If the Union’s (2-1-0) dominating 3-0 home opening win over the New England Revolution (0-1-2) Sunday is any indication, the 2016 season could finally pay dividends for a starving fan base that is itching to get back to the postseason.
The Union are starting the season off on the right foot, tied for first place in the Eastern Conference standings and riding a two-game win streak. It’s the Union’s best start since 2013 and confidence is soaring high among this young group.
“We thought it was critical to have a good start [to the season],” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I think Earnie Stewart came in and laid a good foundation with the group, setting a higher standard with training harder. Our attention to detail is better, so all those little things I think you are seeing on the field … We are better now than last year, but that’s not saying much because last year we were bad.”
The Union finished a measly 10-17-7 last season, tied for the fourth-worst record in the league. They won back-to-back matches just once all season. After an offseason full of front office and roster changes, the Union look focused and confident in the early going this year.
“I knew the mentality was right with this team after [the win over] Columbus last week,” Union forward Chris Pontius said. “We came in here a confident team and then you get your main striker [C.J. Sapong] two goals and get him feeling good, so we’re a dangerous team going forward – got our first clean sheet of the year and that’s important for us too.”
Sapong and Pontius are tied for second in the MLS in scoring with two goals each. When Sapong is clicking offensively, the Union are one of the most dangerous teams in the East. Despite their final record, the Union were a respectable 4-4-1 in games where Sapong netted a goal last season.
“I’ve seen C.J. all preseason, he’s a guy we believe in, he’s a guy that’s been scoring in training,” Curtin said. “For him to get two goals at a time where, again, maybe it was a little against the run of play for the first one, you know we weren’t on top of things. Good goal for him — I think [there’s] a little bit of a relief anytime a striker gets his first one. [He stayed] hungry and he got the second, so [it’s] good for [his] confidence.”
Aside from scoring, the Union finally have some consistency between the pipes in goaltender Andre Blake. Blake is tied for the league-lead in saves with 16 and is finally living up to the hype of his No. 1 selection in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft.
The team has mostly deflected questions about their record so far, but with the way things are clicking both offensively and defensively, it’s hard not to think about the potential finish for this team.
The Union will next face the Chicago Fire (0-1-2) at 5 p.m. on the road Saturday. The match will air on the Comcast Network.