The Good: Excitement
The 2014 Philadelphia Union offer viewers a much different experience than recent editions. The play is much more open and features more possession in the final third, all things that make John Hackworth very happy. It is undeniable that the attention has changed from a defensive shell to a much more attacking minded side. Between the moments of inept finishing and depressing defensive errors the play has been better and I am actually enjoying the rest of the play.
If the Union can figure out how to correct the inability to finish and limit school boy errors in defense this could be a very exciting team to be rooting for. I have my opinion on what may have to happen (it may rhyme with "Slack Tack"), but the foundation is there and the project just needs to be polished and well rounded.
The Bad: Lack of "Meaningful" Shots
Hackworth rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way by declaring his dislike for the stat of shots on target, especially after a game when the Union had 0 shots on target. It seemed like a bit of a cop out at the time. As someone who doesn't disagree with his sentiment completely (any one stat is useless, except for goals scored), I do believe that not all shots on goal are not created equal.
While the Union offered 5 shots on goal, only 3 of them were deemed good enough to make the mlssoccer.com highlight reel for the game and of those they included 2 shots from very tight angles that any keeper in the league could have saved and a ball that Andrew Wenger could only flick towards goal, letting Perkins react to keep in out. None of them were very dangerous, forcing Perkins to make a great save. In fact, the keeper the Union has faced hasn't been featured as one of the 5 Save of the Week nominees since week 1.
With a scoreless streak from the run of play reaching 270 minutes, the Union are going to need to be a lot more dangerous in front of net to "turn the tide."
The Ugly: The Schedule
The scariest part of the current form of 3 points from a possible 15 in April is the upcoming schedule. If I asked when the next win was going to come, who would you put your money on? The schedule is laid out in the coming weeks as:
Seattle, away. The best and hottest team in the league with the most dangerous attack. They aren't just beating teams, but demolishing their defenses. I am sad to say I don't see this as a matter of if the Union will lose, but a matter of by how much.
DC, home. The first home game since the passing of a Sons of Ben/Philadelphia Union original, Eric Shertz, will be a very emotional game for everyone involved, both fans and players alike. These types of games can go either direction. Will the players rally together and win the day, or will the young players struggle to focus and lose out to a DC team that looks to be gelling as a team and looking dangerous.
Sporting KC, away. A midweek game on the road after an emotional home game could be a tall order, especially against the reigning MLS champs. It's not an easy place to play and the Union still haven't shown much form, if any, on the road this season.
New England, home. Just 3 days later the Union complete their 3 games in 1 week journey by welcoming New England to PPL Park. This isn't the same Revolution who the Union beat by 1, but were saved by a point blank Zac MacMath denial of Diego Fagundez. New England has jumped the Union and look to be turning the corner, just like DC.
Galaxy, away. A cross country flight a week later will see the Union take on a Galaxy team looking to collect maximum points before losing some key players to World Cup rosters. Bruce Arena is good at getting points when he needs them and he will be feeling the pressure before the international break. It is also a smart team that can use it's veteran experience against a Union team that has shown it can be contained by a smart defensive strategy.
Chivas, away. Just a week later the Union are back in LA to play the other occupants of the StubHub Center. That is a lot of traveling for the week and Chivas has been an improved side this year. This is a good opportunity to get a win, having never lost to Chivas USA, but there have also been a number of ugly draws in the series history. If there is anything the 2014 Union is good at doing, it is tying ugly.
Vancouver, home. Historically speaking, another chance to get a win. The Union have never lost to Vancouver at home, but once again, if this 2014 Union squad is good at anything, it is giving teams their firsts. Vancouver has some very dangerous attacking threats and it will be a good test for the defense. If Hackworth has been able to figure out what is ailing the offense by now the Union can get a win, if not, it could be another ugly loss.
At that point the World Cup break takes place and the Union will have time to regroup. How many wins will the Union have at that time? I told myself I would be more positive with the Union this season, but if that number is more than 2 I would be very surprised.
Bonus...Great: Honoring Eric Shertz
While the Union's honoring of Eric was class, from the jersey held up by the team and the sharing of twitter stories during the game it was a nice touch to help Union fans come together. While I was not able to attend the viewing party at Stoney's myself, the stories, pictures, and tweets coming from those in attendance showed just how much the afternoon was needed, even if the Union couldn't bring home the 3 points.
The thing that really blew me away was the response league and country wide. From the tweets from supporters groups and players from every level of the American soccer pyramid, to the Tifo and banners flying in opposing stadiums across the league. DC, Portland, and Salt Lake all had specific banners, but I think I remember seeing at least 1 supporters group from each team send their condolences. Eric was right when he said he was with family in the River End and PPL Park, but credit is due to the family that is US Soccer.