No matter where the Union sits in the standings, something feels off with the Union in 2023. With just 3 games left in the MLS season, time is running out. Should fans hold out hope they will figure it out?
Last time out, the Union and Columbus battled to a 1-1 draw. This marked their 5th consecutive draw. They have managed just two wins in 8 games since returning from Leagues Cup.
The 5th straight draw sums up the Union’s season. They are good enough to stay afloat near the top of the league but so inconsistent no one knows how far they can go. Currently sitting 4th in the Eastern Conference, a loss on Wednesday to Atlanta United could send the Union down to 6th.
It is not controversial to say something has just been off with the Union this year. There is a possibility they don’t even host a playoff game. What could be going wrong and is there hope they will figure it out?
Too Many Games?
The Union have a lot working against them this year that is out of their control. This mostly pertains to the schedule. The Union have played more games in this 2023 season than they did in all of 2022. They can thank Leagues Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League for that.
This is a problem not just for the Union but for all teams in MLS. No team is really running away with victories because everyone is gassed. Jonathan Tannenwald of the Philly Inquirer reported yesterday that Union goalkeeper Andre Blake blasted MLS for the number of games being played. Blake also called on the players to push for change.
With the MLS’ new playoff format, the Union is going to put even more stress on their legs. So, while there is no changing the number of games this year, perhaps next year the players can fight some away. However, with an expanded CONCACAF Champions Cup (formerly CCL) and Leagues Cup here to stay, that looks unlikely.
The Roster Limitations
The number of games played is a good excuse to throw around for being inconsistent. However, the Union has been up and down all season long.
The biggest factor in the Union’s inconsistency is the roster limitations. That includes the league-wide regulations as well as the limitations imposed by themselves.
The Union had a record-breaking 2022 season. One of the best in the overall MLS history and likely the best team in MLS history to not have won the MLS Cup. So how did the Union respond in 2023? By bringing back practically the same team minus Paxten Aaronson and Cory Burke. Did we really think that was going to cut it?
MLS is growing exponentially. Superstar signings are becoming a normal occurrence. Yet, here the Union is, despite the success, still lowest in spending in the league. Unfortunately, the current construction of the Union’s roster has left them with the inability to retain Kai Wagner.
However, it also doesn’t help that the few offseason moves Ernst Tanner did make, failed miserably. Damion Lowe has been the only slight success, however, he had multiple blunders that cost the Union Leagues Cup and a few MLS matches. Andres Perea shined in his first few opportunities with the Union but lost all playing time. Ultimately he was shipped to NYCFC.
Finally, the most mind-boggling situation has been the one of Joaquín Torres. Torres, like Perea, really impressed early in the year. However, showed he needed some improvement. Recently, he has not gotten any minutes and the players’ attitude has spiraled. Torres was seen angrily leaving the field early after not being subbed in. Now, in pre-match warmups, he speaks to no teammates and sits on the ground to himself with a ball. Unfortunately, the worst fact is that Jim Curtin has to keep him dressed for games due to the fact the depth is so low.
Fortunately, the emergence of Jesus Bueno has saved the Union a lot of points and headaches. However, the depth just is not there and the MLS Cup Roster from last year was not built upon.
Will the Union Figure it Out?
As before mentioned, the Union is running out of time. There are just 3 games left in the MLS Season. Fortunately, the Union has the advantage of playing two of them at home. Also, the three games are against the teams they find themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference with.
The Union gets Atlanta at home Wednesday night. Atlanta sits in 6th, just 2 points behind the Union. They have been red hot. Next, the Union gets Nashville in their final regular season home game of the year. Nashville is in 7th and 6 points behind the Union.
Finally, after a week off from MLS, the Union wrap the regular season against New England. Who are currently 3rd in the East, 1 point above the Union.
These final three games for the Union are critical. They could climb to 2nd in the East or they could fall out of even hosting playoff games. The ball is completely in their corner. Will they figure it out and set up another deep MLS playoff run? Or will all the minutes be too much and the Union are going home early this year? Only time will tell.
Featured Image: Wes Shepherd/PHLSportsNation