Union

The Union are in control, probably

Image credit: Marjorie Elzey

It is mid-September. Three regular season games remain, and the Philadelphia Union are in the lead for the Supporters Shield.

Their only real competition, LAFC, finally played their game in hand on Tuesday night and squandered it on a 1-1 draw in Minnesota. Which opened up a 2 point gap in the standings. A gap that is absolutely something a team as capable LAFC can overcome, but as discussed previously their remaining schedule is much more difficult.

But the Union don’t really need to worry about LAFC’s remaining schedule. They are the current leaders, and they don’t need anything from LAFC’s opponents to stay out front. By playing well and winning games, a thing the Union have become extremely proficient at in the second half of 2022, they’ll win Supporters Shield simply by virtue of not letting LAFC catch them.

So are they Union in control of their own destiny? Yes, mostly. See soccer takes place that is commonly known as “reality”, and one of the known design flaws in reality is that things don’t always go as planned there. Union fans have been painfully aware of this glitch ever since (correct and justified) COVID protocols decimated the roster and kept a plurality of the team off the field for their 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Final against New York City FC.

But COVID protocols are gone now, so in 2022 there’s nothing to fear in that regard. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to fear.

So let’s confront our fears, and consider what could derail the Union’s Supporters Shield and MLS Cup Playoff ambitions-

Weather

A sloppy pitch, a freak snowstorm, the infamous Chester sandstorm, all can and have effected the outcome of a game.

But undermining that narrative is the simple truth that both teams play in the same weather. And while rough weather could hamper Kai Wagner’s ability to keep running up his assist number, the Union could actually come out ahead in rough weather. As their style of play relies on taking advantage of their opponents mistakes, conditions that create more mistakes could make for some interesting opportunities. Of course that will also cause the Union to make mistakes, but if the game comes down to which team’s defense is able to put out the most fires there’s every reason to have confidence in the Union.

Injury

The Union have been surprisingly lucky as far as injuries go this season, with the Injury Report section of the website never describing anything more concerning than players occasionally needing extra attention in training to work on minor bumps and strains. The team has been extremely fortunate in this regard, and hopefully they continue to be so fortunate if only for the welfare of the players.

But even if they’re not, would it be that devastating? The open question of who will be the team’s MVP indicates that this team is not being carried by any one player. So even though the loss of any starter would be a significant one, it wouldn’t be a crippling death blow. In fact with the Union being fortunate to have quality depth at pretty much every position, it might not be a tragedy. Cory Burke isn’t Julian Carranza, but Burke being available means the Union should be able to avoid a situation like the one caused by Kacper Przybyłko’s foot injury in the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Discipline

Much like the relative quiet in Union injury reports, the Union have been relatively fortunate as far as on-field discipline goes. The only two red cards the team has earned so far this season were both second yellows, with Julian Carranza’s happening back in March against Montréal and José Martínez getting sent off in June against Chicago. That’s it. A cursory search and quite fallible memory doesn’t reveal any players missing games for yellow card accumulation, and only Cory Burke and Alejandro Bedoya head into this weekend under threat of yellow card accumulation suspensions.

Of course that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be worried about. Folklore is filled with stories about practitioners of the dark arts being hoisted by their own petard. And the Union’s own sorcerer José Martínez flirts with that possibility every time he starts working his way into the minds of opponents. But it hasn’t happened yet, and there’s a chance it never may. Unlike for example Diego Chara, or Steven Lenhart before him, el Brujo doesn’t have a reputation that precedes him. Sure, players clearly get heated as he picks at them in game, and the ref warning him for persistent infringement is honestly to be expected in most games. Opponents clearly don’t enjoy playing against him, but it doesn’t appears that he’s ever collected enough animosity to make a full heel turn.

However even if something unfortunate happens, whether it be deserved or bad officiating, the same depth that Which means it’s too early to rule out an unfortunate red card or Disciplinary Committee ruling putting a wrench in the Union’s plans. But the same depth that makes injuries less scary also makes discipline less to worry about. Absolutely Bedoya could catch a yellow in Atlanta and be forced to miss the game in Charlotte. But as much as that means the team loses their captain, it also means it gains Jack McGlynn. Maybe not what anyone wants, but not anything to be upset about either.

All told, the unfortunate improbabilities of weather, injury, and discipline don’t look that scary for the Union’s chances through the end of this season and into the MLS Cup Playoffs. They may come into play, but even if they do the Union should be up to the challenge. And the rest of the variables are just the nature of the game, a bounce here, a missed shot there. That’s soccer, and if nothing else the Union have proven that they’re quite good at soccer.

25 Comments

  1. Any word on bedoya’s injury status?

    • Curtin said he practiced all week, so he seems okay… Hopefully that is not a smokescreen answer. I would not mind at all if he got the week off or came on as a sub this week.

  2. You cheerily overlook what happens if Glesnes or Elliott get hurt. Do you seriously think Brendan Craig (as much as we all like his potential) would be ready to step in during these last 3 or the playoffs? I think not, not having played a single minute for the first team. Other than Blake, the worst possible injury case is our starting CBs.

