CHESTER, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union players and coaches know the odds are stacked against them heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
But even with their playoff hopes flickering, they’re comforted by a belief many of them have acquired during their careers: Crazier things have happened.
So although the Union need to beat Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park on Saturday (3 pm ET; NBCSN) and have Houston and New England both lose on Sunday to make the playoffs (a Houston draw will also probably be enough), they’re not ready to give up hope.
“I like that it means something, and I think that our players like that it means something,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “I told our players and staff earlier this week that I’ve faced, as a coach, many different scenarios that have been worse than the current scenario we’re faced with – both in World Cup qualifying [and] I was on Bob Bradley’s staff in the Confederations Cup and we had a scenario that seemed unbelievable.
"But the classic saying, ‘So you’re saying we have a chance,’ is one that we’ve used. And we’re in the same position right now.”
Union right back Sheanon Williams recalled a similar situation in which it looked like his US team was about to be eliminated from the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup. But after losing their first two games, the US won their third and final group-play contest, while relying on a couple of other results going their way, to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament.
“Me personally, I’ve been in much worse situations with teams having to win and get in and this and that happening,” Williams said. “I’ve definitely seen crazier things happen and coach Hackworth has reiterated that to our guys.”
Williams acknowledged the Union will, of course, have to take care of business themselves and beat a talented SKC team that is fighting for the Supporters’ Shield. But if that happens, he’s confident that Columbus and D.C. United will do what they can to win their final game and help out the Union.
“I don’t think any team just lays down and is going to let you into the playoffs,” Williams said. “I’m sure Columbus and D.C., regardless of their situation, will want to end their season in a positive way. Regardless of where they are in the standings, I think they’ll give the other two teams a pretty tough game.”
The Union wouldn’t need to rely on other teams if they didn’t blow a lead in Montreal last week. And it’s hard for Hackworth not to think about some other points they gave away earlier in the season.
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At the same time, the Union manager feels fortunate his team is still alive going into the final weekend, which was only made possible when Houston lost to the Red Bulls this past Sunday.
“I’m thankful that I’ve gone through those scenarios where I felt the room and ceiling was caving in and there was no way out,” Hackworth said. “Yet we found a way out. And every time you do that as a coach, it instills that belief that as long as you have hope and as long as you’re playing for something, it’s massive.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.