They beat a really good team, they scored early against a stingy defense, they kept a shutout, and they kept a lead after blowing leads in two straight games.
Now they’re in the driver’s seat to finish second in the Eastern Conference. But now they face a different test: winning a game they are expected to win.
Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Toronto FC would surely love to spoil the Union’s week on Wednesday, just as they did to archrival Montreal on Saturday with Altidore’s 95th-minute equalizer in a 1-1 tie.
It’s been a woeful year for the Reds, mired in next-to-last place in the East (6-17-8, 26 points) after many years as a power. They will surely rise again, backed by the same wealthy ownership as the NHL’s Maple Leafs and NBA’s Raptors, but the work that’s needed for a revitalizing revamp likely won’t happen until the offseason.
So, for now, the big electronic billboard that towers over BMO Field near the entrance to the Canadian National Exhibition fairgrounds might as well be lit up with “THIS IS A TRAP GAME” when the Union get off the bus.
“You always are, as a coach, trying to guard against letdowns,” Union manager Jim Curtin said Tuesday. “You’re also guarding against never getting too high, and when things are going tough, the group to get too low. I think the maturity of our group, even with the young players, I think we’re past that.”
The Union (13-8-10, 49 points) will also be scoreboard watching on Wednesday. At the same time as their game, third-place Nashville (11-4-16, 49 points) visits last-place Cincinnati and fourth-place Orlando (12-8-11, 47 points) visits an 11th-place Columbus team that is on the verge of elimination.
Curtin’s team currently holds the first tiebreaker of total wins over Nashville and Orlando. With a home game against Cincinnati coming Sunday, the opportunity is there this week to keep the edge for good. But this isn’t the time of year for taking anything for granted.
“You don’t want to get caught looking ahead,” Curtin said. “You give the lesson that the table in our league doesn’t matter at this stage of the year in terms of anybody can still beat anybody.”
That turn of phrase of course grants that the whole premise is about the table. But you get the idea.
“We’re going to go after every point,” Curtin said. “It’s not a situation where I’m going to say, ‘Let’s rest against Toronto, and then we’ll go chase Cincinnati.’ Because you do stuff like that, and then there’s a crazy, fluky call against Cincinnati, or a penalty kick, or a decision that doesn’t go your way, then all of a sudden, now you’ve sacrificed two games, and then you’re scrambling on that last day in Yankee Stadium [at New York City FC], which isn’t my favorite place.”
Blake out, Santos should play
Andre Blake will miss Wednesday’s game as he has returned to Jamaica to deal with matters relating to the death of his grandmother a few weeks ago. He’ll be back for Sunday’s game.
“Condolences go out to the whole Blake family,” Curtin said. “Obviously, there’s certain things that are bigger than the game of soccer.”
Sergio Santos seems set to return after missing a few games with a quad injury. He didn’t play against Nashville, in part, because it turned out he wasn’t needed.
“I wanted to get Sergio out there at the end of the game against Nashville just to get some fitness, but we didn’t want to change the formation at that point just because it felt stable, and the guys were executing very well,” Curtin said. “I still think he’s good for at least a half of soccer if needed, so he can come into the game and change it quickly with his pace.”
» READ MORE: Key games to watch elsewhere in MLS on Wednesday