Amid anger and frustration from the Union fan base, the team has quietly strung together two-straight wins which has pushed them into seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Union (3-7-3) topped the New York Red Bulls (4-2-5) 2-0 on the road Sunday for the clubs first-ever win at Red Bull Arena, a feat which took seven tries. Union manager Jim Curtin was happy with the result and, despite turmoil surrounding the organization, the team sits just one point out of a playoff spot in the East.
“It’s a funny league and a funny conference,” Curtin said. “I talked all week to my guys about our how our season can go one of two ways in this building tonight, 'We’re either one win behind the [Red Bulls] or we’re really getting separated and left in the dust.' I think our guys took that to heart and put in a great effort.”
The team was extremely happy with forward C.J. Sapong’s return to the lineup Sunday. Sapong returned to the team last Thursday, after completing a league mandated Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health assessment, stemming from a DUI arrest on May 1. He returned to the pitch in the 54th minute Sunday as a sub and scored the team’s second goal in the 62nd minute to seal the victory.
“Coming on the field, it almost felt like my first game,” Sapong said. “I was starving and hungry to provide for the team, but I also wanted to prove that I do love this sport, I do love playing and from now on I’ll carry all my activities on and off the field in that regard.”
The Union are 2-3-2 in the matches that Sapong has played in this season. They’re just 1-4-1 as a team without him. His physical style of play opens up opportunities on offense for the Union and Curtin knows how much of an impact he can make for the team.
“For a guy that’s been away from the team for three weeks to come in and train for three or four days and then give us a performance like that is big,” Curtin said. “You go around and shaking the hands [of the Red Bulls] and [Karl] Ouimette has a bloody nose, the other guy’s limping off. [Sapong] is a pain in the butt to play against. He’s is a physical presence and you hate getting into battles with him because he has a way of coming out on top.”
The Union will face the top seed in the East, D.C. United (6-2-4), on the road Saturday. Two weeks ago, they beat them 1-0 at home which initiated the team’s momentum.
Union defender Ethan White feels like the team has learned from past mistakes and has grown over the past few months. They’re trying to keep the right foot forward and to keep climbing in the standings.
“You make your own luck,” White said. “We’re working our tails off and finally the ball bounces our way. … We understand both sides of this game now, what everyone feels like, and we prefer this side. We’re going to do everything we can to keep this going in the right direction.
Saturday’s match against D.C. will air at 7 p.m. on The Comcast Network.
Jim Curtin on league parity:
“It doesn’t get any easier. Our league is what it is. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. We’ll be in for another fight next weekend in D.C.”