As of July 5th, the Philadelphia Union currently sit 3 points behind the first place Montreal Impact. If you had told me, or any Union fan for that matter, that we would be in third place at this point of the season, you would have been laughed out of the room. Not to say this team is bad by any means, but they have been overachieving as of late.
The season began with tough losses to New York, New England and frustrating draws against bad teams such as Toronto F.C. The Union entered one of their toughest parts of the season against the likes of New York Red Bulls, F.C. Dallas, Real Salt Lake and the upcoming fixture against the Houston Dynamo. Following two dominant victories against the likes of Columbus and New York, the Union would face off against Western Conference powers, Real Salt Lake and F.C. Dallas. Both of these games would turn out to be promising and increasingly frustrating. Winning both games and stealing 6 points against Dallas and Salt Lake would have been a statement to the league that the Union are the real deal. Instead, the Union were left only with two draws and two points to show for their efforts. It goes without saying that both games should have been won, but the Unions inability to play with a man up and hold late leads eventually caught up with them. Now the fact that the Union were able to get two points from these teams is a good sign in some ways. They outplayed two of the best teams in the league and were within mere minutes of victory in both instances. But the sports gods were cruel, as they often are, and the team and supporters alike were left to wonder what the true identity of this team is.
The Union will face off against Eastern Conference power, the Houston Dynamo, this Saturday in Houston with the hopes of climbing the Eastern Conference Standings even further. For the second game in a row the Union will be without top scorer Jack McInerney, who is currently with the U.S. Men’s national team. Players like Conor Casey, Sebastian Le Toux and Antoine Hoppenot look to pick up the scoring slack in Jack’s absence. Though it bears mentioning that even in McInerney’s absence the team has fared relatively well in the scoring department. The biggest issue appears to be the defense and the inconsistent midfield play. With starting midfielder Keon Daniel playing for his native Trindad and Tobago in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the Union have been starting midfielder Michael Farfan in his place. The play in the midfield has been inconsistent all season long and the absence of Daniel has been problematic on the defensive front. For all of Keon Daniel’s offensive faults, he plays defense well. He is able to drop back and assist Brian Carroll in defensive situation in ways that Farfan cannot. Midfield aside, the defensive depth of the Union is being exposed. After trading away defender Bakary Soumare in a mid-season trade, the Union have been left without much of a defensive presence on the bench. Defenders Amobi Okugo and Ray Gaddis have performed well but they are very young players and still have much to learn. These defensive woes along with inconsistent play form goalkeeper Zac MacMath allowed two goals in stoppage time against Dallas and Salt Lake. MacMath is often heralded as one of the young up and comers in the American soccer scene, but seeing that he is only 23, there is clearly much still to be learned. Does this inconsistent play mean that we will see the likes of back up keep Chris Konopka or recent addition Oka Nikolov? All I know is that this inconsistent play cost the team 4 points and a higher position in the standings.
One of my biggest pet-peeves as a fan in any sport is inconsistency and this team has loads of it. As the season started, it appeared the Union would be a mediocre team fighting for one of the final playoff spots. They beat teams below them and lost to teams better than them, but then after rattling off a 3-0 win against second place New York, it appeared the Union had found their identity as a team. But after the aforementioned draws against Dallas and Salt Lake, I am left wondering how good is this team? Hopefully the next few games can give a better idea of how good this team truly is. The next game against Houston will undoubtedly be a tough game, in addition to the upcoming Fixture against the Portland Timbers. We can only hope that the team wins against the likes of Chivas USA and Chicago to stay firmly in the hunt for first place and an eventual playoff spot. There is one thing that I know for sure and that is this team will be exciting to watch. You never know what you’re going to get out of the Union.