SO THE UNION hasn't exactly gnashed its terrible teeth and we're still waiting for its terrible roar, but on Wednesday night against Schalke 04, the club did release some of its beasts — or demons, depending on how you look at it.
For a club that hadn't mustered more than 10 shots on target in its previous two matches, the Union unleashed eight on Schalke, and even scored a pair, the game-winner from the run of play.
Now take into account that it was a friendly and the Union showcased only a handful of its starting lineup for a limited time, but its efforts left many wondering where this team, Wednesday night's offensive-minded, take advantage of every opportunity collective has been for the past eight matches?
"We were encouraged by the fact that we had four shots early on in the game, that's doubling our normal output," joked assistant John Hackworth. "We've said it all along that we think our offense is a little better than what we've shown in recent weeks."
With a red hot Red Bull New York team coming to PPL Park on Sunday, this may be a chance for the Union to make believers once more out of the growing horde of supporters who think this season's group is a bust. A hungry, but depleted, RBNY side will visit Chester on Mother's Day. The importance of using this match to right the season is paramount, and against an opponent that few Union fans respect (considering they are commonly referred to as the Pink Cows, I'd say it's a safe assumption), this is the perfect time to show some pep after a win against one of Germany's premier clubs.
"This game is so important, they're our main rivals," said Hackworth. "I don't think they like us and I don't think we like them. What more do you need [to get motivated]? You know, they're close to us and are ahead of us in the table so we are actually very hungry to go and get a result Sunday."
Before RBNY forward Thierry Henry came up lame, he was scoring goals and busting up corner flags with reckless abandon. Henry, who leads RBNY with nine goals is out with a right hamstring injury. Now you would think RBNY would miss production like that, except its now coming it collectively as a team. Kenny Cooper has eight, including his game-winner over Houston on Wednesday.
RBNY coach Hans Backe is keeping it simple with the players he's put in the starting lineup, starting with rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara. Joel Lindpere and the stellar play of Dax McCarty have held down the middle of the park, and defensively, names like Rafa Marquez have been replaced by Brandon Barklage and Tyler Ruthven.
"It's phenomenal these types of games for the young guys, and getting these types of competitive minutes," Backe said. "It's important for our team for our roster for the future for these guys to show that they can step up against good teams."
By all accounts, RBNY is walking and talking with a large amount of swagger. Coming off an impressive performance against Schalke, can the Union pop RBNY's balloon Sunday on stage for a sellout crowd and in front of a national TV audience?
Tom Petty was right. Waiting truly is the hardest part.
Qatar wins Raúl sweepstakes
Much of the talk leading up to Wednesday's friendly was that for Spanish superstar striker Raúl Gonzalez Blanco, it was to be his last match in a Schalke uniform. Raúl, 35, has already expressed his desire to play somewhere else besides Europe and weighed MLS and clubs in both China and Qatar as options.
Well it looks as if Qatar and its reported $12 million offer along with an ambassador role in advance of the 2022 FIFA World Cup was too good for Raúl to pass up. Sources told the Daily News that Raúl's people are set to announce he'll be taking his talents to the Middle East. The source revealed that, while the Union spoke "at length" to Raúl and agent Ginés Carvajal, the ex-Real Madrid great had already decided Qatar was his next destination. Union officials declined to comment, but they won't have to, considering it won't be making the announcement its supporters hoped.
Zach MacMath is listed as questionable on the injury report with concussion-like symptoms after the 1-0 loss to Seattle last Saturday. He looks to be a game-time decision, but is showing signs of improvement, according to Hackworth.
"I was talking to Zach and he felt good, so hopefully we'll see him back," said Hackworth. "You know it's just hard to tell right now, we're just trusting our medical staff. Again we are just going to evaluate it day by day and see if Zach can come back."
Backups Chase Harrison and Chris Konopka are both available; judging by his play on Wednesday, Konopka might be the smarter replacement.
"Chris Konopka really kept us in the game. He had a number of good saves," Hackworth said after the win over Schalke. "[Especially] on one vs. one moments that are critical for us for still being in [the match]." n