The little things add up.
A clearance off the goal line here; a monster save in traffic there and all of a sudden those little intangibles get guys to buy in and believe.
That’s what Chris Albright believes.
And it’s traits he'll tell you this year’s Union team has. He’s been a part of playoff teams and even MLS Cup winning teams in the past and truly feels that the corps assembled here in Philadelphia harness the same quality.
“I think we’ve had a pretty good team mentality all year,” said Albright. “But at this point, it is really about individual guys making plays. The more little matchups each player wins individually, as a team you are probably going to win the game. That's really the case with this time of the year; it comes down to guys making those little plays. Whether it is a block off the goal line, or a great save, or a guy going out and scoring a hat trick, those are the things that separate teams at this time of the season.”
Albright knows this from over 15 seasons in the league with five different clubs. He primarily was on the roster of a Galaxy team that was dominant since the turn of the century, winning four MLS titles with Albright, the three-time MLS All-Star, a part of two (2002, 2005). To him, there is a right formula for success and based on his comments, you can ascertain that the Union has that in this season’s group.
“I think if you look at the teams that have won it, your nucleus is American,” said Albright. “That nucleus comes from both young Americans and some guys that have been there before. Then you sprinkle in some talent, and some guys that can change the game. Maybe add some flair, whether that is from South or Central America, Europe – the face of the league is kind of changing now. But that is what the [underlying] formula has been, and I don’t see it changing in the near future.”
The one positive going into these last five matches for the Union is that defensively the team is healthy and complete with a back four of central defenders in Amobi Okugo, Jeff Parke and equipped with speed down the flanks courtesy of Sheanon Williams out right and Raymon Gaddis on the left. Also, the inclusion of a versatile player like Brazilian midfielder-defender Fabinho has the ability to attack from the flanks, but has that mentality to defend.
With much of the Union’s game coming out of that third of the field, this is a calming fact for a defensive player like Albright who strongly believes that it’s up to the defense to set the standard -- continuing Friday night against a tough Sporting Kansas City collective (8 p.m., NBC Sports).
“Absolutely,” Albright agreed. “We have been good defensively. I think our back four is something that we can always count on. Not to say that there are not guys on the field, but as a whole if you can count on your back four to keep you in games then you are going to be there; you are going to have a chance to separate and have someone else make a play.”
Adversity has always been a part of the sport of soccer. Earlier this week, Union manager John Hackworth referred to it as “a cruel game.” During the Galaxy’s MLS Cup title run in 2005, Los Angeles qualified as the fourth and final seed in the West, peaked at the right time and captured a championship.
Given the Union’s current predicament such a notion might seem lofty. The point however is that it’s been done before.
No one knows that perhaps better on this year’s club than Chris Albright.
“It is really about from what I can remember was really keeping the zero in the back; that was a formula of how I really won my MLS Cup,” said Albright. “You have to give your offense confidence by showing that defensively you are doing everything in your power to keep a clean sheet. [During my time with the Galaxy], watching guys like Landon Donovan, Carlos Ruiz, and guys like Roy Lassiter make plays, I remember having a mentality in the back that if you are able to keep the zero then you have a chance.”
You've read Albright's solid points; what do you think? Leave a message in the comments below.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org