Fans’ View: Is this our ceiling?

Photo: Paul Rudderow

In the wake of a disappointing loss to the Chicago Fire, our Philadelphia Union have finally lost possession of first place in the Eastern Conference. It has been a long time coming. Of course, the Union are still tied on points with Atlanta, only behind on wins. They could yet turn things around, they could reclaim first as early as next week with another resounding win over DC United and keep it for the rest of the season.

But it doesn’t feel like they will. In fact, the fact that the Union held on for this long has been a shock to many observers around the league. The Eastern Conference being an absolute mess helped, there is no doubt, but the Union also defied expectations, playing exciting, attractive, winning soccer during a season that was meant to be used to transition into a new style of play. Barring an immense collapse, this will rightfully go down as the best Union side in our short history. With any luck, we will have a home playoff game and the franchise’s first postseason win under our belts by 2020.

And yet we are meant to be happy to simply make it that far. To have hung on for so long. Atlanta United, the team that passed the Union this weekend, are the antithesis of the Union in many ways. They have an enormous budget. A huge and engaged fanbase. They have two underperforming stars who each cost more to acquire then the whole of the Union’s team. And they are a strong bet to win their second trophy in just three years of existence next Tuesday in the Open Cup final (third trophy if you count the Campeones Cup, which I don’t). The gap in resources between the teams is enormous.

MLS has been rapidly losing its vaunted parity in the last several years with the arrival of ambitious new clubs like Atlanta and LAFC. Does that mean that we are seeing the ceiling of the current Philadelphia Union? Can a team that won’t spend more than a few million on a transfer fee and is reliant on homegrown talent compete with franchises like that? Perhaps a perfect combination of talent, or a once-in-a-generation talent like Tyler Adams could push us over the edge. But as MLS continues to grow, it is fair to ask whether this is a future we can accept.

Perhaps I am way off the mark. The Union are very much still in control of their own destiny. They have home matches against Atlanta, LAFC, and New York City FC still on the schedule. These are chances to move back up in the standings, and to prove that they are as good as these teams. And I really hope we win all three. But if not, I can’t help wonder if this is the ceiling of the team as constructed.


  1. We have a $2 million per year player not playing like a $2 million player yet and a TAM striker who is still in early season form.
    While our spending may or may not be able to win an MLS Cup, I don’t think this team at this moment has maximized their potential.

  2. No, we are seeing the ceiling of our worst players and our coach.

  3. In Tanner We Trust says:

    These next 3 games are everything. Think about the scenarios:
    While HIGHLY unlikely, 9 points makes us a real contender. 7 points means we’ve righted the ship and have proven our ability to compete with the top tier. 6 points creates optimism. 5 points means we’re pretty much same old Union, dropping home points when we’re putting up a real fight. 4 or less, and it’s time to panic more than most already are.
    My cautiously optimistic prediction is 7 points. We still haven’t seen a fully healthy Monteiro and Fabian duo share the field with our best possible XI.

    • DC is in full Benny-Ball mode so we absolutely need to score early. I think the Union can pull that off.
      The Atlanta game might be a shoot-out.
      Jim will have something to prove against his old coach and LAFC, let’s hope he doesn’t overthink it.
      4pts is probably expected from this stretch, but to get homefield advantage for the playoffs the Union is definitely going to need more than 4 points. It’s going to take some serious thinking to get some W’s. The team is healthy right now, let’s hope the new and improved version of Curtin shows up!

      • i’m thinking 4 is expected. this team is too good to drop 3 in a row at home. if it’s a disaster, union have a long, hard look in the mirror as they once again back into the playoffs.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Neither Atlanta nor LAFC will come here and bunker. That’s the opportunity.

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        Absolutely true. Bunkered teams are our weakness, which one would think will be huge down the stretch with all the scrapping teams looking for every point. I feel like we’ve taken down every good team we’ve played at home. And I just can’t see a scenario where we lose 2 of our next 3. I think 4 or 5 points is the minimum that should be expected.

  4. Ernst needs to have a heart to heart talk with Marco to play. a
    Harder more aggresive direct style
    Of soccer. He also has to lead by example and do the dirty work of hustling back andrecovering the ball if He loses possession. Curtin needs to expect the same from Marco. Bedoya and Haris néed to fire the team up as captains. This is the deepest team they have had and unless a ownership changes will ever have. They all need to play like every game is their last game. No letting up until they have regained. 1st and clinched it. They need to philly style soccer and take no prisoners. If Curtin sea a lack of hustle or second effort he should pull Marco off the field in the first h@of. Curtin should see hai mind set by the first 15 minutes of the game.

  5. PhilinWilmington says:

    This think piece was clickbait… but I’ll bite.

    Are the Union lucky that Atlanta took forever to round into form? Sure. That NYC-FC has been running in fits and starts? Absolutely. Is it fortunate that TFC and Red Bulls are looking at “lost seasons” that have never really developed? Yes. You could even say the wheels now falling of a DCU team that, on paper, is more than an even match for Philly is a case of great timing.

    But Philly sides of the past would not have been able to take advantage of the misfortunes of others. The ball would bounce the wrong way, the ref would screw it up. They’d choke on easy points.

    This team has played to it’s potential all season, gotten some lucky bounces, and have had a few dips along the way. They are not LAFC. They are not Atlanta. The cost and pedigree of those rosters should have an expectation of going practically undefeated. But the Union are playing their way and doing it well most of the time.


    As a fan of this “mid-market” team (which is what our budget and ownership seems to say we are) I can’t ask for more. And I’m super happy.

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