The month of June has so far been the best month of the season for the Philadelphia Union. They ended the month with a record of 4-1-2 with two key US Open Cup wins against USL team Rochester Rhinos and I-95 rivals D.C. United. In June the Union were only shut out once against Rochester, but won the game on penalty kicks. The two losses for the Union were pretty heavy ones, including a home loss to at the time struggling New York City FC and being slaughtered by the LA Galaxy 5-1. Key wins for the Union included a 3-0 win over Columbus Crew SC, both US Open Cup victories, and a 1-0 win over at the time Supporters Shield leaders Seattle Sounders. The Union seem to have found something that works for them, and this is great for the team as many fans were beginning to lose hope at the end of May.
There were quite a few standouts this month that helped propel the Union to their first winning month of the season.
CJ Sapong: CJ was an obvious stand out as he tied the Union franchise record for most consecutive games with a goal (4) and was a key part of the reason the Union were only shut out once this month. CJ scored four goals and had an assist to the Eric Ayuk screamer against the Montreal Impact. CJ was only selected after young DP Fernando Aristeguieta was injured, but when Fernando is healthy he will need to earn his starting position back, as CJ has looked to be unstoppable. CJ has topped off his month by being nominated for the Etihad Player of the Month award.
Eric Ayuk: Youngster Eric Ayuk has once again proven he can be a real threat on offense. Ayuk had a beautiful goal in the 2-2 draw against the Montreal Impact and scored the game tying goal against D.C. United in the US Open Cup round of 16 while being down a man. While receiving a red card in the Montreal game, Ayuk still shown in his time on the wing and may have earned a starting position for the rest of the season as he helped the Union advance in the US Open Cup. And yes, his flips are still entertaining.
Fabinho: He scored the game winner against D.C. United to send the Union to the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup, the Sons of Ben have a chant about him, he can play both left back and left or right wing. He is the most valuable sub on the Union. Fabinho has become a fan favorite and has been able to make an impact off the bench to make key crosses. Fabinho has never looked better in a Union uniform and the hope is he continues this great run of form as long as he can.
Zach Pfeffer: Pfeffer has had some good games this month, but ever since an injury to Sebastien Le Toux against Rochester, the Union have lacked wing depth and Jim Curtin has had Zach Pfeffer fill that role. Pfeffer, however, has instead frequently drifted into the center of the field, forcing Cristian Maidana out to cover for Pfeffer. This is tough because Maidana is much more of a playmaker than Pfeffer, and the Union need to be running the ball through Maidana in the middle while they are short on wings.
Andrew Wenger: I wouldn't say Andrew Wenger has been slacking in the month of June, he is really giving it 110% while he is out on the pitch. But something isn't clicking, and he can't seem to finish plays. Wenger has been struggling since the beginning of the year to find the back of the net, and Union fans were relying on him to have a double-digit goal year. You can see it when he comes off the pitch for a sub - Wenger wants to do better and he knows he should be better. A year ago Wenger was struggling as well, missing shots and picking up absent minded yellow cards. He turned the corner then, so hopefully he can turn around this year as well and find form to help as the Union make a playoff push.
What is hurting the Union?
Injuries have once again plagued the Union, as they have been without key offensive players such as Sebastien Le Toux, Fernando Aristeguieta and Conor Casey. Due to these injuries, the Union have lacked offensive depth in the wing and striker position. There have been many times where players like Fabinho, Fred or Sheanon Williams have had to play in a midfield/wing position that is unnatural to them for about 20 minutes a game. Once players heal from these injuries they will have some offensive depth, but it doesn't end there.
MLS is growing, and it's getting clearer as players like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo are coming to join the league. The most successful teams in MLS are buying big name Designated Players to help boost ticket sales and promotional items, but the Union cannot compete with big money clubs like the LA Galaxy or Seattle Sounders, or even NYCFC. In May, the Sons of Ben voiced their frustration with the front office and Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz for the lack of results to which, a month ago, Sakiewicz agreed with and responded with a general sense of understanding. Now, Sakiewicz is calling out fans for the protest saying that "The team needs support, that type of stuff just wedges between people. I don't pay a lot of attention to it." This is essentially Sakiewicz saying "If I ignore it long enough, it will go away on its own." The only problem is, if you ignore the money situation the Union are facing right now, you won't have a club long enough for the problem to go away. The Union need a new club owner who is willing to invest money in the club and will not take short cuts in buying players. CBS reporter Kevin Kinkead nailed the issue when he said "Guess what, if your big signings of the offseason are both loans, then you don't have the 'financial wherewithal' to compete." As long as Jay Sugarman is the majority owner of the Union, they will not get the funds they need to survive in the MLS. Funds, more than anything are killing the Union right now.