Union hoping to become latest MLS team to write another chapter in league lore

Union isn't first club with backs against the wall in run to playoffs

Le Toux goal vs. SKC, Nielsen upset

Photo Credit: 
Greg Carroccio

After hearing the tale of one of Major League Soccer’s biggest Cinderella stories, Amobi Okugo’s interest piqued and a look of marvel washed across his face.

The Union defender then wondered if in fact his club could perhaps be next in line.

“I feel like if that was us and we were in that same situation, we would do the same thing,” Okugo said. “I really think we would totally play to the fullest because with our backs against the wall we always play better.”

The story Okugo heard was the unprecedented run to an MLS Cup crown that was the Colorado Rapids in 2010. Entering MLS' playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the East that season, the Rapids battled the entire way, most poignant behind a defeat of the No. 2 seeded Crew, 5-4 in penalty kicks in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. That win sent Colorado to the championship, held that year in frigid Toronto. It was a story in which despite entering as a lower seed (mind you, Colorado made it into the playoffs with a 12-8-10 record that season and finished as the fifth best team in the Western Conference -- on points), the Rapids shocked the masses as underdog in the majority of their matches.

In Philadelphia, the current state is very similar in that this club still has a chance to make the playoffs, but are very much the underdog from here on out. This is of course barring results ending up in the Union's favor after the dust settles on the final weekend of MLS' 18th season. As it stands, the Union must defeat a very tough Sporting Kansas City squad on Saturday (3 p.m., purchase tickets) in addition to needing both Houston (vs. D.C. United, 1:30 p.m.) and New England (vs. Columbus, 4 p.m.) to come up short in their matches on Sunday.

Read:  Taking a look at the scenarios that secure the Union's playoff berth

However, with the mindset of guys like Okugo’s and others in the locker room hopeful for ticket to the postseason (barring some assistance of course), Union manager John Hackworth was pleased that this was his central defender’s way of thinking going into this weekend.

“That kind of attitude allows you to have a confidence about what you are doing,” Hackworth said during his weekly press conference Wednesday. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens on Saturday but I like that [mentality] and I am really glad I have guys in this locker room that say those sorts of things.”

It’s been a topsy-turvy season, but one that has culminated to the best statistically in the Union’s four year history. The club has already as amassed more wins in club history (12), including the most road wins and for the first time this season has a pair of double digit goal scorers in forwards Jack McInerney (11) and Conor Casey (10).

“We have a really good group of guys in this locker room and I like that this game Saturday means something,” said Hackworth. “I like that the players like that it means something. I told our players and staff earlier this week that there have been many different scenarios I’ve face as a coach that are far worse than our current scenario. I’m talking in [FIFA] World Cup qualifying when I was on [former U.S. head coach] Bob Bradley’s staff during the 2010 Confederations Cup we had a scenario that seemed unbelievable but it was one of those ‘so your saying there’s a chance’ type of moments and it was one that we rallied around.”

Hackworth added:

“We are in that position right now. And we need a little help from some teams on Sunday but we have to take care of business on Saturday. We have to get three points and we have to beat a very good Sporting Kansas City team to do so. That allows to us to focus in and take care of what we can. We can’t worry about anything else.”

Point is that this current Union story -- like the story Hackworth told reporters and the tale told to Okugo, is an anecdote that has been written before.

However in this case the Union are also included in a chance to write that next chapter.

What are your thoughts on the Union’s chances? Leave a comment below.

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com