CHESTER, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union just won one of the most exciting games of the MLS season, leapfrogged two teams in the Eastern Conference standings, and put a dent into one of their biggest rival’s playoff hopes.
Their reward? A cross-country flight and another game less than 72 hours later.
Fresh off Thursday’s thrilling 3-2 win over D.C. United at PPL Park, the Union (10-7-13, 43 points) head to the West Coast to take on Chivas USA (8-12-11, 35 points) on Sunday at the Home Depot Center (8 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“You can’t take too much time celebrating tonight’s victory,” Philadelphia veteran midfielder Brian Carroll told MLSsoccer.com from the Union’s jubilant locker room on Thursday. “Obviously it’s great. But we know we have more work to do and we have to be smart about our bodies, especially with the short turnaround and also with the long travel.
“I think our guys are smart enough and experienced enough to know that it’s a nice victory but we have to prepare our bodies and minds for the upcoming game.”
As if the long flight and quick turnaround weren’t hard enough on their own, the Union are also dealing with some nagging injuries.
Philadelphia manager Peter Nowak tried to manage those issues by not playing defender Sheanon Williams (hamstring contusion) and midfielder Freddy Adu (ankle strain) for a full 90 minutes and holding out striker Danny Mwanga (hip flexor strain) entirely on Thursday. But the Union will almost certainly be a little bruised, beaten and tired when they take the field opposite Chivas.
“We have a good training staff here and we know we’ll be ready as best we can,” Williams said. “We’re going to do everything we can to prepare. We know the last couple of games are important and we really want to do well.”
If the final four games of the regular season are anything like their recent stretch of games, Philly should cruise into the playoffs. The Union, which sputtered through an eight-game winless skid from July into September, suddenly find themselves without a loss in their last five contests, with Nowak calling their most recent victory over D.C. “massive.”
Their five-game unbeaten streak may be in jeopardy as they play their next two games on the West Coast – following the match against Chivas, they take on Seattle the following weekend – where they have yet to win a game in the franchise's two-year history. But the Union know they need to find a way to keep getting points, no matter the venue.
“We’re chasing teams and teams are chasing us,” said Williams. “It’s a really tight race and we can’t afford to drop points. We can control our own destiny – which is great – and we’re looking to do that.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin