Keeping Hope Alive

Looking back at MLS clubs that were down but not out

MLS Cup

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During his weekly press conference Wednesday, John Hackworth said something that piqued attentions. With Thursday’s match against D.C. United coupled with a quick turnaround against Houston at PPL Park on Sunday (4 p.m., 6ABC), if the Union can capture a win in both -- well, that once again raises some eyebrows.

“If we play the spoiler in both those games, it actually puts us with a bit of momentum like you wouldn’t believe,” said Hackworth. “Statistically, we are not out of [the playoff picture] and to get these two results back-to-back would be great.”

Of course, putting the ball in the back of the net hasn’t been exactly easy to come by for the Union this season, specifically as of late, but with Hackworth claiming he possibly found the right formula to provide forward Jack McInerney with the help he needs via shifting of personnel and formations, it’s only fair to give supporters one last gasp of hope before the push and the promise of going bigger and better in 2013 commences.

Because while it’s hard to believe looking at the numbers, it’s not time to think about next season just yet. Sitting at 7-13-6 (27 points) overall isn’t doing the Union any favors, but the games in hand with eight left to play is.

As aforementioned, Hackworth’s statement got us to thinking here at philadelphiaunion.com for past clubs that were down and out, but managed to not only squeeze into the playoffs but made some serious noise once in. Looking solely at teams and not all the intangibles regarding their individual players, coaches and opponents, we found three that force us to keep hope alive.

Colorado (2010)

The Rapids finished the regular season at 12-8-10 (46 points) good for the fifth and final playoff spot in the West. Led by Omar Cummings, tied for fourth best in the league with 14 goals, the Rapids won the MLS Cup following a 2-1 win in overtime against FC Dallas on a frigid November night at BMO Field in Toronto. By way of MLS’ then convoluted playoff pairing system, Colorado, the No. 3 seed in the East defeated Columbus, 4-2 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference semifinals and dispatched San Jose, 1-0 in the Western Conference championship.

Real Salt Lake (2009)

Winning just two games on the road (2-11-2) during the regular season, RSL finished with a 11-12-7 (40 points). As the lowly No. 4 seed out of the East, RSL knocked off top-seeded Columbus, 4-2 on aggregate and took Chicago to penalty kicks in the Eastern Conference title game, winning the match, 5-4. RSL was led by Robbie Findley’s 12 goals all season, and it was Findley who fueled RSL in the MLS Cup. After going down 1-0 to Los Angeles in the first half, Findley would convert in the 64th minute. RSL would take the Los Angeles into penalty kicks, and captured its first MLS title edging the Galaxy, 5-4 in PKs.

New York Red Bulls (2008)

In what could be the biggest of the three, the Red Bulls just squeaked into the playoffs as the fourth seed, after finishing the regular season 10-11-9 (39 points). New York forged a deplorable 1-8-6 record on the road that season, and if it wasn’t for the talents of former designated player Juan Pablo Angel, who led the way with a team high 14 goals that season, Red Bulls wouldn’t have stood a chance. Becoming quintessential of the phrase “getting hot at the right time,” New York as the fourth seed out of the West (again MLS’ funky pairings system) made light of Houston, winning 4-1 on aggregate (fueled by a 3-0 rout in the return leg at Houston) and a 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference final. However, the New York franchise, a league original still seeks its first cup after suffering a 3-1 loss to Columbus in the MLS Cup final.

Now, these only date to MLS’ current conference format of East vs. West that returned in 2002, but feel free to crunch the record books and drop us a line on our social media platforms if you think of one we might have missed.

Look, we aren’t starry eyed here. We know that given their track record it’s a long shot for the Union to make up ground and shock the masses, but like our manager it’s tough to give up hope.

Especially now, when you see it’s been done before.