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Strong defensive performance key to Philadelphia Union victory over Columbus

The Union defense hasn’t conceded a goal in 418 straight minutes

Jack Verdeur

The Philadelphia Union’s winning streak has extended to five, and they did it without a player in blue putting one in the back of the net.

Saturday night’s clash in Chester was a hard-fought battle typical to most MLS games. Not much separated the two sides in the contest, the only thing distinguishing the victors after the final whistle was Columbus’ own goal all the way back in the 2nd minute.

After the match, Union head coach Jim Curtin delivered his trademark post-victory line. “I say it all the time, it’s really hard to win games in this league.”

For a team that will typically start out their season a bit slow and work to gain their footing as the game days go by, it has been a much different story to begin this campaign. Never before have the Union won five in a row at any point of the season. Six games in, the Eastern Conference runner-ups stand at the top of the table the only undefeated team in MLS, and it all starts with the defense.

Fueled by the promise of pizza and beer from their skipper, Philadelphia has recorded four shutouts in a row. In a game where they were unable to put chances past Eloy Room, it was the difference-maker.

“Sometimes that (early goal) tends to give the other team, the opponent, a ton of possession. That happened,” Curtin said after the early goal before giving praise to his boys for keeping the door shut for the duration of the match. “I still have to give credit to my guys for bending for sure but not breaking.”

Even as the new pieces on offense figure out how to maximize each other’s talents, the defense has been there as a safety cushion. The lapses in defense that were there in prior seasons are not evident early on in the season. An already stout backline has been reinforced with the addition of Nathan Harriel, but it’s much more than just the four defenders in front of Andre Blake.

Philadelphia is defending as an 11-man unit, aided by the 12th man in the stands for home games as it was Saturday. Subaru Park has become an impenetrable fortress for away teams to earn points in, the Union already amounting a four-game unbeaten streak at home. They have only suffered one loss in their home stadium in their last 12 matches, that loss in the Eastern Conference Finals against New York City.

With their stout defense and home-field advantage, the Union look like a team looking to one-up their record-breaking exploits of the past two seasons.