After three straight wins, it’s safe to say that the Philadelphia Union has found its form. A string of sluggish midseason draws has been replaced by eleven goals in three games as the attack finally begins to click.
Now, with New York City FC’s win over the New York Red Bulls on Sunday evening, the Eastern Conference, and Major League Soccer as a whole, is finally starting to see a gap between the top teams, and those jockeying for position down below. It appears that MLS will be LAFC, Austin FC and the Philadelphia Union versus everyone else.
NYCFC would make that list of top teams, but even as the club regains its footing after the departure of manager Ronny Deila to Belgium, it looks as if they’ll have to readjust once again. As MLS Golden Boot leader Taty Castellanos prepares to depart the club to La Liga, NYC will have to find his replacement.
As New York City remains unstable, and nobody else in the East looks like a serious contender, the next several weeks are critical for the Union. Where the Union failed to put significant space between them and their rivals during NYC’s Concacaf Champions League run, Philadelphia can now make up that difference.
Looking ahead, only three of the Union’s next eight opponents are above the playoff line. Those three above the line – Orlando City SC, FC Cincinnati, and FC Dallas – aren’t exactly the epitome of MLS greatness. None of them are currently in position to earn home-field advantage. In fact, for the duration of the Union’s season, the only opponent that currently holds home-field advantage is the New York Red Bulls.
By no means does this mean that Philadelphia has thirteen easy matches that will give them 39 points. The Union will play Chicago, whom they’ve lost to already, albeit this was a differently motivated Union. The Houston Dynamo come to town soon, who recently have been boosted by Hector Herrera’s appearance (see their comeback at San Jose from Sunday). D.C. United will be a very different team when the Union plays them in October than the team they were when Philadelphia committed various sporting war crimes against them at Subaru Park.
All the same, this should be at least a 25-point finish. Which, it’s worth noting, would tie the club’s second-best point total from last season. Based on the present state of the team, this should be the standard.
Daniel Gazdag has two goals in the last two gamess, and while they were both penalty kicks, as Gazdag notes “with PKs, you still have to score.” Mikael Uhre has six goals in his last nine matches, and it feels like this is just the beginning. Uhre has mentioned that he’s still adjusting to MLS and life in the United States, and it will be scary to watch just how good he can be once he’s truly settled in. Julian Carranza’s hat trick and official purchase from Miami will be massive for his confidence, as he returns to the form he showcased earlier in the season.
The defense doesn’t need comment, other than that Jose Martinez, Jack Elliott, Jakob Glesnes, and Nathan Harriel were snubbed from the All-Star roster. This is the best defense MLS has seen in a decade, and they show no signs of slowing down.
Even Jim Curtin appears to be getting more comfortable with his management style, as he’s improved on his substitutions, use of his homegrowns and changing up his formation from time to time.
Everything is clicking for the Union, who now control their own destiny in the Eastern Conference, and have ample opportunity to take the club’s second Supporters’ Shield. If there was ever a time to click, it’s now.