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Are the Philadelphia Union the team to beat in the East? It sure looks like it

The Union have been here before, but the run they are on now feels different

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The first-place Philadelphia Union traveled to Toronto, Canada on Saturday trying to stay atop the East and defeat the one team in the East with more points per game than them.

The Union was almost back to full strength in Toronto, missing only Mark McKenzie, Matt Freese and starting goalkeeper Andre Blake, who is expected to return to play this weekend against the Seattle Sounders at home. Brenden Aaronson also sat out the first 60 minutes of play after a hip injury the week before against last-place New England Revolution.

After grabbing a 2-1 win, te Union still sit in first place in the Eastern Conference with 23 points and a goal differential of 11 goals, putting them ahead of D.C. United, which has a goal differential of 5. The Union also stand in second in the Supporters’ Shield race, behind just LAFC.

All this leads to one question. Is this the Union’s time to shine? Their play against Toronto answered that question with a simple yes.

Sure, the Union has had streaks before where they rise in the rankings for a few weeks and seem unbeatable, but the fire burns out, and they finish with either a first-round playoff loss or they miss the playoffs altogether. But right now, this feels different than past runs.

Philadelphia is playing as a real team, stepping up when their teammates fall or don’t play up to their potential. In Marco Fabián’s return from an ankle injury, he clearly did not seem to play up to his full potential. However, Fabián’s teammates stepped up in a big way, including Jamiro Monteiro, who scored the game-winning goal in the 68th minute, and Fafa Picault, who forced an own goal.

Both head coach Jim Curtin and forward Kacper Przybylko echoed this sentiment post-game.

“I think our players deserve all the credit as they’re not scared of any team. I think they respect everybody, but they’re not scared of anyone,” Curtin said. “We know we had something special in the locker room, but now I think people are taking notice that it’s a team that can play with anybody in our league.”

“It shows the attitude that we can fight like a team,” Przybylko said. “It was a good team performance and like last week’s game today was a big fight and it was a positive.”

This Union team is clearly the team to beat in the East, and a team to watch across the entire league. They’ve shown that no matter what happens, the team will step up and play their hearts out to get three points. It’s time for Union fans to hope for a playoff game and move on to home-field advantage and a chance at bringing the MLS Cup to Philadelphia for the first time.