Philadelphia’s Saturday night victory was as much of a statement win as the team could make.
It was a game they went in knowing they should win. First place in the Eastern Conference against one of the bottom dwellers of the West at home, that should be an easy win.
Unfortunately it hasn’t always been in the past. They drew seven in an eight-game stretch spanning April through early June. That stretch made it hard for fans to really buy into the squad as a true MLS Cup contender. Now with July in the rearview, it is hard to temper expectations.
While the month started off rough with a 0-0 draw against Columbus, the Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia Union have rattled off five wins in a row, bookending their streak with massive statement wins. The Union handedly took care of D.C. United 7-0 earlier in the month, now they capped off the month with a thrilling 6-0 victory over Houston.
“Overall great team performance,” head coach Jim Curtin said post-game Saturday. “(We’re) a team that has already clicked in terms of the defensive side, but you’re starting to see us break out a little bit on the attacking side of the field.”
That point by Curtin is really important. Nobody has questioned the Union’s defensive efforts. There is a reason the Union have only allowed 15 goals in 23 matches, and it’s not just because of Andre Blake in net. It has been a true 11-man effort. From the sturdy back line to the midfielders working their tails off, every player has been committed on the defensive side of the ball.
The question has been all season about putting the ball into the back of the net. Too often a great defensive performance would be wasted by an offense that struggled to string two passes past the midfield mark. That has not been a problem all month, Philadelphia scoring 18 times in their six July contests. Yes the total is inflated by the thumpings of D.C. and Houston, but it is good to see Philadelphia handling teams they should easily beat. Philadelphia still scored two goals against tough opponents in New England and Miami.
Right now this Philadelphia squad looks better than the ones from the previous two years. That’s a team that went to the Eastern Conference final last year and brought home the Supporters’ Shield in 2020. Everything has been clicking of late for Philadelphia. Even in their “down” portion of the season, the one with all the draws, that was still a more successful period of time than others had in the MLS. They weren’t convincing onlookers, but they were not losing matches. They kept themselves steadily through the rough patch, working out the kinks.
Now, this looks like a complete team. With Mikael Uhre up top alongside Julian Carranza and Daniel Gazdag still playing like a man possessed, this Union attack at its best looks like a league winner. The other thing that makes Philadelphia even more of a threat with their higher seed, the fortress they’ve built alongside the Commodore Barry Bridge at Subaru Park.
“I think we’ve made this building a special place to play.” Curtin said about the team’s impeccable run of form at home. The Union are currently undefeated in Chester this season, only surrendering six goals in 12 home matches.
The Union will be on the road to start August, looking to avenge their 1-1 draw against seventh place FC Cincinnati on Saturday night.