Union riding high after successful West Coast swing

PHI emerge atop East after grueling trip, aim to close strong

CHESTER, Pa. – For the Philadelphia Union, playing two games on the West Coast in the final month of the season could have doomed them in their quest to make the playoffs.

Instead, they returned home this week with four points in their pocket and on the cusp of the second-year franchise’s first postseason berth.

“Everyone was in great spirits,” Union midfielder Brian Carroll told MLSsoccer.com following Tuesday’s training session, their first since returning from Seattle, where they won 2-0 over the Sounders. “It just makes for such a fun trip back, even though it’s long and grueling to travel out there and then travel back.”

HIGHLIGHTS: Philadelphia 2, Seattle 0

The Union began the make-or-break stretch last Sunday with a 1-1 tie against Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center, conceding a late goal but still feeling mostly satisfied to escape with a point. The club then followed that up with arguably their best win in franchise history, topping Seattle 2-0 at CenturyLink Field on Saturday to vault into first place in the Eastern Conference with just two games remaining in the regular season.

It was the Union’s first-ever victory in the Pacific time zone in 10 tries.

“Any time you go over to the West Coast, it’s already hard, so going there twice in [six] days definitely puts a lot of strain on your body,” Union defender Sheanon Williams said. “It shows our guys are committed to doing well. I think it was a good job, especially with us never having a win on the West Coast. It’s good to get four points; they are much-needed.”

The two-game stretch was made even more difficult because the club opted to return to Philly after the Chivas game and then fly back West just a few days later, all while nursing some injuries to key players.

But it was a challenge they seemed to embrace.

“It’s grueling, but everyone in the league has to do it at some point, and that was just our time to do it,” Carroll said. “We’re just happy to be able to put on a good show and continue to build on the work we’ve done in the previous month.”

Now unbeaten in their last seven, the Union (11-7-14) have some breathing room in their playoff quest. They can clinch a berth with a win over Toronto FC in their regular-season home finale on Saturday at PPL Park (4 pm ET; Comcast SportsNet), and depending on other results, could  also get in if they tie or lose.

But even though they’re currently riding high, they know there’s still work to be done if they want to stay where they are in the standings when the regular season ends.

“Right now, we’re just thinking about first place,” Williams said. “The guys really want to be in first place. If we’re in first place, then guess what? We’re in the playoffs. So that should be our first goal.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.