CHESTER, Pa. -- What an incredible turnaround.
After scoring just eight goals in their first 12 league matches, the Philadelphia Union tallied four in a 4-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City last Saturday. They followed with a five-goal outburst in a 5-2 victory over the Harrisburg City Islanders in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday.
If you’re counting, that’s nine goals in the last two matches.
Under interim manager John Hackworth, the Union appear to be playing looser and more aggressively than ever. They’ve clicked in all facets.
They’re playing with self-belief, creating chances, and more importantly, finishing those chances.
And it has been fun.
“I think we’re scoring early, which obviously helps with confidence,” said forward Jack McInerney, who scored the Union’s second goal in the ninth minute, his third in two matches. “I think the guys are relaxed and feel good about themselves. We’re putting ourselves in good spots on the field and guys are putting the ball in the net. We’re not afraid to take chances.”
Four different Philadelphia players scored against the City Islanders – Lionard Pajoy had a brace while McInerney, Freddy Adu and Gabriel Gomez added one goal each. Antoine Hoppenot created a scoring chance and was fouled in the box, setting up Pajoy’s penalty kick in the 69th minute.
It’s been a team effort on offense.
“I think we’re starting to click and guys have so much confidence in each other,” said Hoppenot. “When you win and score a lot of goals, it carries over. I think we’re coming in these matches expecting to score. We don’t get satisfied with just one or two. We want more. We’re passing the ball very well and guys are finishing.
“We don’t want this to end. We want to keep it going into Houston on Saturday and then into L.A. and on from there.”
Midfielder Brian Carroll has been to the playoffs in all nine of his previous seasons in MLS. Though the Union got off to a 2-8-2 start and managed just eight goals, he understood how quickly it could change.
“It’s just how it goes sometimes in this league,” said Carroll, who donned the captain’s armband against the City Islanders because defender Carlos Valdes was serving a one-game suspension for receiving a red card against D.C. United in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. “We weren’t scoring goals and things weren’t going our way. We had some changes in the organization and fortunately for us, things got turned around the last two games with nine goals. They can come in bunches and hopefully, we can keep it moving ahead in the matches to come.”
Hackworth said getting that all-important early goal has paid big dividends the last two matches.
“We’re trying to make sure we are putting ourselves in positions higher up the field to win it,” Hackworth said. “We can go to the goal, and that is a big, big difference. You know, to me, that means everything. I think you continue to see the play, like Jack Mac tonight. He’s harassing the center backs. He’s allowing us to step as he’s putting them under pressure. Pajoy did a great job, Freddy -- that front three has been really good for us.”
While the nine goals in two matches has represented a major turnaround, the Union want to maintain this edge in the matches to come.
“We have to keep it going,” said Adu. “We found something here. We need to bottle it and keep it going for as long as possible.”
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