HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 03: Sebastien Le Toux #9 of the Philadelphia Union wins the ball against Corey Ashe #26 of the Houston Dynamo in the second leg of the playoffs on November 3, 2011 at Robertson Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
It seemed so fitting. So perfect, even. The Philadelphia Union were seeking their first ever playoff match victory and playoff series victory in the same place where they took their first-ever road victory, and opened their second season with a victory: Robertson Stadium in Houston. But it was not to be. An improbable season for the Union ended predictably with a set-piece goal against and not enough offense for.
After a somewhat promising first 45 minutes, if only for the fact that the Union hadn't conceded anything, Brad Davis and Brian Ching teamed up in likely the last kick in first half stoppage time on a Houston freekick. Two experts combining to take advantage of arguably the Union's biggest weakness, and give the Dynamo a backbreaking 3-1 lead in the aggregate that they would not relinquish. But let's spare the details of this match. You know what happened. Rubbing salt in these fresh wounds does no one any good. There are plenty of questions to be asked about Piotr Nowak's strategies for this match, and they'll undoubtedly be repeated for the next five months.
It's not exactly all bad, though.
Who expected last October 24, after the Union concluded their inaugural season with a 3-1 loss in Columbus, that their core would get younger and that they'd make the playoffs? Probably not that many people. But with additional young talent on hand, and Faryd Mondragon and Carlos Valdes -- who were all that they were hyped up to be -- what merely seemed like a possibility became a reality, with the Union making the MLS Cup playoffs.
Yes, the mid-season losses of Jordan Harvey and Carlos Ruiz will probably be brought up as the turning point in the season, where Philadelphia went from Eastern Conference contender to somewhat above average. The much-heralded acquisition of Freddy Adu ended up being underwhelming. On the other hand, though, Sebastien Le Toux's 2010 season was clearly not a fluke, though. Zac MacMath has proved that the Union picked a real gem in the first round of this year's MLS SuperDraft. Gabriel and Michael Farfan showed versatility. The importance of the understated acquisition of Brian Carroll cannot be overstated. Zach Pfeffer is on his way. Sheanon Williams picked up right where he left off at the end of last season and was simply marvelous.
Where do the Union go from here? There will be much time this offseason to try and answer this question, but on the surface, it seems as though the only option is for them to continue to go up. As their younger talent continues to develop, one cannot imagine any other outcome for their third season. Yes, the team will probably look to bring in outside talent -- Gabriel Farfan has been playing out of position at left back and frankly doesn't appear to be ready to take on a full-time starting role on the backline yet, and it's clear that the Union lost something very important with Carlos Ruiz. The future, however, looks to be very bright. That much is indisputable, and is something for Union fans to hang their hats on for the next five months. The Union took their fans on an unexpectedly positive ride from March through to tonight, and, ultimately, for that, we can only be grateful.