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Philadelphia Union not panicking yet, but know tough upcoming stretch is crucial


CHESTER, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union aren’t in panic mode yet.

But after earning just one win through their first eight games, they could soon get to that point if they don’t start picking up some more points in a hurry.

“Obviously there’s some frustration now,” right back Sheanon Williams said following Saturday’s scoreless draw with the Houston Dynamo. “It’s a long season – but we can’t keep saying that because we’re getting deeper and deeper into the season.”

Williams added that “ties are the most frustrating” results, and this past weekend's ending was just the latest example of that for the 1-2-5 Union. Despite playing at home and going up a man for the final eight minutes plus stoppage time, Philadelphia couldn’t even register an official shot on goal, let alone find the back of the net.

In their previous four ties, meanwhile, the Union struggled more with defensive breakdowns, allowing goals in the final minutes of games – a problem that also plagued them last season before they revamped the squad in the offseason with the additions of talented midfielders Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana.

When asked about the team’s mentality after dropping so many points, Union manager John Hackworth admitted that you could see “the psychology of our players being afraid to make a mistake in the first half” of Saturday’s game vs. Houston. Nevertheless, he was happy to see his team play better after the halftime break and believes the group is talented enough to start turning that positive play into positive results.

“It’s still early in the year,” the Union manager said. “Would we like to have more points? No question. But in almost every game, we’ve been able to play some good soccer. And we just need to put that together over a 90-minute stretch and finish in front of goal obviously and do what we did [Saturday] by keeping a shutout.”

The problem for the Union is that their upcoming schedule before the World Cup break is a daunting one. Fresh off an 0-1-2 week against three teams they’ve traditionally struggled against (Real Salt Lake, the New York Red Bulls and the Houston Dynamo), the Union now have back-to-back road games at Montreal on Saturday and Seattle on May 3. Philadelphia then face Sporting Kansas City and the LA Galaxy on the road later in May.

And the reality is setting in that the only way to prove they are a good team is to beat good teams.

“It’s disappointing because we have Montreal, Seattle away and next month is going to be a hard month,” center back Amobi Okugo said. “We just have to turn around and focus on Saturday.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.