IF THE UNION takes shots from distance, but only a handful of people are around to see it, did it actually happen?
Against Schalke on Wednesday night, the Union did it and did it often, exercising the freedom of unlimited substitutions and capitalizing on a young, hungry group looking to impress to beat the German giants, 2-1, in a friendly at PPL Park.
Credit a pair of rookies with the game-winner, as an overlapping run and cross in the box from defender Raymon Gaddis down the left flank was deflected and rolled to the feet of forward Chandler Hoffman in the 88th minute. Hoffman kept his shot low and across his body for his first goal in a Union uniform.
"Chandler is a hungry player. He knows how to score goals, and I knew if I just got that ball in the box, he had a really good chance of finishing it off," Gaddis said. "He just has that knack to score goals, and I knew regardless that you create most of your chances once the ball is in the box, so I wanted to put us in a position to have that chance, and Chandler took advantage of it."
More impressive were the chances. The Union finished with 22 shots, eight on goal, and ripped 11 shots in the first half alone - many from distance. The 7,464 supporters in attendance witnessed the Union players take to heart the message the technical staff has preached all season - taking advantage of every chance.
"We wanted to see this. We wanted to this out of these guys last weekend [against Seattle]," said Union assistant John Hackworth who took the reins in place of manager Peter Nowak. "Taking advantage of every chance was something our players obviously had in mind, and they took them tonight, which was great. We did a good job of stretching the defense, which is something we needed badly, and that was good for us and gives these guys a lot of motivation as we move forward."
The Union's first goal didn't come in the run of play. It arrived off a free kick from midfielder Keon Daniel that found the awaiting head of striker Lionard Pajoy in the 21st minute. The goal was Pajoy's second in all competitions with the club, and the second goal off a well-timed header into the box.
The goal was met with chants of "DO THAT ON SUNDAY!!" from the Sons of Ben in the River End, a reference to the Union's nationally televised Mother's Day showdown against Red Bull New York (12:30 p.m., ESPN2).
Schalke pulled level 20 minutes later when defender Sergio Escudero ripped a low howler from about 25 yards out that froze Union keeper Chase Harrison, who played the first half, before being replaced by Chris Konopka in the second half.
For now, the Union will savor this win, the players hoping that their newfound mindset will stick with them throughout the rest of this still-early 2012 campaign.
Schalke forward and Bundesliga leading scorer Klaas Jan Huntelaar was taken to Crozer-Chester Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with having concussion-like symptoms after colliding with Harrison in the first half. The severity of his injury was unknown, but Union trainer Paul Rushing said Huntelaar was released under the care of Schalke's medical team.
If serious, the injury would come at a bad time, as Huntelaar was set to join Holland's national team in advance of the European championships, which begin in June.
Chris Konopka looked to be the better goalkeeper in his minutes against Schalke. Konopka made four huge second-half saves. So, with starting goalkeeper Zac MacMath nursing a mild concussion and questionable for Sunday's match, did Konopka show he'd be the better fit? When asked, Konopka took the diplomatic approach. "That's obviously up to the coaches," Konopka said. "I feel that when I am needed, I'll be ready, and if that's against New York on Sunday, great, and if not that's great, too" . . .
Union midfielder Roger Torres has done light ball work as he tries to regain full motion in recovering from his sprained medial collateral ligament suffered in April. Rushing said Torres is "doing well, but is still working on his lateral movements. But I'd say he's right on schedule with the time frame we said he'd missed." Torres has missed 3 weeks of the 6- to 8-week time frame.