The MLS schedule wasn't kind to the Philadelphia Union - the first three games in particular. With games slated against the 2015 runner up to the Supporters Shield FC Dallas, the runner up to the 2015 MLS Cup Columbus Crew SC, and a strong Eastern Conference challenger in the New England Revolution, the Union were expected to flounder points in all three. It's not an indictment of the team itself, rather a testament to the teams they would face. Three teams with high expectations and a Union side with tons of question marks.
At best, the Union were expected to maybe look to have some improved play. Better communication among a host of new players being introduced to each and a new system as well. It wasn't doom and gloom, just a realist's opinion. There were too many things that needed to be put into place before the Union looked the part of the contender they were trying to become. That takes time, and that's time that most other fans and I were willing to wait. It doesn't make it easy though when they have to learn by competing against the best.
The Union however, disagreed with that notion.
In the first game of the season, there was the expected loss. FC Dallas is a strong side and showed it against the Union, who put several new players into rotation. Understandably, the Union wound up losing the match 2-0. Andre Blake however stood out, and his performance reassured the Union faithful that he is the stud we all hoped he was. The defense was shaky in front of him, but as the game progressed they settled.
Its the next two games where the Union really impressed. At MAPFRE Stadium - a place where Philadelphia has struggled mightily - the Union did the unthinkable and won 2-1. With several players still adjusting to the league, getting into match fitness, and learning how to play with one another, the opportunistic Union seized three points from defending Eastern Conference champions Columbus. Not too shabby, eh? Chris Pontius looked like shades of his old self, and bagged a brace leading to the win. Ilsinho improved over his first game performance. Andre Blake continued to be a stud. Sebastien Le Toux still found a way to be involved despite his role being diminished.
Its all those things and more that made the second win of the season even more delightful. With a 3-0 win against the New England Revolution, another offseason fear about the Union was partly reassured. The biggest question I (and a great deal of other fans) had this offseason was can CJ Sapong maintain the scoring load by himself? Sapong made a statement on Sunday by netting a first half brace.
The Union have looked far from perfect in their wins. and that is understandable. You don't overhaul a roster and expect it to be all sunshine and rainbows - and its definitely not all sunshine and rainbows yet. The roster that has been compiled is still not 100%. Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira, and Tranquillo Barnetta are injured, and its unsure when exactly they'll return to the lineup (except Edu who is out for another two to three months). As time goes on and as players adjust to the system and each other, you can only think the style will improve.
All of this is important, but the Union have done something far more meaningful in the first three games of the season: Win against adversity. The Union have typically been a victim of circumstance. The rosters in the past were because of failures by Peter Nowak, John Hackworth, and Nick Sakiewicz. They dropped points late in games because of the officials or because of mental lapses on defense. Injuries this or too many games in a week that. You name it, the Union have been a victim of it. That's been the message of results by Philadelphia Union over the course of their franchise. Losing when they were expected to and losing because of circumstances that weren't their fault.
The message of the 2016 Union so far? Getting results when they're not supposed to.