On July 17, it sure was looking like the Philadelphia Union might end up winning the Eastern Conference, or at the very least end up in second place. On that night, the team convincingly beat New England 3-0 and things were looking good as Philadelphia took a break from MLS play with upcoming friendlies vs. Everton and Real Madrid.
The season took a turn for the worse following that victory vs. the Revs. Not having won a game since then, the Union had at one point dropped to fourth place in the conference.
Now, winless in eight, they are looking at their biggest game of the year, and even in their short history, when they host Columbus this Saturday at PPL Park.
There are two reasons why this has become the biggest game in two years for the Union: First, you have to start a winning streak to gain points and to build momentum. Now is the time to get hot. A couple of games from now, you might sweep the table and it might not be good enough to get into the postseason.
The second reason is the opponent: the Columbus Crew currently occupy a share of first place in the East, but they haven’t helped themselves lately with two big losses. How do you lose to Toronto, at home, a team that until Saturday had not won a single game on the road?
Other teams have also helped the Union in recent weeks: Houston have dropped their last two and New York haven’t won since July 6 vs. Toronto. Like the Union, the Red Bulls are winless in their last eight games.
Only Sporting Kansas City, who are 3-1-1 in their last five, have helped themselves lately in the East. They now have the same amount of points as first-place Columbus with 40.
Prior to Saturday, the Crew have a Wednesday home game vs. Houston, which is important for both teams, as well as for the Union.
As for Philadelphia, this must seem like an off-week with just the one game on the schedule. There must be so many bumps and bruises to heal, plus normal rest and recovery, for a team that just played three games in eight nights.
On the plus side, with young Zac MacMath in goal, the team finally recorded a shutout, their first since that July 17 win at New England.
Sebastien Le Toux looks to be in 2010 form, which is another good sign, and Freddy Adu is getting some quality playing time as he looks to gain 100 percent match fitness.
Individual accomplishments aside, Philadelphia must find their form quickly if they are to qualify for the playoffs in their second season.
While other Eastern Conference teams have struggled, you can’t keep depending on the failures of others to stay in the race. Now it’s time to control your own destiny, which can only be done by winning.
Saturday has to be the day vs. Columbus. I’ll take a closer look at that matchup later in the week.