CHESTER, Pa. – Considering the Philadelphia Union have not won a league game at home in four months, you might expect interim manager Jim Curtin to be entirely focused on snapping that skid when the Union host the New York Red Bulls at PPL Park on Wednesday night (6:55 pm ET, ESPN2, match preview).
But with another game looming at Chicago on Saturday and time running out for the Union (4-8-7) to make a run at the playoffs, Curtin is also looking at the big picture.
“Everyone says don’t look at the table and focus one game at a time and all of the clichés,” Curtin said. “But you see a week where it’s New York and Chicago, and they’re huge games – both of them. We’re going to have to do something this club hasn’t done this year, which is win multiple games in a row. At some point, we need to go on a run that’s a real run – not just win one here, lose one, win two, lose two. It has to be real upward movement, because we dug a big hole, and we have to get out of it.”
It looked like a near-certainty that the Union would finally win a home game last Saturday when they led the Colorado Rapids 3-1 with less than 15 minutes remaining. Instead, Michael Lahoud was whistled for a foul that drew both a penalty kick and a red card, and the Rapids scored two late goals to salvage a 3-3 draw – all this before Amobi Okugo was issued a red card for jabbering with referee Storin Soica while walking off the field.
Now the Union are without both Lahoud and Okugo – their starting tandem in the defensive midfield Saturday – against the Red Bulls, and Curtin is left to ponder how to help his players close out games.
“Learning how to win is a hard thing,” the manager said. “I’d like to see 1-0 wins at home – those games that maybe aren’t the most beautiful to the fans. But good teams grind out 1-0 wins. … You need that. Every championship team, and you can look back through MLS, have won a lot of games 1-0.”
Shutting out a Red Bulls team that features the league’s leading scorer (Bradley Wright-Phillips) and leading assist man (Thierry Henry) would be no small feat, especially coming four days after the Union gave up three goals.
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But Curtin was enthused by the play of center back Ethan White, who made his season debut Saturday, and Philadelphia's defense should be bolstered by the return of Maurice Edu, who served a red-card suspension against the Rapids.
“There’s two ways this New York game can go,” Curtin said. “You can feel sorry for yourselves or you can get up off the mat. It’s a real swing game. The season can go either way – it’s that big of a game with New York. We’re overdue for a victory at home. The guys know that, and they feel the pressure. It’s time to get a win.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.