    • Totally agree. Also, while I do have confidence that Matt Real could put in some solid shifts, Kai Wagner is practically irreplaceable. If he got injured it would be a major blow.

      Lastly, the difference between our starting forwards and Cory Burks is huge. Burke has been playing better of late, but having to rely on him in crunch time would be dicey at best. CB and F are the areas Tanner will need to work on for depth in next year’s squad.

    • to nit pick, Craig has three minutes played in MLS this season according to the career stats on his personal page accessed through Club and roster.
      .
      that detail detracts not one iota from Phil F.’s point.

  3. As far as winning the Supporter’s Shield, one major obstacle is that Atlanta has really picked up its play since the Union dismantled them and the Union have to play on the turf in Atlanta Saturday (although it also means weather won’t be an issue).
    .
    My hope is that Portland takes care of business at home against LAFC coming back from the international break which would give the Union a margin for error. The bad news is that the Union’s toughest game comes this weekend so they won’t know if they have that margin.

  4. Question… Mark McKenzie NOT on Gent roster again. What’s happening with his contract?

    Will Union get paid if he moves on, like Aaronson…

    Or is he coming back when Kai transfers?

    • McKenzie is at Genk, not Gent, and has been a consistent starter all season after Genk sold the CB who had been ahead of him over the summer. From the reports I’ve seen on Twitter from reporters who follow USMNT players overseas – Brian Sciaretta, for example – McKenzie has been playing well.

  5. PS…. With 3 games left, running the schedule will just insure home field…
    and demand respect from MLS… And “Head Clown” Garber.

    Plus historically a 50+ goal differential… and then 3 shut outs at home to Nirvana… Nov 5th at 6pm (Cup game starts at 4pm in Chester)!

    Simply…. Doop!

  6. Since we’re opening that box of scaries, let’s also consider we could get “MLS’d” in a clutch game where the ref decides to card everyone and throw around penalties of unlikely virtue. Thinking back to, say, Atlanta 2018… two reds in the 19th minute (?) and one was Medunjanin!?! The guy so clean he talked the ref out of a red on the OTHER TEAM once. We have been strikingly lucky in calls this season. But if we glance back over our shoulders towards the distant edge of the Cliff of Union Despair, we’ll spot the metallic glint of moments like that peeking from the shadowed depths.

    • Box of scaries! Thats a good one! I’d like to think the “Cliff” is a pair of really good binoculars away. But I get the worries. The days of We Suck So Much linger in the memory. I turned that acronym into a more current state, We Score So Much. I really want to look forward. It may be the hardest thing in sport fandom. The shadows of years past are fading and I am putting the positive into the universe and for the team we love to support!

  7. According my tracking of Jose Martinez’s yellow cards, he should have been suspended for yellow card accumulation twice already. I have him suspended twice already, with nine total and none forgiven.
    .
    He has gone four matches without a card at least twice but has never made it to five, the forgiveness threshold.

  8. PaulContinuum22 says:

    Here’s a radical idea; cancel the Pachucha game. Don’t need it, don’t want it.
    /
    LAFC’s got the toughest road to the Shield; at Portland, Nashville. Montreal’s got 3 stiffs for their last 3. Union are in the middle. Get the win Saturday, seal CONCACAF and East home field. Don’t worry about the Shield yet. Priorities!

    • Pachucha game should be good for the kids to get to play. I’m guessing Blake, Burke, Gazdag, Mbaizo, Martinez will all be away on international duty (and maybe Glesnes and/or Uhre).

      • Agreed. Have the tix so would like to go to the stadium. Would be willing to watch our fab4 and some Union II guys battle with them.
        Agree with Paul though that we don’t want to risk our starters.

      • Not Blake. Jamaica federation didn’t pick him after he criticized them. Bad for them, good for us.

      • Looks like some of the kids will be busy at a U-20 tournament in Mexico. Aaronson, Sullivan, McGlynn, and Craig are leaving after today’s game for the Revelations Cup.
        .
        Not sure if Blake will play next week or if Freese and Bendik will each get a half.

  9. “MLS.com Team of the Week”… Austin FC of course.

    Yup…. a stolen franchise, “Head Clown” Garber allowed to happen… like NYCFC playing in Yankee Stadium now for how many years, Don, as Red Blue Arena is virtually empty each match?

    Let them all keep dreaming… the Union have been 6-1, 27 goals and 4 against, and Gazdag not even mentioned in MVP article, right?

    12 points… then 3 shut outs in “Fortress Subaru”.

    No one likes us… Doop!

    • To be fair Gazdag, Brujo, and Andre were in the “top 5” in the rundown of MVP candidates in a previous article. (And Mukhtar has his hands in on a crazy percentage of the Nashville goals.)

    • For what it’s worth the team of the week up there now is for the midweek games, which the Union didn’t have.

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