Union to rely on effort, grit vs. MLS champ Rapids


Friday, June 3, 2011
Posted: 12 p.m.

By Ryan Bright
CSNPhilly.com Contributor

Fresh off their most dominating win of the season, a 6-2 road trouncing of Toronto FC last Saturday, the Union are riding high above the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Eleven games into the season, life is good for the second-year club.

Yet, with that success comes a need for validation. And while a win in their upcoming contest against the reigning MLS champion Colorado Rapids on Saturday could be viewed as confirmation of their standing, coach Peter Nowak made clear that the journey to the playoffs is long and that there are no tests and no proving grounds -- just potential points.

During a season like this, you dont need to analyze every game and say who is better and who is not, said Nowak. We fight for three points and we fight for the best spot going forward. This is where we are, this is who are we and this is who we play. We work for three points.

Nowak added that whoever his team plays, their history or record is meaningless. The Union are out to control what they can control: provide more effort than the opposition and let the chips fall from there.

When I talk about soccer being a passion game, the most important thing is to be us and be who we are, said Nowak, when asked about his team matching up with the Rapids. We might be not as talented as other teams but we have a decent chance to have a good result during the game if we control the things we can control.

While effort and focus is something the Union can control, the Rapids have a grasp of that same philosophy. With no high-powered names on their roster outside of the US National Teams Pablo Mastroeni, the Rapids won the MLS Cup on guts and effort. Led by three goals a piece from midfielders Jamie Smith and Jeff Larentowicz, the Rapids, with a record of 4-3-6, havent felt defeat in their last seven tries, posting six draws and one win.

They proved they can do it without anything extra stuff, said Nowak, talking about designated players and high-priced signings. They dont have the greatest players, but they have a will to win and are training the right way. They proved they can win a championship without a highly talented group. They proved it to the whole league that you can pick a couple guys off of waivers, get guys here and there, have them come together and play good football.

Its going to be a very difficult game for us.

The Union gained some valuable road points in Toronto, while also kick starting a hobbled offense. In their past two contests, including a 2-1 home win over the Chicago Fire, the defensive-minded Union exploded for eight goals while only scoring six in their previous nine games.

Striker Danny Mwanga has led the charge, producing three goals to equal Carlos Ruiz for the team lead. Midfielder Justin Mapp has also come onto the scoring scene with two of his own to be named MLS Player of the Week.

What happened in Toronto, it is a good sign, said Nowak. What will happen in the future? Im not sure. We proved we could score different goals from different angles and positions.

Im very encouraged by the fact that these guys try to do better, they try to shoot from distance and they try to get more numbers in the box. Its very encouraging.

However, while the Union offense is starting to tick and the team is beginning to bring in some serious confidence, that didnt stop Nowak from running his team hard in practice during the week. The extra conditioning was partly due to the high altitude in Colorado and the other is not wanting his squad to get complacent.

More running, Nowak said when asked about getting physically ready. Colorado is the MLS Cup champion.
E-mail Ryan Bright at ryanbright13@gmail.com

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