Playoff hopeful Philadelphia Union label home-heavy schedule down stretch as make-or-break

Amobi Okugo hits one up the field

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USA Today

CHESTER, Pa. – For the Philadelphia Union, it’s all right there for the taking.

Starting with Sunday’s matchup against the San Jose Earthquakes at PPL Park (8 pm ET, Univision Deportes), the Union will play eight games over the next two months at home – seven of their final 10 league matches as well as the US Open Cup final against Seattle on Sept. 16.

It’s a stretch interim manager Jim Curtin has been eyeing for a while – and it’s one that he knows will define the season.

“On our home field, it’s about us,” Curtin said. “We can talk about San Jose all we want, but we know we have seven of 10 here down the stretch, so we’ll only be able to look at ourselves in the mirror at the end of the year and say, ‘We’re a playoff team or not.’ It will be our fault if we don’t make it.”

By no means, has getting results at home been a given for the Union this season – far from it, in fact. Heading into Sunday’s game, the Union sport a 3-5-2 record in league games at PPL Park, one of the worst home marks in MLS.

But the Union – who are currently in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with a 6-9-9 overall record – have had plenty of success in the past at their home stadium, and they hope they can rediscover that just in time for a playoff push.

“We have to take care of our business at home,” midfielder Amobi Okugo said. “We always talk about how we have to make it a fortress. And now we have to actually do it. The pressure’s on us to perform and hopefully we can be up to the task.”

Despite some of their past struggles at PPL Park, coming home could not come at a better time for the Union.

Since Curtin took over as manager, five of the Union’s eight league games have been on the road (with the team going 3-2-3 in that stretch). And last week was particularly grueling for the Union, who played two games in Texas in a three-day span, going 120 minutes in a US Open Cup semifinal win over FC Dallas on Tuesday before running out of gas in a shutout loss to Houston on Friday.

“We have earned the right to get seven of our 10 [at home],” Curtin said. “We’re through the toughest part of the schedule, but we all know MLS. Anybody can beat anybody, so San Jose is a huge game. Every game is a playoff game.”

While the Union have been dealing with a lot of travel and two-game weeks recently, this time it will be their opponent that has the disadvantage. The Earthquakes just played Wednesday in Seattle, where they tied the Sounders 1-1, before having to fly across the country to take on Philly.

“That’s a long way to go,” Curtin said. “We’ll have to jump on them early. We’ll have fresh legs; we’ve been rested and the guys are getting the appropriate rest and the right amount of fitness ramping up for this home stretch. We’ll be ready to go.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.