Photo: Earl Gardner
The air is crisp. There’s color in the trees. It’s fall in Philadelphia and that means gnashing of teeth and stubby fingernails for Philadelphia Union fans. Despite reassurances from the highly respected Mr. Kinkead that the Union will make the playoffs, I’m not so sure. Are they good enough? Of course. Are the odds in their favor? Absolutely.
But…I’m from Philadelphia. From the Eagles “fog bowl,” to a Lindros concussion, to a Nogueira Open Cup post, I’ve come to expect being disappointed when all signs point toward optimism. It’s time to break out your playoff beard, light a gold and blue candle, anoint your CJ Sapong doll with healing oils, and take your Bedoya Box for a cleanse in the Zambezi river. Okay, maybe not that last one.
I have to say though, for all the criticism MLS gets for it’s unbalanced schedule and 12-team playoff structure, they’re doing it right. Remember, it’s all about the money. With such a low playoff bar set, there are so many fans that feel the way we do right now. The end of the season is going to be a nail-biter. Stadiums will be filled. I might even tune in to watch the Revs play. It’s exactly what the league wants and needs. In a league with such parity, a wide open playoff structure keeps our interest even if our team may be mediocre.
Right now, I love that six teams in the East will make it into the playoffs. But it’s certainly no guarantee that we’ll have a spot. The Revs could easily take six points in their last two. Our game against Orlando on Sunday is a perfect trap game, and Red Bull will be looking to go into the playoffs on a high note when we play them in the regular season finale.
There’s so much on the line for the next two games, and it’s not just the name Union literally on the red line for the playoffs. The close of this season will cement the first impression of Earnie’s “Stewartship” of the club. While I love Bedoya and Edu, they unfortunately are not equal replacements for the two most influential players ever to wear the blue and gold, Nogueira and Barnetta.
Will their departures negate all the progress made this year? And what of Curtin? This team is clearly the most talented we’ve seen in it’s short history. Missing the playoffs would be a massive disappointment.
The most important question that will be answered in these next two games is this: Will we be seen as a team on the rise, or one that regressed to the mean?
The Union have played some of the most attractive soccer in the league and have the fourth highest goal tally despite plenty of missed chances. With little expected of them following their late season slump, they are a precisely a team that could easily make a deep run in the playoffs.
They just have to get there.