In a press conference prior to the May 28 match against the Colorado Rapids, Jim Curtin uttered the words that have become somewhat of a mantra for the 2016 Philadelphia Union.
"The table doesn’t lie."
At that time, the Union were in first place in the Eastern Conference and about to face off against a Rapids team that had taken the league by storm and put themselves at the top of the Western Conference - and by default the general table. The Union drew Colorado 1-1 that match, and the Union remained atop the East.
Fast forward to right now. A loss to the lowly Houston Dynamo and a win by New York City FC has toppled the Union from their perch on top of the Eastern Conference. The same rules still apply however - the table doesn’t lie, even when the Union aren’t on top anymore.
To put it bluntly, the Union were not good enough against Houston. There was a 12 point difference between the Union and Dynamo going into the match. And yes, Houston is a tough place to play in July when it’s 87 degrees with 67% humidity at almost 10:00 PM local time. And yes, the officiating was MLS standard issue atrocious. And yes, the Union playing without a true forward hurt. But teams that win trophies beat teams at the bottom of the table, and they overcome obstacles like injuries and poor officiating. They don’t look for excuses, instead opting to look for solutions.
Some solutions may be on the horizon. CJ Sapong - by far the Union’s best option up top, is returning from an ankle injury suffered on June 1st against Columbus Crew SC. Since then the Union have won only once while losing three, so hopefully Sapong will provide the spark needed to revitalize the Union’s offense. With players like Tranquillo Barnetta, Chris Pontius, and Roland Alberg, the potential is there in the midfield to provide opportunities for Sapong to finish.
Another option is the opening of the summer transfer window. The Union should consider themselves buyers - a position they’ve never really been in before. Sapong going out underscored the need for another MLS quality striker. Fabian Herbers has shown glimpses of this, but he has also shown he needs to mature and polish his game once he returns from his hamstring injury. Perhaps an opportunity will present itself to acquire a striker, whether it be someone who can adequately cover for Sapong during injury or suspension or someone who can come in and challenge - or supplant - Sapong for the starting job. The Union have an international slot available with Vincent Nogueira returning to France, so the Union might be able to bring in someone from the international market.
The Union are down but not out. It’s only July - there’s a lot of soccer left to play in the MLS season, however the Union need to reverse this recent poor run of form if they want the table to tell the truth about them.