A View from Afar

Playoffs? The road ahead for the Union

Photo: Earl Gardner

Philadelphia Union needed road points the last two weeks. They didn’t get them.

Philadelphia played four games against sub-Red Line teams. They took away just three points in their lone home match over that stretch.

Now, they have to fight their way through the league’s toughest remaining schedule in order to move up in the standings to make the playoffs. They currently sit in 9th place, six points below the Red Line that demarcates who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t.

No, the Union’s chances don’t look good.

A stacked schedule

Take a look at their remaining schedule.

OpponentPlace in tableProbable result
Dallas2nd, Westdraw
Montreal10th, Eastwin
at San Jose7th, Westdraw
at Toronto1st, Eastloss
Atlanta5th, Eastdraw
at Minnesota10th, Westwin
at NYRB4th, Eastloss
Chicago2nd, Eastdraw
at Atlanta5th, Eastloss
Seattle5th, Westdraw
at Chicago2nd, Eastloss
Orlando7th, Eastwin

Four of the Union’s six remaining home games are against teams that have won or drawn at least half their road games. (The exceptions are Montreal and Orlando.)

Five of their six road games are against teams that are a combined 36-5-11 at home. (The exception is Minnesota, who are 6-5-2 at home.) The Union have taken just six points from 11 road games this year.

Do some quick throwaway predictions on each match. You’ll come up with a probable finishing stretch of 3-4-5. That would put the Union at 10-14-10 for the year, or 40 points. That hasn’t been good enough for sixth place since 2012, when 39 points for Dallas netted them sixth place in a nine-team Western Conference. The Eastern Conference now has 11 teams.

Sure, anything’s possible. Dallas just got smoked 4-0 at home by Vancouver. Minnesota has a winning record at home. All the quick picks above could obviously flip. That’s why they actually play the games.

But unless the Union’s fortunes change significantly, they are not making the playoffs. Again.

That No. 10 playmaker better show up soon. The MLS international transfer window runs through Aug. 9.

What now? 

So, what should we expect from the Union?

More of the same, really.

They’ll keep playing to win now. Union head coach Jim Curtin can’t really afford to do otherwise.

If this was any other first tier professional soccer club, Curtin’s job would be on the line. He has a career MLS coaching record of 35-46-27, two U.S. Open Cup finals, one playoff appearance, and no winning records over a full season. (He was 7-5-6 over half the 2014 season.)

But the Union are not every other club. They do not face relegation. They have an extraordinarily patient owner. Curtin is a hometown guy. You know the drill.

In Curtin’s defense, if the Union had replaced Tranquillo Barnetta with a quality No. 10 playmaker, they would probably be a good 10 points higher in the standings, and the fault for that likely lies more with Union sporting director Earnie Stewart and majority owner Jay Sugarman.

On the other hand, imagine the radical notion of trying different combinations of players in different formations, like other teams do. We all know the game is about the players and the ways they play, but changing the combinations and default shapes can make a positive impact, like Toronto did last year when they moved to a 3-5-2 and became the league’s best team or the New York Red Bulls did recently with a 3-3-3-1 that coincides with them becoming the league’s hottest team.

So what will happen?

Again, this is why they play the games.

The Union still have a third of a season left. They could close the deal on a good No. 10, and then everything could change, as it did for Seattle last year after they acquired Nicolás Lodeiro.

But it doesn’t look good.

Miscellaneous Union and MLS notes
  • Rosenberry situation gets ridiculous: The Union just played four games over the course of 12 days. They started Ray Gaddis at right back in all of them. Keegan Rosenberry, who played every minute of every game last year and was runner-up for Rookie of the Year, hasn’t played in a regular season game since May 17, not even for Philadelphia’s USL affiliate in Bethlehem. It’s starting to get ridiculous. True, Rosenberry didn’t look great in his U.S. Open Cup start against the Red Bulls, but Gaddis hasn’t burned it up either, and those packed stretches of schedule are when you play your backups. If Rosenberry doesn’t see minutes during the Union’s next three-games-in-eight-days stretch later this month, it’s time to start asking whose corn flakes he pissed in. He has obviously gotten the message by now. You can shatter a guy’s confidence by playing him too much while he’s struggling (see Wenger, Andrew), but you can do the same by terminally benching him. At this point, the likely reward looks much higher than the likely risk if the Union let Rosenberry play his way back into form.
  • More Adam Najem please: At least until the Union sign a No. 10. Najem looked decent in his lone start, though Jay Simpson spent the evening clogging up the center of the attack with a lack of movement. It’s worth seeing how Najem looks in the No. 10 role with a legitimate first team around him, particularly C.J. Sapong. Roland Alberg isn’t the answer to any question that matters, other than “Who should the Union dump first this off-season?” (That said, credit to PSP’s Nick Fishman for a solid argument in Alberg’s defense.)
  • Disappointment with Bob Bradley at LAFC: Am I the only one disappointed to see Bradley return to MLS? It’s a great pickup for LAFC, but I was hoping we’d see Bradley pick up the Norway national team job or another job in a quality European league. He took a big gamble on Swansea and lost, but it’s hard to blame him. That said, if he had stayed with Le Havre in France, he could have won promotion and been playing in Ligue 1 this coming season.


