CHESTER, Pa. – A week ago, the Philadelphia Union left Canada after surrendering a franchise-worst five goals in an ugly defeat to the Montreal Impact.
The Union (5-5-3) are now back in Canada for a Saturday contest against Toronto FC (1-7-4) at BMO Field (6 pm ET, TSN in Canada/watch on MLS Live in US) – and they know exactly what they need to correct.
“The bottom line for us is we’ve got to be a better team defensively in all areas,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “Our backline certainly takes a lot of pride in that and we have to improve. But it’s our midfield too. We have to do it collectively.”
Despite earning back-to-back shutouts against the Chicago Fire earlier in the month, the Union have allowed 11 goals in five league games in May, including five to the Impact and four to the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 15. They also let the amateur Ocean City Nor’easters score a game-tying goal in the 91st minute in Tuesday’s US Open Cup win.
Currently, the Union rank last in the Eastern Conference in goals allowed (23) and second-to-last in the league, behind only Chivas USA.
“I would be lying to you if I told you I was happy with our last couple of performances,” Hackworth said.
But the Union manager added that the team isn’t leaking goals only because of the backline, and he expressed confidence in his four defensive starters: center backs Amobi Okugo and Jeff Parke and fullbacks Ray Gaddis and Sheanon Williams.
Barring injury or suspension, the foursome has played together in every game this season. And that doesn’t look like it will change any time soon following the recent trades of top defensive backups Bakary Soumare and Gabriel Farfan.
“I’m not really worried about the backline,” Okugo said. “As a defender, you take pride in limiting chances. We were doing that well in the beginning of the season. We kind of got away from that. We’ve just got to back to the film and just be more accountable, communicate more and just do the little things.
“Individually, all of us are really good. It’s just making sure we’re connected as a back four together.”
One of the Union’s main struggles has been bottling up elite scorers. The most recent example came last weekend when Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio had a first-half hat trick to surge into a tie with Union striker Jack McInerney for the MLS Golden Boot lead.
With that in mind, the Union will be especially mindful of Robert Earnshaw, who scored in a 1-1 draw with Philly at PPL Park on April 13. Earnshaw currently has five goals on the year – although he hasn’t found the back of the net since the last time Toronto played the Union.
“The last time he was here, he scored on a clearance,” Okugo said. “He’s always ready to pounce on every opportunity, so we’ve got to be aware of him.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.