Union revel in the underdog role, but working on doing the same when playing as the favorite
On the Tuesday night airing of the Union’s weekly show, “The 90th Minute,” defender Amobi Okugo served as guest and put a lot of things in perspective.
The one interesting thing that Okugo mentioned was that it seemed as if his teammates play better when they are tasked as underdogs in upcoming matches.
“The game against Kansas City we were more of the underdogs and I feel like we feed off that role,” Okugo said. “Against Toronto and D.C. United, teams that are below us in the standings…I feel like sometimes we go into the game almost expecting to win, instead of doing the work on field [to ensure a win].”
If that’s true, if Okugo’s belief is the case then expect one wild ride when the Union face Montreal on Saturday (2 p.m, Comcast SportsNet).
In addition to September's 1-0 win in Kansas City, there have been other instances this season in which the Union has gone either on the road or stayed within the confines of PPL Park and pulled vital points out of a match.
Think late heroics against Vancouver – in Vancouver.
Think about the month of June and the three goals that propelled the Union to three points in Columbus. Tack on three more goals in a 3-0 win over New York at home a few weeks later.
What do these matches have in common?
All of them (and a few more) are games in which the Union were perceived as perhaps a lesser opponent, but proved otherwise – in grand style.
“We are certainly a team that has a little edge to us and like to have that chip on our shoulder and that likes to read things about how we aren’t going to be successful,” said Union manager John Hackworth, Wednesday. “It certainly goes a long way into firing these guys up. When you tell them they can’t do something, they certainly try to rise to the occasion. On the other hand, I do think we are a team that needs to learn how to deal with that role of being a favorite.”
And how does the Union go about doing that?
“That’s experience, that’s maturity that’s just having been in those positions,” Hackworth continued. “Really understanding them and dealing with them the right way. I would say we didn’t deal [with the role] that great in D.C., but the one thing I think people have to understand is that your opponent plays a huge part in it.”
Montreal certainly will as they too hope to obtain points coming into the match on short rest. The Impact have a Wednesday night West Coast tilt against Los Angeles (10:30 p.m., watch via MLS Live) before returning to Stade Saputo to face the Union.
“We just need to change our mindset as a group of players,” Okugo said. “You have guys like Conor [Casey], [Brian Carroll] and Jeff [Parke] that bring it every day and know what to expect because they’ve been there before. We as younger guys need the games and need to take pride in our abilities and know that we can come into a stadium whether it’s home or away and punish teams – especially when we have the opportunity to do so."
Union will need to rely on each other entering this match as underdogs by virtue of being the road team. Earlier in the season, in Montreal the Union suffered a 5-3 defeat but in the rematch at PPL Park in August, the club battled to a scoreless draw.
“This next game is going to be interesting for both of us,” Hackworth said on Saturday’s date with the Impact. “I think we have figured each other out a bit and I think both of us are going to be in a position where we need to get a result. The advantage for them is that they are at home which is a good thing, but I think it also puts a little more pressure on them as well.”
Bottom line is that whether it’s been as top dog or the underling, this season the Union has put itself in prime position to book its second playoff berth in the club’s short history.
It’s a feat that’s not over yet with a collective out to ensure that at the end of the day they are among the top dogs going after the title.
It continues Saturday against Montreal.
What are your thoughts on the Union’s underdog role? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org