Union manager Jim Curtin isn’t one to make excuses when his team plays poorly, nor should he be.
But there’s nothing wrong with taking a bird’s-eye view as it heads into a new month, starting with a home game Sunday against the Chicago Fire (6 p.m., UniMás and TUDN).
And for as cranky as many people who watch this team have been lately — especially after last Sunday’s narrowly achieved tie at woeful Inter Miami — that high-level perspective tells a significant story.
Six of the Union’s eight games since Major League Soccer returned from its June break have been on the road. More important, though, 10 of the Union’s remaining 18 regular-season games are at home, and just one — at Minnesota United on Oct. 20 — is outside the Eastern time zone.
“You look at our last 20 games at home [before now], and we’re a pretty darn hard team to beat here in this building,” Curtin said as he prepared for the weekend. “So that needs to stay the same, that has to be the standard. You’ve got to get to 10-plus wins in your home building during the season to pretty much all but guarantee you’re [in] a playoff spot, and that’s what this team wants to do.”
Sure, there are the much-anticipated Concacaf Champions League games against Mexican superpower Club América along the way, Aug. 12 at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca and Sept. 15 at Subaru Park. The game in Mexico City falls between two road games, at first-in-the-East New England and 12th-place Cincinnati, which will be a headache.
But other than that, the games to come, not the games already past, are the ones that deserve spotlighting. So let’s do that, starting with this weekend, when Andre Blake and Cory Burke will be back in Union colors.
The Jamaicans might not be the only players returning to action for the club. Anthony Fontana and Jack de Vries were on the field at practice Friday, a sign that they might be available to return from long absences caused by concussions.
“We haven’t played our best yet,” Curtin said. “I’m OK with that right now. We’ve been a good team this year, not a great team, and our goal now is to take that next step during this phase of the season, and show that we can not only improve, but improve in the games against the top teams.”
The Fire, with all due respect to their bulletin board, are not one of the top teams. They’re in next-to-last place in the East, with a meager 12 points earned from three wins, nine losses, and three ties.
So this game is pretty much a must-win, as far as games at the start of August go in a season that ends in November.
“You have to put together a two-to-three-game win streak, and then you’ll start to see some separation,” Curtin said. “Otherwise, we’re almost cannibalizing each other in this Eastern Conference. You’re a win out of being in second place, but conversely, you’re also a loss out of being in about eighth or ninth, and that goes for all the teams that are kind of jumbled up right now.”
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The timing of Burke’s return became even more important on Saturday when MLS suspended Sergio Santos one game and fined him for kicking the ball into the stands during the second half of the July 22 game at Orlando.
Santos was given a yellow card during the game for doing so, and his act was seen clearly on the national TV broadcast. Nor was it just some casual booting of the ball into the air — it was a pretty hard hit into a section of fans in Exploria Stadium’s lower deck.
A note on the telecast
Sunday’s game will be the Union’s first televised exclusively on a Spanish-language TV channel in a little while. Here’s a reminder about how to find the game, and how to find the supplementary English-language commentary that UniMás offers.
UniMás is available on the major local cable and satellite TV systems, including as Channel 797 on Comcast Xfinity and Channel 26 on Verizon FIOS. UniMás is also broadcast over the air on Channel 28.
In addition, the game will be simulcast on Univision’s cable sports channel TUDN.
On both channels, if you tune in via most cable or satellite systems, you can change the commentary language from Spanish to English by using the SAP function on your remote control.
You can also watch the broadcast in English free of charge online via Major League Soccer’s Twitter account at twitter.com/MLS.