For Pete's Sake

Five thoughts for the last week of the season

Photo: Earl Gardner

Sunday didn’t go the way the Philadelphia Union wanted.

With a chance to lock up a home game and send the fans home happy after the final regular-season home game, instead the Union underperformed, never threatening the net en route to a 1-0 loss.

Instead of selling playoff tickets, the post-match conversation revolved around VAR, high school soccer, and forensic analysis of the league table and its myriad tiebreakers.

Here are five thoughts on where the Union stand with one match left in the regular season.

  • Goal-scoring woes continue. Dan touches on this in his analysis piece today, and I agree with his observations. Setting aside the anomalous win against Minnesota — who may or may not be a professional soccer team — and the Union’s first team hasn’t put the ball in the net in over a month. (Even their goal against Seattle was a bit of a gift from keeper Stefan Frei.) Teams know what the Union are trying to do, and have been very effective at stopping them from doing it. Borek Dockal looks a step off the pace, teams have figured out Cory Burke, and C.J. Sapong is not getting it done on the wing. It would be nice to have a better wing option, but with David Accam out for the season and Ilsinho better in a reserve role it’s not clear what Jim Curtin can do. (I don’t particularly rate either Fabian Herbers or Marcus Epps.) The tests don’t get any easier as the playoffs approach, so the Union need to rediscover their offensive punch very soon.
  • Mark McKenzie looks the part. Jim Curtin’s approach to who should play next to Auston Trusty at center back has been less “ride the hot hand” at center back than “play until you can’t play, and then you lose your job automatically.” Right now, it’s the rookie’s turn after Jack Elliott’s ill-timed red card in the Seattle match. Make no mistake, he’s been very good, and his and Trusty’s play has been the single best development for the Union this season. (If you had told me before the season that Richie Marquez would be on the roster for the whole season and not play a single minute, I would have smiled politely, because I’m a polite person. But I would have been laughing inside.) McKenzie did have some big errors early in the season, though, and the test in the playoffs will be keeping maximum sharpness under maximum pressure for the full 90 minutes. I’m eager to see how both Trusty and McKenzie handle it.
  • Pitch problems? Pathetic. Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin’s comments about the quality of the Talen Energy Stadium pitch after the game were tone-deaf at best. You’re looking for veteran leadership and accountability from those two players, and whining about the playing surface after losing what might be your last home game of the season is neither. Rather, it’s excuse-making for a poor performance, and those two guys should both know better. The pitch didn’t make Bedoya concede the game-turning handball in the box, after all.
  • Who else wants it? The Union didn’t help themselves on Sunday, but neither did many of the other Eastern Conference contenders. NYCFC, who’ve been in poor form after saying au revoir to Patrick Viera, got flattened by D.C. United, and Columbus Crew somehow managed to lose to Orlando City. Montreal pulled nearly even on points with Columbus, and loom menacingly in the background — they’ve won four of six since the start of September, and absolutely thwacked the Union in their last trip to Talen Energy Stadium. The dream scenario? The Union beat NYCFC and seize third place, setting up a home game against a Columbus side that they’ve played three tight games against this season. (Total number of goals for both teams in those 270 minutes? One.) The nightmare scenario, in my mind, is the Union falling into 5th and having to travel to face a surging D.C. side on the road.
  • Backsliding into the playoffs. The pessimist in me is worried that we’re shaping up for a 2016 redux. If you’ll recall, that team’s season ended with a seven-match winless skid to barely stumble into the playoffs. Toronto FC wiped them aside with ease in the first round, and it’s like they weren’t even in the playoffs at all. You can see some seeds of that since the start of September this season — the offense has gone cold, their three wins were either flukey or against dreadful competition, and they put out their worst performance of the season in their biggest match so far. With the irritating playoff schedule meaning that the first game is certain to be a mid-week match on either Weds. Oct. 31 (“Halloween”) or Thurs. Nov. 1 (“National Brush Day“), Philadelphia could once again be out of the playoffs before anyone knows they even made it. If that’s the case, you would have wonder whether they’ve made any progress at all this season.

