For most of the 2013 season, an impressive Philadelphia Union scoring tally has been overshadowed by a similarly high number of goals allowed. Despite lingering questions about depth and quality in the defensive third, however, the Union have allowed just nine goals since May. They are currently on a run - along with the Chicago Fire, Real Salt Lake, and Portland Timbers - of earning points in all but two games over the same period.
Staying near the top has its advantages. The Supporters' Shield is awarded to the top point-earning team at the end of the regular season and it guarantees one of four spots dedicated to American teams in the CONCACAF Champions League. The other spots go to the MLS Cup finalists and US Open Cup champions. Interestingly enough, current Shield leaders and USOC finalists Real Salt Lake have a solid chance to qualify for the 2014 tournament in three different ways. When one team takes up multiple spots, the next American team in the overall standings slides in to fix the glitch. Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact, and Toronto FC (nope) also relinquish any of the four spots they might occupy, as Canadian teams have a different route to the Champions League.
Sitting 4th in the Supporters' Shield race and only four points out of the top spot, the Union are absolutely in the playoff hunt, but it is a stretch to start thinking about Philly joining CCL action anytime soon (especially considering nearly every remaining game represents a 6-point swing). They have company in that regard, as only 11 points separate #1 from #15 heading towards the finish line. Much like Walter White and Dexter Morgan navigating their final episodes, no team can afford to relax.
Fortunately, we as fans are entitled to sit back and catch our collective breath ahead of the final push. Here are a few numbers to recharge the batteries and put player performances into perspective:
Philadelphia Union players can be found at the top of nearly every positive list for the first time in team history. Jack McInerney and Conor Casey are 4th and 5th in league scoring respectively. Sebastien Le Toux leads Major League Soccer with 12 assists and Sheanon Williams is tied for 3rd with 8 of his own. Zac MacMath has even crept into 4th in saves and 2nd in shutouts.
Amobi Okugo, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba, and Jose Goncalves remain the only field players to have played every minute of every game so far this season. Seven goalkeepers, including MacMath, have done the same. Okugo will need to avoid a caution in his next three appearances to avoid a one-game yellow card accumulation suspension.
Captain Brian Carroll ranks 23rd all-time in MLS playing time with 24,585 minutes and 23rd in starts with 275. There is a good chance he will climb closer to the top in both categories over the coming weeks, passing Zach Thornton, Jimmy Conrad, and Cobi Jones.
Conor Casey has scored 9 goals so far this season, bringing his league total to 59 in 142 games played. Casey is 25th on the all-time scoring chart, just one behind Eddie Johnson (who needed 169 appearances to score 60).
Casey and Le Toux have notched a combined 12 goals and 16 assists since joining the team in the off-season (both at bargain prices considering the former was making $400,000 last year in Colorado and the latter would have been looking at a huge payday if anyone other than Nowak were in charge heading into the 2012 season). For a team operating with eyes on the future - both in terms of youth development and the significant cap relief when certain contracts come off the books next year - this duo could arguably be considered one of the best acquisitions league-wide.
New addition Fabinho has logged 183 minutes since arriving in Philadelphia, but his two assists are double the number attributed to playmaker Freddy Adu through 1,468 minutes in 2012. The Brazilian winger's output also almost perfectly mirrors an entire season's worth of production from Roger Torres in 2012 (2 assists in 181 minutes played).
Ten games remain for Philadelphia in the regular season, all but one to be played against Eastern Conference opponents. It is vital that the U continue earning results at home and on the road. They have only lost 7 of 24 contests to date, and their .500 road winning percentage is second only to Real Salt Lake, but can they pull it off?
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