It's all about the preparation for a tough slate of matches on the Union calendar

Union readies for difficult four-game stretch starting Sunday

Gaddis vs RBNY

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USA Today Sports Images

If the Union were ever looking for a challenge, well, here it is:

New York, Dallas, at Real Salt Lake, at Houston

Those are the next four games on the Philadelphia Union calendar.

It begins at home against rival New York (5 p.m., Purchase tickets) a team the Union have not defeated since 2011.

In fact, you'd have to go back to the 1-0 result at PPL Park for the last victory against the Red Bulls.

The stretch continues in Chester with FC Dallas, a team that the Union have never defeated. Philadelphia has battled for two straight draws against Schellas Hyndman's team.

The squad then hits the road, playing Real Salt Lake and Houston on short turnaround. It's an opportunity to earn points for the first time ever at both Rio Tinto and BBVA Compass Stadium.

The next four teams on the schedule are all in playoff position.

View: Full Philadelphia Union schedule

"We think it's going to be a very difficult stretch, maybe one of the most difficult stretches of the season that we'll have," manager John Hackworth told reporters at his midweek press conference. "Particularly with how good Dallas has been this year, they're probably a bit of a surprise this year in the league. They're a top team right now. New York is not a surprise. The quality that they have is apparent to everyone. Then you have to go on the road and take on Salt Lake. You're dealing with not only one of the best teams in the league but you're playing at elevation. Then you turn around and go to probably the hottest place in the hottest month of the year to play a team that has an unbelievable home record. This is going to be a huge set of games for us, these next four."

The quirks in the MLS schedule are exemplified by the July road trip.

It will be the second year in a row that the team will begin the month with back-to-back road games on short rest.

Last season, the Union lost 2-1 in Houston on June 30th, then won 2-1 in Los Angeles on the Fourth of July.

This time, the team will start at elevation before traveling South.

"It's a little different, because having Houston as the second leg of that trip makes it significantly harder," Hackworth explained. "Their home record, and the fact that you're playing in the heat and humidity on a very small field, one of the smallest fields in the league, it's a game changer. So that's different. (Last year) we played Houston first and then went to Los Angeles. You go to LA and you're playing a different style and we were playing a night game, I think we had guys wearing jackets on the sideline during that game just because it was a little cooler. That makes such a big difference when you're playing two games back to back like that."

One of the positives is the Union's road record of 3-3-2. The club has earned 11 of its 22 points on the road this year, beating Colorado, DC, and Chicago in the process. That good form on the road will be tested in Salt Lake City and Houston.

Additionally, the recent 3-0 win over Columbus put the team over the .500 mark at PPL Park. Philadelphia improved to 3-2-2 at home and has lost just one game in Chester since March 2.

"I talk about the parity in the league all the time," Hackworth added. "We're going to have to go through these four games and face really good opponents, but we've done that this year so far. It hasn't been smooth sailing the whole way. I like where we are and I like the way we've rebounded from adversity and from poor performances and we've kind of grinded out results at times. We've been a tough team on the road, so I like our chances. I'm really glad we have those first two here at home."

You've seen the club's upcoming slate, what do you think? Leave a message in the comments below.

Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at k.kinkead@hotmail.com