The Union has clinched a playoff for the 6th consecutive season. A feat that cannot be overlooked. However, with their recent form and the possible road to the playoffs, is it time for fans to worry?
It has been a frustrating season for the Union to say the least. Sparks of their dominant selves from last year have shown but many inconsistencies have plagued their 2023 campaign.
Clinching a playoff position for a 6th consecutive year should have made fans smile. However, after back-to-back disappointing draws, the Union’s spot in the standings is a growing concern. Nonetheless, the Union’s progress from mediocre league newcomers to constant title contenders has been remarkable.
Unfortunately, Union fans have become accustomed to the Union hovering around the top of the league. With the Union in the midst of a heated Eastern Conference playoff race, how worried should Union fans be?
The Eastern Conference is Loaded
When it comes to the MLS Eastern Conference playoff race, one thing needs to be understood. No matter what seed the Union finishes, the road will be tough. The East holds the Supporters Shield frontrunner FC Cincinnati. The Union sits 11 points behind them. After that, there is just a 7-point gap between 2nd place Orlando and 7th place Nashville. As if that isn’t enough stress, Lionel Messi and Miami CF are gunning for the final playoff spot.
Fortunately, one thing in the Union’s favor is they have a game in hand over their fellow conference mates. Win their game in hand and they would sit in 2nd place in the East at 51 points. The way the season has transpired, that will be a win. However, higher seeding could be a double-edged sword. While a higher seed ensures more home playoff games, if Messi and Miami manage to miraculously claw to a playoff spot, they will face the top seeds first.
However, the East is loaded. Orlando is heating up, Columbus has built a lethal attack, and Atlanta can go toe to toe with anyone in the league. The number one priority for the Union is getting as high of a seed as possible. They have been abysmal on the road and have suffered just 1 defeat at home over the last 2+ years. It does not matter who they play, the Union needs to stay at home as long as possible.
How Concerning is the Union’s Run of Form?
As before mentioned, the Union’s season has been up and down. Since coming back from the Leagues Cup, the Union has had 2 big wins over rivals NYRB and DC United. However, they also have an embarrassing loss to the worst team in MLS (Toronto). On top of that, add in a draw with FC Cincinnati where they led by 2 goals at home, and most recently a draw with Charlotte. Charlotte would have handed the Union a loss had they not gifted the Union a stoppage time PK in a bizarre fashion.
The issue is we never know which Union team we are going to get. The Union at their peak can beat any team in the league. However, this tendency they have grown to play down to their opponent is concerning and shows a lack of focus.
The Union still holds a top roster in MLS but it has gotten mighty thin as the season progressed. Leon Flach is out injured without a clear timetable to return. Jim Curtin mentioned this week he hopes Flach is back from Germany in a week or two. Ale Bedoya has not looked like his normal self and is at times a liability to even be on the field. See the game against Charlotte. Now, injuries to Jakob Glesnes and Jose Martinez cast more doubt over the Union’s depth.
Curtin stated that Glesnes and Martinez both picked up injuries this week and both are questionable for Saturday’s game against LAFC.
Union fans are right to be concerned about the team’s form from time to time this season. However, hold onto the faith they will figure it out. MLS always gets crazy this time of year and anything can happen. Look at it this way, the Union have practically the same chance to win the MLS Cup as they do to get knocked out in round 1 of the playoffs.
A Golden Opportunity to Steer the Ship Forward
A big question about the Union’s struggles this year has been if it is psychological. After all, being just 90 seconds from hoisting the MLS Cup and losing it will do that to a team.
Fortunately, the Union has (yet another) chance to break through that psychological roadblock. They welcome LAFC to Subaru Park on Saturday. Should they pull out a win, perhaps it will calm the team’s nerves down.
With all the uncertainties around the Union’s season so far, hopefully, we can get back to some normality Saturday night. The Union and LAFC facing off in an insanely entertaining game. Only this time, the Union flips the script and gets the better of LA.
Featured Image: Wes Shepherd/PHLSportsnation