CHESTER, Pa. – For Philadelphia Union defender Danny Califf, this year’s season opener in Houston could not have been more perfect.
Not only did his team do two things they hardly did at all during their inaugural 2010 season – win on the road and post a shutout – Califf scored what remains his only goal as a member of the Union to lift Philly to a 1-0 victory.
“It was amazing,” Califf told MLSsoccer.com. “I didn’t even know what to do. But it was great to get a goal. We had been through a lot – a lot of adversity, a lot of ups and downs. So it was just great to get that goal and to get the shutout and get the win on the road. The stars were all aligned that day.”
Califf and the rest of the Union can only hope the stars will be aligned for them again as they return to Houston on Thursday (8:30 pm ET; ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, TSN2; live chat on MLSsoccer.com) for the first time since their season opener. This time, however, the stakes will be higher as Philly look to overcome a 2-1 deficit on aggregate.
But just like their last game at Robertson Stadium – when they wanted to show they were much improved from their 8-15-7 expansion season – the Union come into Thursday’s game hungry to prove their doubters wrong.
“At that point in the season, we were all about trying to prove something – not only to ourselves, but to everybody – that we were a better team than last year,” Califf said. “Now I think we’ve proven we’re a better team than last year. Now it’s about proving we’re one of the elite teams.”
In addition to this season’s 1-0 triumph, the Union also rode a 90th-minute Danny Mwanga goal to a thrilling 3-2 win over the Dynamo in May of 2010, which marked the franchise’s first-ever road win.
But even though they know they are capable of winning in Robertson Stadium, some Union players cautioned against putting too much stock into those games.
“[The 1-0 win in March] was the beginning of the season, so it was seven, eight months ago,” said midfielder Justin Mapp, who started in the season-opening victory at Houston. “Obviously there have been personnel changes and some teams play differently.”
Still, there’s no denying that winning the opener in Houston certainly helped put the Union in the position they are today. And if they can play the same way they did that day in March, the second-year club’s playoff quest may very well continue.
“Coming out of the gates, to win a road game against one of the best teams in the league was big,” Mapp said. “I think that kind of set the tone for the early part of the year.
“And now we find ourselves there again.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.