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Union beat Sounders, postpone mathematical elimination

Sunday’s win keeps the Union’s microscopically thin playoff hopes alive until next weekend.

Trey Madara -

Anything but a win against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday would have finally, mathematically eliminated the Philadelphia Union from playoff contention. But win they did, thanks to stellar performances from Andre Blake, Marcus Epps, and the whole squad. Epps and Roland Alberg found the net for the Union, while Blake kept the Sounders off the board on the other end.

Marcus Epps opened up the scoring in the 28th minute, picking up an incisive ball from Ilsinho and slotting it home with his left foot. The goal was the rookie’s second of the season. Epps was a late addition to the starting lineup, taking up Chris Pontius’s spot on the right wing after he suffered an abdomen injury in pregame warmups.

Ilsinho’s assist on the opener was certainly the highlight of his day, but he put in a complete performance before he was taken off in the 71st minute. The Brazilian completed 40 of his 43 attempted passes, going 30/32 in the attacking half.

Roland Alberg, who replaced Ilsinho, put the game to bed in the 88th minute. After holding off two Seattle defenders in the corner, the midfielder quickly moved infield before lashing the ball on net. Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei managed to get a hand on the ball, which was bending away from him, but he only managed to push it onto the post and over the goal line.

The Union throughly dominated the Sounders in the first half, holding the majority of possession and outshooting them 9-0. The distribution of chances tilted in Seattle’s favor in the second half, though, giving Andre Blake quite a bit of work to do.

The Sounders ripped off 13 shots in the second 45, with Clint Dempsey taking seven of those. Deuce was a force after he entered the game in the 55th minute, forcing three saves out of Andre Blake.

Though Dempsey forced Blake to go full-extension on a number of occasions, his best opportunity for an equalizer landed in Row K. Ray Gaddis had lost Dempsey in the box, allowing the USMNT striker to slip off his back shoulder and into space. Nevertheless, Dempsey was unable to control Nicolas Lodeiro’s ball into him, and his shot from close range never even tested Blake.

Will Bruin had a pair of opportunities as well, with the best of the two coming minutes before Alberg’s insurance tally. The striker sent a curling ball to the top corner from about 20 yards out, but Blake pushed the shot over with seeming ease.

The Union came into this game needing a win to stay alive in the MLS Eastern Conference playoff race. Now they sit in ninth place, tied on points with the Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, and Orlando City SC. All four of those teams are chasing the New York Red Bulls, who sit four points ahead with a game in hand. If the Red Bulls win one of their three remaining games, they clinch.

In order for the Union to qualify, they would need to win their final two games, which is certainly possible. They would also need the Red Bulls to take no more than one point out of their next three games. If the Impact or Revolution also win out, they would finish above the Union due to controlling the tiebreaker (number of wins). So how possible is all that? FiveThirtyEight gives them a 1% chance of making the playoffs, up from <1% before Sunday’s win.

The Union are back in action two weeks from today, when they will travel to Chicago to take on the fire. The last game of the season (barring a small miracle) will be against Orlando City SC in Chester a week later