CHESTER, Pa. – Never mind the fact that the San Jose Earthquakes currently sit in last place in the Western Conference and are coming off a discouraging home loss to Chivas USA.
Never mind the fact the Philadelphia Union are in second place in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand over the first-place Red Bulls.
When the two teams on opposite ends of the standings meet Saturday at PPL Park (4 pm ET; Direct Kick, MatchDay Live), Union manager Peter Nowak knows his club will have a stiff test in front of them, even while playing in front of their home crowd.
All he has to do is remember what happened last year when the Union blew a 1-0 lead at home against the Quakes before losing, 2-1, in the final minutes.
Nowak also thought San Jose looked strong on the road two weeks ago against the Red Bulls, despite being routed 3-0.
“They played really well vs. New York and got a little bit unlucky,” the Union manager said. “Against New York especially, it shows they’re a team capable of having great results, especially on the road. Last year, they won in our stadium in the last minute with an injury-time goal. It’s a team capable of scoring goals and playing good football. For us, it’s a very difficult opponent, so we’ve got to be ready.”
Making sure the Union (3-1-1) will be ready could be more difficult than usual, considering it’s been two weeks since the club last played a game. They were supposed to travel to Utah last weekend to face Real Salt Lake, but the game was postponed to September because of RSL’s CONCACAF Champions League games.
Starting with Saturday’s game against the Earthquakes (1-3-2), the Union now have four games over the next two weeks.
“It’s an important game for us after a two-week break to come back in good fashion,” Nowak said. “We worked on things we felt we needed to improve on. We have a lot of games coming right now. This is a difficult stretch for us.”
With extra time off, Nowak said he tried to drive home some teaching points. One thing he hoped his club learned was how to develop more of a killer instinct, so as to avoid what happened two weeks ago when they conceded a late goal and tied the Sounders, 1-1.
But the Union must also keep up the defensive pressure that has catapulted them toward the top of the Eastern Conference – meaning they must find a way to contain a deep San Jose attack that includes, among others, Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart and Bobby Convey.
Convey, one of the most acclaimed soccer players ever to come from Philadelphia, will especially look to make some noise as he returns to the area where he first made a name for himself.
“It does mean a lot for him to play in his hometown,” Union coach John Hackworth said. “We just have to deal with that. He had an excellent game here last year and I think he’ll come in just as motivated and prepared as he did before.”