San Jose. "We can't use travel as an excuse. We've been traveling all of our lives as soccer players. We just have to come out with the right mindset and not be scared to play on the road."