On paper, the Union's Saturday match at home with Toronto FC should be an easy three points.
If not for D.C. United, the Reds would be in last place in the East and are 16 points behind the Union in the table. Their 4-1 demolition on Saturday of DC United's reserve team three days ahead of their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final is the only thing long-suffering Toronto fans have had to celebrate in more than a month.
Since we last saw our north of the border neighbors in a road game in June, things have gone from bad to worse with first-year coach Ryan Nelson playing the part of a ship captain rearranging deck chairs. GM Kevin Payne has been replaced, captain Darren O'Dea is gone, Luis Silva is gone and Danny Koevermans' return from injury was brief. Even the long-rumored acquisition of Maximiliano Urruti led to a quick reshuffling, as the Argentine was sent to the Portland Timbers seemingly as soon as he stepped off the plane for Bright Dike.
Former Union goalkeeper Chris Konopka's acquisition was part of a slew of other personnel changes that give Toronto FC a drastically different look than they had in June and a practically different starting XI from the one that lined up at PPL Park in April.
I bring all this up not to pile on Toronto FC, the team we Union fans had to thank for reminding us last year that our nightmare season of 2012 could have been worse, but to note that this is a team the remarkably-still-in-the-playoff-hunt Union have dropped points to twice this season.
Both previous meetings ended with identical 1-1 scorelines. Both were the result of a last gasp equalizer from an unmarked Jack McInerney way back when he was scoring goals against. Both equalizers came against 10 men.
In the case of the June 1 match, Toronto played with 10 men for an entire half at rain-soaked BMO Field and deserved the win. In the April game at PPL Park, a Joe Bendik save preserved the kind of game Union fans might look back on as reason why Philadelphia is not more comfortably above the red line in the table right now.
Saturday's game could turn out that way if the Union aren't careful. Toronto was officially eliminated from playoff contention two weeks ago with a 2-0 loss in New Jersey, but they haven't realistically been in the hunt since they beat Sporting Kansas City in the second week of the season. They haven't had a month with more than one win all season and with Chicago on their schedule for Oct. 19 and Montreal in the season finale don't be surprised if they continue the trend with one win in October.
The Union on the other hand face a must win, which is all the more reason to be nervous and not look past a team with a 5-15-11 record. If the Union can't muster more than a draw against Toronto playing with 10 men, what will happen in a must-win game where they aren't gifted with a red card?
As last Friday night's illogical result against Sporting Kansas City on the road showed, the Union aren't ready to let the season that seemed to be slipping so perilously away go so expect another hard-working, less than satisfying to watch, grind it out affair with Jack McInerney getting a few opportunities to reopen his scoring account. Whether he buries those chances and whether the Union defense holds firm against the counter will have a lot to say over whether Union supporters will be seeing an email about ordering playoff tickets coming to their inbox in the coming weeks.