Five set pieces showed how close the Union are to breaking through in an important facet of the game. The plays came in succession after the 25-minute mark of a 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday at PPL Park.
Three corner kicks didn't find Union players in the box and were, albeit shakily, cleared by Seattle. Then two throw-ins, which served as makeshift corners because of defender Sheanon Williams' ability to muscle the ball into the middle of the field, got the Union inches away from scoring.
The first saw Maurice Edu score a goal, only to have it called back because of a Union penalty. The second led to an Edu penalty kick that was saved by Seattle goalie Stefan Frei.
The missed opportunities didn't hurt the Union against the Sounders, but they could keep the club from back-to-back wins when Montreal (5-6-2) visits PPL Park on Saturday night.
The Union (5-10-3) sit one spot ahead of the Impact in the Eastern Conference standings, although Montreal has played five fewer matches.
"It's something we work on a lot in training. Has the execution been there in games? No, it hasn't been," Union head coach Jim Curtin said Tuesday. "We've improved defending them a little bit.
"But we need to really do better executing offensively on set pieces because you see that a lot of these games are decided by set-piece goals, one or two plays here and there in the box."
The Union could not capitalize on early set pieces against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday, and the result was a 5-1 loss. Curtin's team did not score until it was down three goals.
Putting the right service and a well-timed run together will be a major focus of the Union heading into the Montreal game, and for the rest of the season.
"I think we are close in that area," Williams said after practice Thursday. "We're just looking to create havoc in the box and need to do a little bit better to score."
MLS: Impact at Union
Saturday at 7 p.m., PPL Park, Chester.
Union record (home record): 5-10-3 (4-4-1)
Montreal record (road record): 5-6-2 (1-5-1)
Goals: Union, 20; Montreal, 17.
Goals against: Union, 30; Montreal, 21.
Last game: The Union beat the Seattle Sounders, the Western Conference's top team, 1-0 at PPL Park on Wednesday night. Montreal is coming off a 3-1 road loss to Toronto FC on Wednesday night.
Outlook: The Impact have played five fewer games than the Union because of a run to the final of the CONCACAF Champions League in April. But even in significantly fewer matches, Montreal has scored only three fewer goals than the Union this season... The Union are the only Major League Soccer team with 10 losses. But the Union earned a big bounce-back win Wednesday against Seattle after a 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy, its worst loss of the season, on Saturday. With the game-winning goal against Seattle, Union forward C.J. Sapong tied a franchise record by scoring in four consecutive games... Saturday will be Military Appreciation Night at PPL Park. Veterans will be honored on the field before the match, and there will be fireworks at the end of the night.
- Jesse Dougherty