IT HAS BEEN hard to use the word swagger in reference to the Union, but it has recently been evident in that locker room.
It's not cockiness (well, depending on your approach), but confidence, exuded by players and the technical staff.
"We discussed this week in our locker room that we shouldn't be playing any different whether we are at home or away," said manager Peter Nowak. "For some reason in away matches we play far from what we are capable of. So we stressed the importance of not losing [our tenacity] whether we play home or away."
Carlos Ruiz already has said that anything less than three points in Toronto tomorrow would be an embarassment. He told reporters at PPL Park on Wednesday that it wasn't just his mindset but the collective disposition of the club.
"We know the mistakes we made in the past, and because of those mistakes we lost chances to earn three points against Los Angeles and Seattle," Ruiz said following what he described as a "great practice" on Wednesday. "I think we are better than [Toronto], and I see this game as a way to get three points."
The Union may have just eight goals in 10 matches, but it has allowed just seven, the second best mark in the league besides Real Salt Lake (two), which has played less matches (eight).
Put it into further perspective and you'll see the Union is tied for first in the East with 17 points. New York (4-2-5) and its star-laden cast also has 17 points with a game against Vancouver tomorrow. Houston (3-4-5) is in creep mode with 14 points and plays host to Dallas. By comparison, however, in MLS' perennially stronger Western Conference, the Union's point total would sit in a four-way tie looking up at Dallas (21 points) and Los Angeles (26).
"We know we are a good team, and we know we have the capabilities to compete with any team in this league," said defender Jordan Harvey. "Guys know their roles and we feel confident that every player, regardless of time on the field, knows how to do their job effectively."
ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES
As the summer heats up, so do the international tournaments. The biennial CONCACAF Gold Cup opens June 5 followed by the Copa America (South American Cup) in July. With the Gold Cup comes the departure of Carlos Ruiz, as his native Guatemala qualified for the first time back in April. The impending loss of Ruiz (three goals) has prompted Peter Nowak to make some changes going forward, including what looks to be the imminent signing of Serbian trialist Veljko Paunovic. Paunovic, 33, comes with a wealth of international experience, playing with top clubs in Spain, Germany and Yugoslavia, but hasn't played professionally since 2008. Paunovic turned down a 1-year deal from Red Bull New York last season and has been on Nowak's radar ever since. Union officials won't confirm, but a source close to the situation told Union Meeting that a deal is in the works to bring Paunovic into the fold.
Also with the Copa America on the horizon, the Union could lose as many as three of its Colombia-based players in Faryd Mondragon, Roger Torres and Carlos Valdes. While it's unlikely for the first two (a Union official said Torres isn't on coach Hernan Gomez' radar and it's a stretch that Mondragon, 39, will get called) a callup for Valdes is almost certain. Gomez has yet to announce his squad for the 12-team tournament, but should it include any of the aformentioned, Nowak said plans are already in place.
"We have no confirmation that any of them will go as it's still a couple months away, but we believe it could happen and we're prepared," Nowak said. "There is no doubt in my mind that Carlos is one of the best defenders in this league and his pedigree doesn't go unnoticed. But we have options; either of the two Farfans [Michael and Gabriel] move to the back and we still have [Juan Diego Gonzalez]."
Nowak added that Zac MacMath is ready should he have to step in for Mondragon. Here's a hypothetical: say Mondragon and Valdes get called up and Colombia shocks the masses by earning a berth into either the July 23 third-place match or the July 24 final in Buenos Aires. That would likely mean Mondragon and Valdes - two defensive stalwarts - would miss the July 23 match against Spanish Cup champion Real Madrid at Lincoln Financial Field (9 p.m.).
The mind wanders . . .
ODDS AND ENDLINES
Stefani Miglioranzi (groin strain) is out for tomorrow's match, but Peter Nowak said he should resume training next week. Danny Mwanga's shoulder and hamstring injury won't keep him out of the lineup against Toronto, as Nowak confirmed "he's all in." Not the case for Amobi Okugo, who was fitted with a boot on his sprained left ankle and is expected to miss the next 2-to-3 weeks . . .
Yesterday, the Union announced the inaugural "River Cup" charity match, which will feature members of the front office vs. select players picked by the Sons of Ben. The match, to be held on July 15 (6:30 p.m.), benefits Chester City United, with all proceeds from the $10 gate going to the local youth outfit. Pleased to announce that yours truly will be playing for the Sons of Ben squad. Wanted to thank those guys for the inclusion; it's an honor. While I am not looking forward to rockin' a powder-blue kit (doesn't really accentuate the skin tone), I am excited to tear it up with those guys for a great cause . . .
Despite missing three matches for R&R following a minor car accident, the royal wedding and a Manchester United tribute match, Los Angeles midfielder David Beckham has somehow managed to lead MLS in assists (six), three of which are game winners.
SHOTS ON GOAL
Union (5-3-2, 17 points) at Toronto FC (2-4-6, 12 points)
When: Tomorrow, 12:30 p.m.
Where: BMO Field, Toronto
TV: Comcast SportsNet
On the web: Streaming online at MLSSoccer.com
For kicks: The Union is looking at this game as a legit attempt to grab what has been an elusive three road points. Toronto comes off a 1-1 tie against Colorado, but hasn't won since May 7, in a 2-1 victory over Houston . . . Union forward Carlos Ruiz on Toronto: "After [Dwayne] DeRosario left [for New York] they haven't been the same team. We lost points to LA and to Seattle and we see this game as a way to get some of those back" . . . The Union will have its fill, however, in a tough Toronto offense fueled by forwards Maicon Santos (three goals, one assist) and Joao Plata (two goals, two assists), the 5-2 Ecuadorean wunderkind who is listed as the shortest player in MLS. By comparison, the Union's Roger Torres is 5-5 . . . With the CONCACAF Gold Cup beginning next week, tomorrow serves as the farewell match for Ruiz (Guatemala). Toronto will lose defender Dicoy Williams (Jamaica) and Canadian midfielder Julian de Guzman, who will open his Gold Cup campaign against the United States on June 7.
INJURY REPORT (as of Tuesday)
Out for the Union: Thorne Holder, GK (concussion); Amobi Okugo, MF (left ankle sprain); Zach Pfeffer, MF (appendectomy). Questionable: Stefani Miglioranzi, MF (right groin strain). Probable: Danny Mwanga, FW (left hamstring strain); Carlos Ruiz, FW (right hip flexor strain)
Out for Toronto FC: Elbekay Bouchiba, MF (right knee surgery recovery); Jacob Peterson, MF (left hamstring). Questionable: Alan Gordon, FW (adductor strain); Gianluca Zavarise, MF (adductor strain); Tony Tchani, MF (right hamstring).
DID YOU KNOW . . .
That in both meetings last season, the Union won and lost matches to Toronto FC by a 2-1 final?