  1. YES and YES on Rosenberry and Najem. And these things are really on Curtin, and nobody else.

    The absence of any alteration in the formation is possibly???? the result of an edict from Earnie. Maybe. It seems plausible. So I remain uncertain whether we can blame Jim for that. And as you say, it sure as hell isn’t Curtin’s fault that they have no #10 on the roster, and that’s clearly the biggest reason for the club’s failure this year.

    But his handling of the Rosenberry situation is truly beginning to look ridiculous. We all thought that ruining promising young players would be a thing of the past once Earnie took over. And WHY OH WHY does he keep trotting out Alberg at CAM??? If Ilsinho can’t go there, for whatever reason (rest, needed on the wing, playing poorly), them just put Najem there and let the kid learn, for God’s sake. These things really reflect poorly on Curtin as a coach.

    • Yeah, I don’t understand why Rosenberry hasn’t been at least playing for Steel. Gaddis has not been good the past month anyway and was overrated as a reason why the defense tightened up (it was more getting Gooch, Elliot, Medunjanin, and Bedoya in the right spots and on the same page.

      • the Union already have a loanee playing for the Steel at right back, Aaron Jones, the terms of whose loan prevent him from appearing for the union so that the Union can carry a 31st player on what is ostensibly a 28-man roster. (the other two exceptions are for homegrown slots.)
        When the decision on Jones was made, Rosenberry was still the starter.
        Rosenberry played well when the Union were trying to use a defensive restraining line that was higher up the pitch than they are holding with Onyewu and Elliott, I believe I am correct in asserting..
        That difference may factor into the right back situation.
        They also may be trying to boost Ray Gaddis’s value in the market place, I have no idea.

    • Honestly it’s hard to make sense of, or defend, anything the Union do at this point. It seems they say they want to go in one direction while the players they have all point to another.

  2. The Rosenberry thing is completely mind-boggling at this point. Easiest way to fix this team might very well be a coaching change.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    The Union have 2 chances to make the playoffs…and slim just got on the train heading out of town.

  4. What would be the benefits of a coaching change now, August 1st to October 22nd?
    if one is made, the time would be at the end of the season I would think. The whole point Dan is making without saying is that they are dead and buried. A coaching change will not change that.
    Take some time and think carefully, as I suspect the Sporting Director has already been doing.

    • Adam Schorr says:

      A new coach may try new formations and may discover that some of our players are good but incorrectly utilized.

      • A new coach may provide some hope to a disillusioned fan base that sees nothing but the same old stuff. A new coach may see players in different positions. A new coach may give the team’s younger players, and those that the team plans to keep, a better foundation for going forwards instead of stagnating until next year. There’s plenty of upside if you just look. There’s just more of the same if you stick you head in the sand and hope things work out for the best.

      • If a new coach would give you faith… I just don’t know what to say. Until we spend at a decent level we’re never going to get anywhere.

    • I’ve been pretty consistent and adamant since the interim tag of the worldwide search was removed that Curtin was not, is not and will not be the answer.
      I’ve taken all the time I’ve needed.

    • The more time we can give the new coach, the better. The season is lost right now with Curtin. That may not change with a new guy at the helm, but we can at least get the ‘New Coach Bump’ and who knows, that may spur us into the playoffs.

      In the bigger picture, it allows the new guy to properly gauge everyone in real situations rather than relying on film in the off-season and unfit players in pre-season. He is coming in when the players are in mid-season form, the perfect time to evaluate their worth to the team and the vision.

      There are plenty of examples of teams making mid-season coaching changes and flipping the script on the season.

  5. phil in wilmington says:

    Philly is not going to make the playoffs and if they do they aren’t going far.

    Play the kids a bit to start bleeding them a bit at the first team level and rest the vets that you want to have around next year for depth.

  6. “They have an extraordinarily patient owner. ”

    Dan – this implies he’s waiting for something? Winning? Godot? Forbes to come out with the right MLS club valuations perhaps?

  7. el Pachyderm says:

    The Union first team experience as best I can share…..requires the genius of a third party.
    Beyond that the talk of playoffs for a team this bad disgusts me. I’d rather they were just relegated.

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