15 Comments

  1. “instead the Union underperformed,”

    Underperformed!?!?!?

    Maybe we are used to playing better soccer, but bringing the best team in the league to our house, playing our way and playing “Union” soccer up and down the pitch is not underperforming to me.

    McKenzie and Trusty’s performances by themselves is enough to prevent the word underperformed from being used.

  2. John O'Donnell says:

    This team biggest weakness is scoring. When Corey was hot so went the team. The fact that Fafa has ten goals as Accam is done and Sapong plays on the wing makes you wonder how this team had their best season ever.

  3. Chris Gibbons says:

    Interesting take on the pitch quality comments. I hadn’t really thought of it from that angle (which is weird, because that’s usually the only angle I think of things…) and rather thought of it more as two leaders calling out the organization publicly because “We’re planning on playing a few more matches in this stadium, maybe even a final. Get your grass in gear.”

    • I didn’t see Haris and Ale’s comments as excuse making at all. I think they were taking a shot at the FO. Calling them out. Looking for better from them, ie the first team has to come first.

  4. I have no problem with the comments regarding the pitch from Bedoya and Haris. Our system of play, if successful, requires good passing and a good pitch is essential for that. And, even if we played a bunker ball style that relied less on keeping the ball on the floor, this is a professional team and I expect a top-notch field.

    • Andrew Gajan says:

      If I remember correctly, Stewart made a very similar comment after he came on board as GM, specifically referencing how European clubs never have any other activities on their pitches.

  5. richie_the_Limey says:

    “Underperformed?” 100% absoloutely yes.
    .
    2 shots on target at home when you are supposedly giving it your all to secure a home playoff berth in under performing no matter the opposition. Peter summed it all up when he stated that folks have figured out what the Union do (because Curtin always does exactly the same thing EVERY SINGLE GAME and has done since day one) and are only in this position by accident because Burke got hot for a minute (a player who only got into the lineup by accident, not by any grand design or coaching by Curtin). Falling ass-backwards into the playoffs (and can we REALLY call it that when greater than 50% of the teams in the division get to the post-season?) is no progress.

    • If you don’t see a difference between how we play now, after years of waiting for Curtin’s grand ideas about possession and quick passing to come to fruition, and years past, then i don’t know what to tell you.

    • ted_the Limey_Slapper says:

      God you’re hillarious.
      .
      If we could only get Curtin off that 4-3-3, huh? (Ooooooooh that Curtin, how he mocks us!)

    • News flash: The Red Bulls, SKC, Atlanta, Columbus, LAFC, RSL, and FCD all play the same way every game. Every team in the league knows what the teams are going to do, and how they are going to do it. Yet they all are at or near the top of the league every season. The teams that struggle the most are the ones that change things up game to game, season to season.
      .
      By your logic and reasoning the Union shouldn’t win ANY games in a season. The exact opposite has happened though and the Union have more wins and points this season than they ever have.

  6. I thought the same thing you did Pete, sour grapes after a loss. Alex and Chris make valid points for 2 players calling out the organization. But after a loss where I really didn’t see a lot of slipping and falling, those comments seem pretty. Hopefully we find a way to get a home game!

  7. The Union have 2 consistent black holes on this team (RW & LB) and another relatively consistent one (Medunjanin). These 3 spots are really holding us back. Now we have potential replacements on the roster for next year (Accam, Real, and Jones) but that doesn’t help this year. Personally I would get rid of Sapong and Medunjanin as soon as the season ended.

    • CF is a black hole as well. If we had a consistent high-quality striker, it would be harder for teams to shut down our attack. A DP like Martinez would be wonderful, but unrealistic, so simply a reliable 15-goal-scorer would suffice, like Wright-Phillips, Don Dwyer, Wondolowski, Kamara (either one). We are starting a good USL striker, while other teams are starting good MLS strikers… knife to a gun fight…

      • I don’t agree that Burke has been a black hole (not that I wouldn’t take a better striker mind you) but I think the fact that we lose all balance because our LB does nothing on O and our RW has been so pathetic all year really hurts Burke. I would agree it’s an area that needs to be addressed though.

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