The month of May was not as awful as we had originally thought. After April's nightmare, it looked as though the Union would not get a win until June, but the Philadelphia Union ended up 2-0-3 for the month, including a big home win against DC United and the first ever road win at Red Bull Arena. While the team got results, this month was still not ideal for the Union as they only scored four goals and were shut out in two of their five games. To compare, in April the Union scored seven goals and avoided being shut out, even in tough games where they conceded. However, more points did come out of the month of May, so this month was not a complete waste. The month of May also saw the first ever Sons of Ben protest, when the supporters' group marched with a "Union fans deserve better" banner prior to the home win against DCU. The Union quickly delivered as the shutouts ended and two wins fell the Union's way.
Given the ups and downs of the last month, there have been some standout performers and struggling slackers.
Zach Pfeffer: Zach Pfeffer has grown into a solid and consistent midfielder as a result of his loan spells and frequent call ups to the U-20 and U-23 national teams. While he will not be joining the U-23 team in the U-23 World Cup, he will be an important player for the Union in the month of June. Pfeffer scored the late game-winner against DC United, has been a burst of fresh energy off the bench and has even earned a nomination for the MLS All-Star Game. Though he gave up a foolish handball in the box which lead to the loss at DC, Pfeffer has shown glimpses of his potential in the past month.
Fabinho: Fabinho has been the starting left back ever since Raymon Gaddis picked up an injury in the home game against DC United. The Brazilian has been solid in defense since taking over for Gaddis, his goal line save at RFK serving as evidence of that. On the other side of the field, Fabinho served up the cross that Pfeffer tucked away in the Union's win against DC. Additionally, Fabinho assisted on CJ Sapong's goal against New York Red Bulls. While I do not think Fabinho will continue to start when Gaddis is healthy, he has been in fine form as of late.
Brian Sylvestre: A month ago, nobody in MLS really knew who Brian Sylvestre was. Since joining the Union on loan from the Carolina Railhawks, Sylvestre has recorded two clean sheets and has been nominated for MLS's Save of the Week. He had a rough debut against the Vancouver Whitecaps, losing 3-0, but all three goals can be chalked up to defensive breakdowns. He then recorded two consecutive shutouts against DC United and the New York Red Bulls. Sylvestre's month ended with a 2-1 loss against DC United, however both goals in that game were tough as DC's Chris Pontius had a beautiful header and Chris Rolfe scored on a penalty kick. Sylvestre's spell with the Union has only resulted in two wins and two losses, but he has easily been the most consistent goalkeeper on the team.
Fernando Aristeguieta: Though he missed two games due to a call-up from the Venezuela national team, Fernando Aristeguieta has not scored for the Union since April 5th. The Union needed a goalscorer while CJ Sapong was out due to his DUI charges and Aristeguieta was not able to rise to the occasion. I do believe he can turn the corner and find form soon, but right now the team needs the man who scored two goals against London United back in preseason.
Andrew Wenger: While he did assist on Sebastien Le Toux's early goal against DC United, Andrew Wenger still needs to find his form from last season. More recently, Wenger is famous for dribbling the ball straight out of bounds in the win against DC United, conceding a goal kick in the process. If he had been in the form he was in last year, fans would have forgiven him, but some fans still get nervous when Wenger is dribbling up the sideline. If Andrew Wenger can turn himself around and play well on the wing, the Union will be fine. If not, the Union could be facing more games like the 3-0 defeat in Vancouver.
John McCarthy: While he did not play a lot in May due to a concussion, John McCarthy has quickly gone from the hometown hero to a big zero, as he now has the same number of goals conceded per game as Rais M'Bohli (9 goals allowed in 5 games). The emotional appeal of John McCarthy has died down and now Union fans face the facts: John McCarthy was not MLS-ready and may not see much more time on the field this season.
What is hurting the Union?
Many fans right now would say that the ownership is killing the Union, but that is only true to a certain extent. Yes, if the club had more money or bought more valuable players the club could have instant success, but the Union have been taking a moneyball approach. The problem is, moneyball is great in theory but does not always work. You can have high-valued players but if they play inconsistently or apart from each other, the team will not find success. If players are not consistent where they can play multiple games well and fight to the end, they will not win key games. The Union need to find form whether that means playing a few extra friendlies against USL or NASL teams or increasing training so they are more prepared for games.
Another way of changing the team's fortunes could be a formation change. Right now it is extremely defensive as the Union play with two defensive midfielders, but if Curtin moved a defensive mid to the forward position, the offense would increase and Fernando would have someone to play alongside rather than being the lone man up top. While it is unlikely that Jim Curtin would change the formation, it could be helpful, and I think fans and players could agree that there are still major changes that need to occur for this club to find success.