CHESTER, Pa. — In their very first game of the season, the Philadelphia Union did something they haven’t been able to do since: win on the road.
Philly manager Peter Nowak hopes that skid will stop Saturday when the Union invade BMO field for a clash against Toronto FC (12:30 pm ET; Direct Kick, MatchDay Live).
“We discussed in the locker room that it’s important for us to get into a mentality that it shouldn’t be different playing home and away,” Nowak said. “We have to keep our focus, our intensity for 90 minutes, also in away games.”
Thanks to a superb 4-0-2 record at PPL Park, including an exciting 2-1 win over Chicago last weekend, the Union (5-3-2 overall) head into this weekend’s action tied for first place with New York in the Eastern Conference standings.
But it’s easy to pinpoint where they are losing points. All three of Philadelphia’s losses came in their last three road games, and the club didn’t score in any of those matches.
“Our last two away games, in terms of intensity, in terms of putting together a full 90-minute game, it’s far from what we are capable of,” Nowak said.
Of course, road struggles are not unique to Philadelphia. In fact, no team in the Eastern Conference has won more than one away game this season.
But Nowak has been trying to work with his coaching staff to figure out a way to buck the trend. In the offseason, the Union manager even met with specialists from other sports to get tips and suggestions on how to best prepare your team for away games.
“We’re still trying to find a good formula for that,” Nowak said. “I think it’s more mental than physical. Going on trips, getting prepared, getting food, getting the right stuff in your body — everything we take into consideration and try to make it right.”
While all road trips are difficult, Saturday’s game in Toronto represents a prime opportunity to pick up some points. Not only will they be in the same time zone, but the Union will also face a team that sits in seventh place in the East with a 2-4-6 mark. BMO Field is also less of a fortress than some other stadiums with Toronto sporting a less-than-stellar mark at home (2-1-4).
“It will be fantastic for us to win an away game,” said striker Carlos Ruiz, who will join Guatemala for the Gold Cup after Saturday’s contest. “For players who are leaving to go to their national team, it’s better to leave the team with a victory.”
Ruiz, who played five games for Toronto in 2008, is also eager to make up for the Union’s PPL Park ties vs. the Sounders and the Galaxy — ties he believes should have been wins, in part because how important it is to win at home in this league.
“We lost four points in those games,” Ruiz said. “Every time we have an opportunity to play away and we think we’re better than the other team, I think we have to win because we have to recover those points.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.