CHESTER, Pa. – As soon as Saturday’s game in New England ended, Philadelphia Union winger Danny Cruz began to plot out his plans for the extended two-week break until Philly’s next game.
It didn’t take him long to figure it out.
“I can tell you 100 percent what I’m going to do,” Cruz (above) told MLSsoccer.com. “I want to work on finishing and take the next two weeks and really focus on that.”
He won’t be alone.
With the Union off until Sept. 15 when they travel north of the border to take on Toronto FC, much of the attention will focus on their biggest weakness: putting the ball into the net.
They’ve scored only three times over their last six games, a stretch that effectively knocked them out of playoff contention. And none of those goals came from an attacking player.
How do they fix that glaring problem?
“It’s the toughest question in the sport,” Union manager John Hackworth said during his weekly press conference on Wednesday. “No matter what, we have to do a better job of executing in front of goal. All you can do is work at it, prove it and make sure guys feel good about the work they put in so they have a little bit of confidence going into the next game.”
More specifically, Hackworth said he is paying close attention to who’s putting the ball into the net during practice, which could dictate who he decides to play in Toronto.
Call it a friendly competition.
“This week, we are tracking every single goal scored in training,” Hackworth said. “Those stats aren’t going to lie. So going into next week, we’ll have a pretty good idea who is finding the back of the net on a consistent basis for our team.”
The Union manager said players are also being rewarded for those training goals, and that the extra attention on finishing will be a major point of emphasis over the final nine games of the season, even if the playoffs are no longer a realistic possibility.
“Any time you go through droughts, it becomes more mental,” the Union manager said. “We know if we get the part in front of the goal [down], we’ll be a tough team to beat.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.