CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union discovered the simplest way to break out of their offensive slump: Shoot the ball.
After scoring just six times through their first nine games, the Union have registered nine goals in the last three games, many of which have come from long-range shots. According to Opta Sports, the first-place Union (6-3-3) are currently leading the league in goals outside the penalty area with six.
“What we’re trying to emphasize is that we want to create opportunities to score and that we want to have a balanced attack,” Union assistant coach John Hackworth said. “And to do that, we have to pull defenses out and take shots from farther out.
Second-year striker Danny Mwanga was the latest Union player to show his shooting form when his strike from about 25 yards out allowed the Union to escape Colorado with a 1-1 draw this past Saturday.
In the game before that, a 6-2 rout of Toronto, Justin Mapp had two goals from distance. That came a week after Michael Farfan and Carlos Ruiz’s long goals propelled Philly past Chicago, 2-1.
“We have a variety of guys that can take shots from distance, which I think is key,” Hackworth said. “And now teams know they have to step out on us.”
The Union’s sixth goal outside the penalty area also came from Ruiz, on a bending free kick against the Sounders on April 16.
“To score, we’ve got to shoot — whether we’re inside the box or outside,” Mapp said. “We’re trying to be aggressive. If it opens up, we have a multiple number of guys willing to shoot from distance.”
While scoring these types of goals has been vital for the club’s recent success, it could be even more beneficial to their future success. As a veteran defender, the Union’s Danny Califf knows the value of putting pressure on defenses with accurate, long-range shots.
“When you’re able to take shots from distance and get defenses to step up, it creates seams and holes that you can play little passes in behind the defense,” Califf said. “That’s always a good thing. It’s hard when defenders just sit back and the space closes down so much that there’s really nowhere to go. If you can hit some shots and bring those guys out, it really makes a big difference.”
Califf also noted how good it is that everyone on the club has the ability to score from different parts of the field, specifically pointing to Mwanga, Sébastien Le Toux and Brian Carroll as guys who can hit a good ball.
Well, maybe not everyone.
“I’ll hit it hard,” Califf said, “but I have no idea where it’s gonna go.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.