Featured / Union

The tinker toy lineup boost

Photo: Earl Gardner

Many Philadelphia Union fans find it maddening how Peter Nowak tinkers with lineups.

Next week, it could pay off.

The Union will play three home games over an 8-day stretch, due to the makeup game against New England being set midweek between the Sept. 3 road game against Real Salt Lake and the Sept. 10 home game against Portland. Realistically speaking, the Union need to take at least five points from those games — and preferably more.

Even with Major League Soccer’s ridiculously forgiving playoff setup (stress on the word, ridiculously), the Union sit what would be the 9th of 10 playoff spots. Fortunately for them, they’ve played the fewest matches (24) in the league, so their 10 remaining games is the most in the league. Unfortunately for them, one of the teams behind them, D.C. United, is the other team with 10 games left.

Bottom line: After sitting in first place for chunks of the season, the Union could miss out if they flop in the final one-third of the season.

So these three games in seven days are important.

Unlike many teams in the league, the Union have fairly good depth among the attacking six, which is where you typically need it most (Carlos Valdes suspensions notwithstanding). We may get frustrated that Danny Mwanga hasn’t gotten the chance to resolidify his chemistry at forward with Sebastien Le Toux, or with Jack McInerney as an alternative. It may bother us that Keon Daniel doesn’t get many consecutive starts, no matter how well he plays.

But over that seven-day stretch, the fact that Nowak plays so many different players could pay off, because it means he’ll be able to rest key players for the mid-week Revolution match and field a lineup of players at full speed in all three games.

Is this the sunny-side-up view? Sure.

But the Union’s dip down the standings isn’t the end of the world (particularly in a league with a ridiculous 10-team playoff that tells you the regular season does not matter). Yeah, most are unhappy with the team’s recent run of form. But the Union’s performance against the Columbus Crew was entertaining to watch. It was good soccer. Yes, they lost, but they lost against a good team on a questionable penalty. That’s part of the game.

What’s important is that the Union regain some semblance of the fluid soccer we saw last season, and the Columbus game showed signs it could happen. If they do that, with the talent that they have, the wins will come again. And they won’t just come on fluke plays either, like a lucky left-footer from 30 yards or a lucky bounce off a corner. They’ll come from good build-up and good finishing. In the end, that’s what makes a team fun to watch — and wins championships.


  1. It’s actually three games in eight days, just to pick nits.

  2. Mwanga’s also had his chance…with seba or without, and yet, he just doesn’t shoot anyway.

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