Besides seven points not being enough to win the group, there were very few surprises in the group stage of the MLS is Back Tournament for the Philadelphia Union.
While teams like Atlanta United, New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy surprised by not advancing, the Union did more or less what was expected of them when the pairings were announced. They got results in all three matches and were good if not overwhelmingly so.
“We haven’t hit our full stride yet and I think that if we keep playing we’re going to hit that stride at some point,” Brenden Aaronson said in a Zoom conference with media on Thursday. “I think next game would be a perfect time.”
Captain Alejandro Bedoya said the trajectory since they arrived in “the bubble” three weeks ago has been pointing in the right direction.
“Throughout the tournament, I think we’ve been improving,” he said. “There’s been some good things in every game. After that first win that builds confidence, gives us some momentum. We’re able to grind out a win against Miami and then against Orlando we got a result. Unfortunately, we didn’t come up with three points but seven out of nine points to get into the next round is good.”
Battling the weather conditions has been one of the big challenges, particular the 9 a.m. game they opened with against NYCFC, Bedoya said. He said he’s thankful they don’t have any more games that early. The Union play at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday and only two more of the games in the competition kick off later than 8 p.m.
“We have yet to have a proper straight 90-minute great performance so you know stuff in this climate I think everybody starts dying around the 65th minute,” he said.
Head coach Jim Curtin, who is no stranger to knockout competitions having led teams to three Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup finals and to the club’s first playoff win last fall, said he likes where the team is at heading into Saturday.
“I think we have some of the attributes that can can help you in the competition like that we have a goalkeeper playing very well, we have good young players that are really working hard on the field and improving every game, and our experienced guys have been excellent,” he said.
With details of the regular season resuming and the teams already eliminated in a state of limbo, Curtin said the goal right now is to just keep playing as long as possible. Regardless of the result, the experience itself can also be one that benefits the team in the long term.
“There is no replacement for the intensity of elimination games,” Curtin said. “So the more of those the better.”