The last two weeks has seen the Union play four home games and one on the road in LA. Those 14 days have seen the devastation of a 5-1 stomping at the hands of the Galaxy, the inspirational comeback from a goal and a man down in the USOC, and a dull 0-0 draw through 120 minutes with a USL side that had to go to penalties. With results all over the map, here's why you should be excited...or not so much.
First and foremost, if the 2-1 comeback in against D.C. United in the US Open Cup doesn't give you hope and reinvigorate your excitement in this season, check your pulse. It was the kind of display of toughness and desire that was completely lacking in the Union's 5-1 loss in LA, their worst performance of the season so far. It wasn't just the scoreline though, it was the way they fought back. For large stretches of the game after CJ Sapong was (wrongfully) sent off, the Union dominated DC. Even without a true striker on the field the ball stayed in the Union's attacking third of the field. Attacking down the wings provided chance after chance and resulted in both goals.
With the win against DC and earning a point against the Montreal Impact from a losing position, the Union are treading water at this point in the playoff chase. Having raced out ahead of the other teams in the conference in games played the Union could only watch to see how those games in hand would shake out and where they would be. As teams are playing those games in hand the Union don't appear to be in as bad of shape as they could have been. The New England Revolution is currently in second place in the conference, even on games with the Union, and only five points ahead. That's not bad knowing the Union still take on the Revolution twice this season.
Those other teams in the conference that have played less games to this point will also face a congested schedule much like the Union just did, testing their depth. The Gold Cup will play an impact as well, with the Union only missing Andre Blake, there are much more important players that will miss time for teams the Union are chasing. Toronto FC will be the most impacted with five players (Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Ashtone Morgan, Jonathan Osorio, and Quillan Roberts) as long as Canada and the United States are alive. New York Red Bulls (3), Orlando City (2), and the Chicago Fire (1) Columbus Crew SC (1), Montreal (1), DC (1), and New York City FC (1) will all be missing field players during the tournament. After the group stage there may be others called in as those in the knock-out stage have the option to shuffle their rosters.
Hope is not lost for this season as the playoff chase is still within sight, we're still alive in the USOC, and injured players should be returning soon to offer reinforcement to the weary legs. To add more good news to this chance to rest, Young DP, Fernando Aristeguieta confirmed that his loan was extended and he will be staying with the Union for the rest of the season. We haven't seen the best he has to offer yet, and an in form Aristeguieta could go a long way to making this season a success still.
The bad is bad and even the good is riddled with bad. That is the only way to realistically explain the last two weeks for the Union. The LA Galaxy loss was bad in every sense of the game. The defense looked completely lost, the midfield was overrun the entire game, and the worst part was the complete lack of interest and desire from the side. Was it the overloaded June schedule, the paper thin depth that has forced the same players to continually put in 90 minute shifts, or is the roster lacking the motivation and mental toughness? There is a very good chance it is a mixture of those three reasons, but the Union front office put them in this position with the shallow roster of players with the ability to play at this level, and with adding a friendly against affiliate Reading United during the busiest month of the season.
Even when things seem to be going the Union's way, they continue to make it harder on themselves. A man advantage against Montreal? Former Union forward Jack McInerney gets a short handed goal after an unacceptable turnover from Captain, Maurice Edu. Then just after the Union equalize and have a chance to really take advantage of the man advantage in the last 15 minutes, youngster Ayuk earns his second yellow card and is sent off. It was a silly, inexperienced tackle and will be chalked up as a rookie mistake, but it took away the advantage the Union had and probably cost the team two extra points. Points can't be wasted after the poor first half of the season.
Going back to the lack of depth mentioned before. This team cannot stay healthy and suspensions continue to throw even more issues at that weakness. Sebastian Le Toux, Conor Casey, and Aristiguieta continue to spend time on the sidelines leaving no real options as Sapong has to play up top with Andrew Wenger, Cristian Maidana, Zach Pfeffer, and Eric Ayuk the only healthy players for the three spots under him. Fabinho was used in a pinch and luckily found the back of the net for the winner against DC. That can't be expected to continue. The Union played almost 60 minutes without a forward on the field as Curtin preferred to play down a man, down a goal or tied, and without an actual forward instead of playing Antoine Hoppenot, the only forward on the bench. That may have been the biggest statement about the lack of trust Curtin has in his depth. If that isn't the situation to put a striker on, then they won't ever see the field. Sapong is going to miss the next USOC match with his suspension, so one of the other forwards better regain their fitness, or it may be the Spanish 4-6-0 formation for the Union.
The team is only being held together by pure adrenaline at this point as the walking wounded brigade for the Union of Le Toux, Casey, Aristiguieta, Michael Lahoud, Steven Vitoria, and Blake need to reinforce this roster soon before it runs itself into the ground. How many more 90 minute performances does 33 year old Brian Carroll have in him? I prefer not to find out exactly what that number is.