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Minnesota rout erases ghost of 2016

Fears that this year’s Philadelphia Union team would stumble into the playoffs the way the 2016 team did were firmly put to rest Saturday night

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Philadelphia Union Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

While certain events in the political realm may have made yesterday feel a bit like 2016 for some, the Philadelphia Union team that throttled Minnesota United on Saturday night in Chester was nothing like the last team to clinch a playoff berth.

That team from 2016 lost all three of its games in October after a winless September and only made it in because they had a better goal differential than New England after finishing the season tied on 42 points.

The 2018 playoff-bound Union passed 42 points three and a half weeks ago with a dramatic stoppage time winner in Seattle and has lost only twice in league play since the beginning of August.

On Saturday night, they didn’t just clinch a playoff spot, but sent a message to their fans and to the league that they intend to be more than just a one-week participant in the postseason. The Union took care of business the way you want a team to do late in the season with a 5-1 blowout.

“It does not depend on what other teams do or goal differential or if we tie or if we get one more point, it’s we are in the playoffs, which is a good relief for the group going into the playoffs,” head coach Jim Curtin said in his post-game press conference Saturday. “But I know that they are not satisfied.”

Third place is now incredibly within striking distance as the team takes a two-week international break ahead of a pair of Sunday matches against New York Red Bulls and New York City FC.

The nightmare scenario of history repeating itself that started to creep in with the 4-1 drubbing by Montreal a few weeks ago is no longer in play.

“I just came on to the team and we kind of backed down and we were not in good form going into that game in Toronto,” Alejandro Bedoya said of the 2016 team that was one and out in the playoffs. “This feels a lot better. I think we are playing well and we have been playing well the last couple months. I just hope we can keep it going.”

Though there was a celebratory atmosphere in and around the stadium Saturday night, there’s still more to play for with two tough opponents awaiting after the international break. Favorable results in those matches would set the Union up quite nicely heading into playoffs.

“We want to celebrate and enjoy the time off, but that is what we have been talking about while we have been on this run,” said Keegan Rosenberry, who assisted on two of the goals. “We are looking at the teams ahead of us and we are trying to push up the standings. Our main focus is hosting that first knockout round playoff game, so that is what we are going to continue to push for.”

Because it’s 2018 and not 2016, there’s no reason to doubt that will happen.