When the Philadelphia Union opened the season with two straight losses, plenty of fans who have seen seasons start in a similar fashion before were ready to hit the panic button.
I was not one of those people.
Sure, losing at home to Toronto FC and failing to get a point against Sporting Kansas City on the road was not an ideal way to start a season going into a visit to the defending MLS Cup champions. But it also wasn’t exactly a shock to lose on the road to a very good SKC team and fail to score from the run of play in a new system the first two times out.
A glimmer of hope started to peek through the dark clouds forming in the fanbase with the 1-1 draw in Atlanta, especially with how Brenden Aaronson played in his MLS debut but the past two weeks has seen a complete shift in the plot with back-to-back shutouts of Ohio opponents.
Just as quickly as fans were ready to hit the panic button after two losses the declarations of how good and how deep the squad is have flowed after surviving an international break when head coach Jim Curtin couldn’t even dress 18 players and a monsoon in Cincinnati to collect back-to-back wins.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to believe the adversity faced in the last two games would’ve led to further defeat for previous Union teams — I always like to say bad teams have lots of reasons for losing, good teams just win — but the Union passed both tests with emphatic wins. They did it was some things new (Aaronson and Marco Fabián) and old (David Accam and Andre Blake) combining to get the offense clicking and the defense keeping opponents off the board. After conceding six times in the first three games, the Union have not conceded since.
Still, after five games have been played, don’t the Union still look a little like a typical MLS playoff team? Lose a couple and then go on a roll feels a lot like the formula of most teams that end up making the playoffs in a league that prides itself on parity.
To be clear, seven points is an impressive haul.
It’s the most the Union have ever earned in the month of March while also playing five games in the first month of the season for the first time. It’s just the third time they’ve collected more than one win in March and the first since 2016.
As a result of two straight wins, the Union currently sit in fourth place, which is pretty much right where many of us thought they would be at season’s end.
The team we saw beat an FC Cincinnati that was missing two of their star players and the Fabián-less team that defeated a Columbus Crew team that was missing several of its stars was possibly more impressive than most expected. There’s no debating that.
I’m just not ready to make any declarations about how good this team is any sooner than I was ready to hate on the 4-4-2 because it didn’t deliver a result in the first two games and the first win came while reverting back to a 4-2-3-1.
With 29 league games left and the U.S. Open Cup bringing fixture congestion into the picture in June, it’s hard to draw too many conclusions at this juncture beyond the fact that the Union are currently in good shape and look like a team moving in the right direction.
A big reason for that has been the play of Accam, who struggled in his first season but scored three of the five goals in the last two games. His re-emergence has softened the blow from Sergio Santos being injured just as Aaronson’s play did more than enough to cover for Fabián’s two-game suspension. Jamiro Monteiro finally being eligible to play is more reason for optimism, especially given the way Curtin has talked about him and the glimpses we got when he subbed on in the second half in Cincinnati.
This all adds up to justifiably good vibes for the team returning home to host FC Dallas this weekend. That could all change with FC Dallas coming to town this weekend and a trip to LA Galaxy the following weekend, but for now it’s safe to say the Union have met expectations and are trending toward exceeding them.