Commentary / For Pete's Sake

Let the good times roll

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

What on earth has gotten into the water in Chester?

A Philadelphia Union team that spent the first half of the season allergic to putting the ball in the net has exploded over the last two months, becoming a fire-breathing, world-destroying, goal-scoring machine any time they step on the pitch at Subaru Park.

Saturday night’s 6-0 obliteration of lowly Colorado Rapids ran Philly’s mark over the last five home games to 25-2, a number that includes three wins by six goals or more.

Add in another 6-0 win on the road (against D.C. on August 20) and the Union are pretty much just smashing teams at this point.

How’d we get here, and where do we go next?

Growing from a strong foundation

The core of everything the Union do starts in the back.

The Boys in Blue feature the best keeper in MLS, two of the best center backs, the best left back, and one of the best No. 6s in MLS, welded together by Jim Curtin’s defense-first approach to the game.

So, even as the offense was sputtering at the start of the season, Philly kept racking up points, taking some of the pressure off the attacking group.

It took some time for the trio up top — strikers Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza and midfielder Daniel Gazdag — to build their chemistry. Each had moments of individual potency — especially Gazdag, who had the benefit of joining Philadelphia last season — but the kind of understanding required to score in bunches wasn’t immediately apparent. That’s understandable; remember, Uhre missed all of preseason, then was in and out with injuries over the first two months.

But once they all clicked in early July, it’s been off to the races. The goals have come in bunches: Carranza has two hat tricks over this stretch, while Gazdag added his first this past weekend and Uhre has added two braces. The end product has been wonderful, and it’s been the result of lovely, thoughtful interplay between the three wingers. Both Gazdag and Uhre are wizards at finding, creating, and using space, and coupled with Carranza’s relentless energy, they’ve proved to be a nightmare for defenses to defend against. Even when another player gets the goal, it’s usually the result of a clever move or run from one of the front three.

Most impressive of all has been Gazdag, the reigning MLS Player of the Week. He struggled to get into rhythm last season after joining in the middle of the campaign, especially after a long domestic season of his own. But the benefits of a full preseason and growing comfort in America have been evident. With 16 goals on the season, the Hungarian midfielder is tied for the Union’s all-time single-season scoring record, and he has six more matches to grab the record fully.

And he seems to have settled in nicely into Philly, doing a basketball celebration in homage to the visiting Sixers star Tyrese Maxey after his first goal this weekend.

Heading to the finish

So what’s left for the Union to accomplish in the final six games of the regular season?

The Supporters’ Shield isn’t out of the question, as Jim O’Leary pointed out last week, but it feels like a long shot. LAFC obliged with a loss to Austin this past weekend — even still, though, they sit three points ahead of the Union with a game in hand. It would be a shame if the best Union team ever didn’t win the Shield, but you can only control so much in this world.

Instead, the run-in is about staying healthy, securing home-field in the East, and getting good results against the better teams left on the schedule.

  • The Union have had tremendous injury luck this season (and for the past few seasons, really). Other than Uhre, no regular starter has missed any significant time. An injury in September, particularly to someone in the defensive group, would be devastating come playoff time.
  • Despite the Union’s excellent form, there’s still work to do to lock up the top seed. CF Montreal have been a surprise this year, and sit just five points back of Philly with a game in hand. A slip-up or two could allow the Canadians to sneak in, forcing the Union into a game in the first round of the playoffs.
  • Finally, the pessimist would point out that the teams the Union have smashed are uniformly terrible. Chicago and D.C. sit at the bottom of the East, while Houston is the Western cellar-dweller and Colorado is just a few slots above them in the table.  The four teams have managed to stockpile just 110 points in 108 matches, or 1.01 points per game. Those are five games the Union would be expected to win — though, don’t get me wrong, it’s still an accomplishment to smash them. Meanwhile, the only two real tests in this stretch — road games against playoff contenders Cincinnati and Dallas — have been two of Philly’s most listless performances of the season, both defeats.

Three of the final six games look like they could be stiff challenges, setting aside adrift Atlanta United and fading Charlotte FC. But fourth-seeded New York Red Bulls on the road this weekend and Orlando City and Toronto FC at home are games that would give the Union a tougher test heading into the playoffs.

For now, though, worrying about the future is less important than enjoying the ride. This is a run unlike anything Union fans have ever experienced — and from where this team has come to where they are now, it’s been an amazing improvement.

For now, just let the good times roll.


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    It’s going to be weird rooting for New Jersey to get a result against Montreal tomorrow night.
    I was looking at the Power Rankings on today (where the Union have moved into the #1 position) and figured I’d check out the Union’s next opponent. Atlanta slots in at #20 with the following comment:
    That was…definitely one way to get three points against the worst team in the league. Atlanta United are alive. For now. Philadelphia loom in the distance, a mountainous figure too large to comprehend, too real to dream of, and too frightening to accept.

  2. John P. O'Donnell says:

    Curtin challenging them with do you want to be a good team or a great f#$@ing team should be the drum beat for the rest of the year.

  3. PaulContinuum22 says:

    Union can clinch playoff spot vs. Atlanta TOMORROW if:

    Win and they’re in
    Draw AND NE lose/draw vs. Chicago
    Draw AND NYCFC lose vs. DCU. AND NYRB lose at Montréal
    Draw AND NNYCFC lose to DCU AND Orlando lose/draw vs. Seattle
    Draw AND NYRB lose @ Montréal AND Orlando lose/draw vs. Seattle

  4. I’m not worried about the results at Cincy and Dallas. The former are just our Kryptonite, presumably thanks to Pat Noonan. I will be very worried if we face them in the playoffs, but otherwise it meant nothing. And the Dallas game was simply a setup for a poor showing in multiple respects (travel, short rest, tough team, brutal heat). That was a one-off.

    Any other team in this league, should be quaking at the thought of facing us. And that includes NYRB and Orlando.

  5. I wish my 2010-2019 self knew that 2020-2022 was coming…

  6. Great commentary that focuses on the solid foundation Curtain established. The headline-grabbing, free-scoring dynamism we are now enjoying is certainly conditioned on that back 6.
    Appreciate your work Mr. Andrews!

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