The week started off with a bang and the stars seemed to align, as the team both kept a clean sheet and tallied three goals in an impressive display. Riding high from the big win over the Columbus Crew, the Union hosted New York City FC for a chance to close out an undefeated season series with the expansion club. However after showing a continued promise of better form and taking the lead, it all went south. The second goal never came, and NYCFC came from behind to steal the points. With so much good and bad, here's your weekly outlooks.
Not even the most negative Philadelphia Union fan can say with a straight face that the team isn't improving. Compared to the way the team looked in the lead up to the win against D.C. United, this team is becoming a real competitor in the league. CJ Sapong has returned from his league mandated suspension with a new sense of motivation and his been on fire. With Conor Casey 's and Fernando Aristeguieta's continued injury issues, it has been a fresh change of pace as opposed to the club's ice cold offensive form that began the season. Loanee Brian Sylvestre also continues to show he can handle playing at this level, as he earned another clean sheet and also is a nominee for MLS Save of the Week. So get to voting here!
Even with the loss to New York City FC, it was obvious the team is still headed in the right direction. The build up play in the counterattack was as strong as I've seen in recent years. The final ball was missing, but it is hard to blame the offense when the striker position has been a continual revolving door. With a little bit of consistency, the attack should become one of the more potent ones in the league. Through the hard times of May, Chris Winkler tried making the case that the missing piece was the missing Vincent Nogueira. That seems to be the case, as the improvement has come in tandem with the Frenchman's health.
Let's not fail to mention the impressive form of Brian Carroll. The league veteran has led an impressive career in the league and many fans, myself included thought his best years were well behind him. The last few games though have seen the midfielder turn back the clock and play a crucial role in the team. It is a real shame that all those "experts" that put out teams of the week didn't see fit to honor his standout performance. He was everywhere in the center of the park and really disrupted the New York attack. If more of the team continues to step up as he has, the Union will be right back in the playoff picture in no time.
Of a 34 game season, there are only 19 games left. That's right, almost half the season is gone already and the Union are still hovering just under the 1 point per game mark. Even though in total points the Union just 1 point out of the playoff race, the points per game stat leaves them second to last in the league, ahead of only the team that just beat them. That's the unfortunate realization of having played more games than the rest of the league. As other teams accumulate more points from their games in hand, the Union will fall farther behind the pace of the playoff teams while the fewer and fewer remaining games mean more pressure is heaped on the team.
The continued inability to make up ground on the rest of the pack after trading wins and loses is compounded by the appearance of an inability to make changes to impact the negative results. Other than removing Rais M'Bolhi (remember that guy?) and switching Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis on the outside backs, manager Jim Curtin has yet to make a switch to the starting line up that isn't injury induced. Even in making substitutions the moves aren't actually changing the style, formation, or tactics most of the time as they're just like for like switches. Saturday night the Union didn't even have a striker available on the bench to bring in when they were down a goal. If Antoine Hoppenot can't even make the bench when there aren't any other strikers healthy, when will he ever see the pitch for this team again?
From this point out the Union really need to start stringing wins together if they're going to catch the playoff teams. Health has been a major issue and this two week break from league play is going to have to be used wisely to rest and recover, or else yet another Union season is over by the midway point.