IT HAS been a short but tough stretch for manager John Hackworth and the Union that soon will be complete.
Tomorrow at 4 o'clock, Philadelphia (1-2-4) will wrap up its stretch of three games in 8 days when it hosts the Houston Dynamo (2-3-0) at PPL Park.
The Union is coming off a 2-1 road loss against New York, the Red Bulls' first win of the season. Hackworth saw his team fade in the second half and attributes the fatigue to the team's difficult schedule early in the year.
"It's awful tough," Hackworth said following his team's second loss of the season. "You could tell that we hit the wall in the second half. We had a lot of guys who had tired legs, and we definitely will have a few changes to get some fresh legs in there. This is always going to be a huge task to play these three games in this stretch and it's even a harder turnaround now from a Wednesday night to a Saturday afternoon game."
The Union will be matched against a Dynamo team that also has struggled to find the win column in April. After beginning the season 2-0, Houston has lost its last three matches while being outscored, 8-2.
After struggling with the New York offense in the second half Wednesday, Philadelphia will match up against a Houston team that was unable to record a single shot on target in its 2-0 loss to New England last Saturday.
Playing its third game in a week, the Union may look to rookie goaltender Andre Blake to give Zac MacMath a break after MacMath played in the previous two games. Hackworth thinks Blake, the first overall selection in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, will be ready for the challenge.
"I think if Andre's number gets called, he's going to be ready," Hackworth said. "He's already started two games for the Jamaican national team, and it's not a question about us wanting to give Andre minutes, but, at the same time, MacMath is playing so well. Andre is doing well, and I think we will see him sooner than later just because we don't want to push Zac so hard. The next stretch of games over the next month, we play three games in 8 days twice, and that does open up opportunities."
The Union has allowed five second-half goals in the previous four matches, a trend that defender Amobi Okugo would like to turn around quickly.
"It is just missed assignments and lack of communication, not staying with runners; simple stuff that we have to clean up," Okugo said. "It's a three-game stretch, and we have only gotten one point out of it, so we have a big game against Houston on Saturday."
To succeed against the Dynamo, the Union must keep an eye on forward Will Bruin, who leads Houston with three goals. Now in his fourth season with Houston, Bruin has tallied 28 goals on 241 shots in 92 games .
Neither team has won since March 15, when each earned 1-0 home wins.
"We have to recover and we have to regenerate and watch some game film to see if we can't put a team on the field on Saturday that can compete," Hackworth said. "Bottom line is that our soccer has been OK; our defending has been pretty poor."