Photo: Paul Rudderow
Four matches into the season, and five points accumulated for the Philadelphia Union.
That’s the tale of the tape so far. Heading into the season, that was probably a realistic point haul from the first month given all of the new pieces. Most of us expected some learning moments back in January and February as the acquisitions of Cristian Maidana, Maurice Edu, and Vincent Nogueira came to light.
But this is Philadelphia, and it’s not easy to lend any local team that kind of leeway. This city demands results, and one can look at the scorelines thus far and be quite disappointed. But things are far from over.
The product looks good
In the preseason, the general consensus was that the midfield would take time to gel. The move to a new tactical system, and on-the-deck, quick-passing style, would need several weeks to hatch.
Boom, the Portland game happened, and it was there. It was beautiful. It was like the entire team had been playing together for years, not for only a couple of weeks.
That extremely pleasant surprise failed to yield three points at Providence Park, with Timber Joey getting his buzz on late in stoppage time to disappoint. But the signs were there that a little more luck in the final third would mean a team challenging for the top.
Conceding while leading a carryover
If there is something that irks Philly sports fans, it’s when things fail to change. The Flyers for years have had suspect goaltending, so that’s a constant sore spot. The Phillies have long been abysmal at situational hitting, with former manager Charlie Manuel being a proponent of the no-out three-run homer rather than “small-ball” tactics to increase the odds of at least one run.
The Union’s carryover trend is giving up late goals — especially when up a man. The salt was rubbed into this particular wound on Saturday against the Montreal Impact.
Marco DiVaio’s equalizer brought a sense of deja vu, as memories of the midsummer home loss to F.C. Dallas stirred. That time, it was a mistake by Zac MacMath that gave opportunistic striker Blas Perez the chance to steal a point from what seemed a salted-away victory. (Je-Vaughn Watson had been sent off in the 68th minute.)
Like that Dallas match, and the Timbers match in Week 1, Saturday’s draw came down to a crucial mistake.
But mistakes are understandable in the early going, when players are still getting back into the groove. If it wasn’t for the clear parallel to last season, maybe it would be easier to just write it off as bum luck. Yet that parallel exists, and it leaves a bitter taste when one realizes just how weak the early schedule has been for Philadelphia. Aside from the surprising Columbus, the Union’s other three opponents have combined for one solitary win.
Luck has to turn around, right?
So let’s try to take a clear perspective on this. In other words, try to take off the “Philly Sports Fan” glasses for a second.
The Union have been the recipient of some pretty bum luck in these first four weeks:
- Missed chances: The front four of the Union (primarily Jack McInerney, Maidana, Nogueira, and Le Toux) have “just missed” goals or chances to set up goals an unbelievable number of times. They would have redefined snakebitten, if not for…
- Clinical finishing for their opponents: Aside from Diego Fagundez failing with two glorious chances in Week 2, the big mistake has resulted in an opportunistic — and well-taken — chance for the opposition. In MLS, those chances often go begging. Not so for DiVaio, Anor, and Fernandez.
Chalking this up to bad luck is probably the right course. The question turns to when this streak will start flipping over to good.
I often like to strike up “closed door” conversations with my colleagues here at PSP. One of them had called me out for some of my cynicism about this first month, and he’s right. While it’s acceptable to criticize, the growing pains were forecast. Is it acceptable for the team to have major gaffes like the ones seen so far? Of course not. But there needs to be trust that the coaching staff and squad leadership are working diligently to correct these deficiencies.
Everything thus far points to brighter days ahead as the summer approaches. If things start bouncing the Union’s way and they ascend the table, this first month will be remembered fondly.
Think about it: 5 points in a month where half the backline was out due to injury and the team relied on a lifelong center forward at center back.
That’s not disappointing at all. Instead, it’s quite an accomplishment.