A View from Afar

How will the Union respond?


Photo: Earl Gardner

In the end, it came down to inches.

The difference between championship and defeat can be measured in the distance from the post that Vincent Nogueira hit with his near-brilliant stoppage time effort and the open net slightly to the right of it.

Philadelphia Union now know what it takes to win the big one. It takes just a little bit more.

They have six games to put that lesson to use.

Right now, the Union may be the best team in the Eastern Conference — they’re certainly the hottest — but they sit just below the red line in the standings that demarcates the difference between the playoffs and not making the playoffs.

Still, they just about control their own destiny because of their remaining schedule. The Union’s six remaining games all come against conference foes, four at home.

  • Sept. 20: vs. Houston
  • Sept. 27: at D.C. United
  • Oct. 2: vs. Chicago
  • Oct. 11: vs. Columbus
  • Oct. 18: vs. Kansas City
  • Oct. 26: at Columbus

Look at that schedule. You have two home games against the 8th and 9th place teams (Houston and Chicago, respectively). You get two games against Columbus, the team you need to surpass to move into 5th place and qualify for the playoffs. And then you have games against the first and second place teams (D.C. United and Kansas City) that are both winnable based on the Union’s history with those clubs.*

If you keep winning, you’re going to the playoffs. Thirteen points from those games should get them in.

Or the Union can collapse, with their cup run ended and their hopes dashed.

This team seems too talented for that, but are they resilient enough? We’ll see.

Key variables remain.

  • How will Amobi Okugo respond, for example, to being dropped for the most important game in the club’s history?
  • How will the goalkeeping controversy play out?
  • Will Carlos Valdes play his way into form? (He’s not there yet, that’s for sure.)
  • Will questions about Jim Curtin’s future and the team’s search for a new coach distract the club?

The optimist will point to Okugo’s track record and say he is too classy, too smart, and too good a player to lose sight of the goal because of one game.

The optimist will tell you the goalkeepers will just play their games when they get them and deal with their futures (or, more realistically, Zac MacMath’s) later.

That optimist will also tell you that Valdes will be just fine, as will Curtin.

On that last point, you have to credit Curtin and Union chief executive Nick Sakiewicz for how they have handled this search. Yes, Sakiewicz has paraded out a bevy of big names to PPL Park to show the team is taking their worldwide search seriously. (When Manchester United’s last manager shows up for a game, that’s kind of a big deal.) But he has also responded appropriately to events on the field by very publicly suspending the team’s coaching search. Curtin has the team winning and playing great soccer, and he’s answering all the job search questions just right. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

It still ain’t broke.

Curtin may have made the wrong call by playing Ethan White over Amobi Okugo, but it was the first significantly wrong call of his tenure so far. If Nogueira’s shot goes a few inches to the right, nobody is talking about that call.

Good teams respond to challenges and overcome obstacles. Good teams get back up again after they get knocked down. Good teams seize the moment.

The Union still have the moment. Let’s see what they do.

17 Comments

  1. Calling it now- we will play seattle in the mls cup final and we will beat them in their home stadium

    • My gut still tells me we’ll get edged out of the playoffs by a team with the same number of points as us. But I sure hope you’re right and I’m wrong!

  2. I’m not really worried about how the Union will respond.

    I’m actually more concerned about my own response, specifically with two jerseys already in the wash, what will I wear on Sat night?

  3. old soccer coach says:

    This group has had plenty of opportunities to collapse earlier in the year, and, perhaps excluding the match in LA against the Galaxy (which I was unable to watch, sadly), they have not. I would be surprised if they started now. Jim Curtin has to give some folks rest, Tuesday – Saturday is better than Tuesday – Friday was in Texas last month. Just before your high school league season starts, you want to schedule a really good non-conference opponent to stretch your own side and teach them how to elevate their game. When Patrick David had Germantown Academy he seemed always to play St. Benedict’s the week before the InterAc opened, for example. The USOC Final may well serve the same purpose for the Union as they face league season crunch time. Seattle has taught them to elevate their game.

  4. One small correction. “And you travel for road games against the first and second place teams (D.C. United and Kansas City).” The second road game is the second Columbus game. Kansas City is at PPL. That would be brutal of the schedule makers if the Union had to play at KC all 3 meetings 🙂

  5. The rest of the season comes down to the Columbus games I think- 4 points there and we are good to go. I’d even take a hang over draw against Houston this week. Eight points with 4 coming against Columbus and I think we’re in.

  6. This team is making the playoffs. I actually think it is the best team in the East. I say we end up 4th, but only because of the terrible Hack start.

  7. This match will be JC’S biggest challenge thus far. The Dynamo are rested and come out flying. They desperately need points to climb into playoff contention. Going D-L-L is entirely possible & would be the first big letdown since he took over. I have the confidence that he won’t lose Amobi but Wenger won’t last, Casey can’t last, and Noguiera & Maidana will wear down. JC must manage his lineup better than PSP thinks he did Tuesday. I think he will. The effort must be comparable. Rais reintroduces himself to the defense.

  8. James Lockerbie says:

    D-L-L is not an option. Every Union fan must watch this video. http://youtu.be/ncbEucjsNFU

  9. “But he has also responded appropriately to events on the field by very publicly suspending the team’s coaching search.”

    How exactly is this a credit? He’s also stated publicly things like ” I’m evaluating the structure, and I’m evaluating what is the best model out there. Different teams do it differently, so that may change. It may not. … That structure is my decision. ” on how the FO will operate. Should he suspend that? Should we say “Hey Nick, full credit to you for running the smallest FO in the league with one playoff appearance to show for it! Nice work!”?

    He should actually just shut up about the manager search and do it or not. Coming out before the biggest match in club history and saying his search is “suspended” only adds to the ambiguity. It certainly doesn’t help Curtin, he already knew his best shot to get the job is to win. Sak’s back-seat press conferencing is a distraction.

    You can talk about Nogs post all you want, but Ribeiro had an ocean of net from 5 feet and buried it into Frei’s gut. That was the winner.

    • Same CEO who has 3 GKs, 2 of whom will be called up by their national teams at the same time and the other we’re about to lose with no compensation? Can the Union become an eligible franchise while Sak is in charge?

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