A little time off never hurts, and Peter Nowak’s squad is taking full advantage of a rare, 10 day rest period between matches.
It follows a grueling stretch that saw the Union play five games in 19 days, during which the team posted a 2-1-1 record in league play, along with an exhibition win over Chivas de Guadalajara.
For this young squad, it’s the longest break since the middle of June.
“We gave our guys a couple days off after San Jose; that’s a tough trip,” said Coach John Hackworth after training on Tuesday. “We had a fair amount of games in a short period of time, especially throwing in our Chivas Guadalajara game. So we came back and made sure that we started getting the guys back into the right conditioning, a little work on the physical side of things, but not much has changed.
"It’s not like we feel that we played poorly in San Jose. In fact, we felt like, for long stretches of the game, we played very well. So we just try to continue the same type of things we’ve done all year long and try to establish the same rhythm in preparation for Chivas this Saturday.”
Unfortunately for both clubs set to square off at PPL Park on Saturday, inconsistency has stood in the way of points all too often. In fact, Chivas USA’s season mirrors the Union’s inaugural campaign in a number of ways. Much like Philadelphia, the “Goats” have frequently enjoyed positive spells of possession this year, but the final product is often absent.
It’s a disappointing campaign for Martin Vasquez, his first as a head coach. His club has struggled to find an identity and currently sits on 25 points, 11 back from that final playoff spot and having won just two games in the last two months.
But despite their record, Chivas have rarely been blown out. Eight of their 13 losses on the year have come by just a single goal, including on July 3 when they battled the Union to a 1-1 draw at the Home Depot Center.
“They’re similar to us in that they play a good style of soccer,” said Hackworth. “In their game against Kansas City over the weekend, they had a majority of the play, the possession, and in the end they didn’t get the result. In our game out there, they did the same thing. We controlled early then they kind of took over in the first half.”
Chivas' offense struggled mightily in that Kansas City game. The “Rojiblancos” could only muster a single shot on goal, and that didn’t even come until the 93rd minute of the game. Only 92 Chivas shots have been on target this year, tied for second lowest among all MLS clubs.
Their attack isn’t entirely toothless, though. Justin Braun has bagged nine goals this year, and is always a threat to score. And former Galaxy striker Alan Gordon was recently voted MLS Player of the Week for his two assist performance in the team’s September 10 shutout of New England.
When it comes to scoring though, both Chivas and the Union like to “leave it late."
The Union have fired home 10 goals in the final 15 minutes of regulation this year, while Chivas have scored nine. That means the Union backline will need to put in a complete, 90 minute effort to walk away with three points.
“In (the first game against Chivas), in most games, we’ve started off well,” defender Jordan Harvey told philadelphiaunion.com. “We just need to finish the game well. In that game in particular, I just remember them being all over us late in the first half, and then some in the second half. It’s about maintaining the pressure that we put on when we start the game. And being at home, with the fans at our back, I think we can do this.”
Though Chivas like to score late, they also concede late. They’ve given up eight goals in the final 15 minutes of regulation, compared to just four goals conceded by the Union.
Another telling statistic is the first 45 minutes of each match. Both teams are undefeated when going into halftime with the lead.
But when trailing at the half, it’s another story. Chivas have trailed seven times going in the second half, losing every single one of those matches. The Union have trailed at halftime nine times this season, managing two wins, six losses, and one draw in that scenario.
Said Hackworth, “We know that we have to be able to break them down with our ball movement, with our mobility, to find ways to get entry into the final third and hopefully create chances and finish those. But, at the same time, we have to be patient when they get their possession and rhythm going. We have to make sure we don’t give up any penetrating balls, or opportunities in our defensive third, so it’s a little bit of a tactical chess match. You have two teams who like to have the ball a lot.”
Playoff hopes are fading fast for Philadelphia. 12 points back with six matches left to play, it’s still mathematically possible to get in. But the window of opportunity is closing quickly.
Despite the grim outlook, Hackworth says there’s no reason to alter the club's approach, tactically or mentally.
“No, we don’t want to change anything," he said. "We feel like we have established a type of soccer, the way we play. What we want to do is try to limit the mistakes we’re making, and that we have made in the past. We feel like there’s a lot left to play for. We have six great games coming up, and we feel like this is a great opportunity to prove ourselves.”