Running the Gauntlet
Flash back to the final three games of the 2010 Philadelphia season – Los Angeles, New York, at Columbus.
The expansion Union were out of the playoffs and looking to finish on a positive note. The final stretch just happened to include games against three of the best teams in the league. Los Angeles captured the Supporters Shield, and New York and Columbus finished first and second, respectively, in the Eastern Conference.
When it comes to "strength of schedule", 2012 looks a whole lot like 2010.
Philadelphia finishes the season with home games to New England and New York, plus road trips to Chicago, Columbus, Houston, and Eastern Conference leaders Kansas City.
"When we looked at the schedule earlier in the year, we knew this stretch, this home stretch of games, was probably one of the most difficult stretches for any team in the league," said Union manager John Hackworth at Wednesday's weekly press conference. "It certainly has proved to be that way. I read something this week that said the 'rating' of our schedule, the difficulty of our schedule going forward, that us and Los Angeles are the two teams that have the hardest roads remaining."
The Galaxy finish the season with Real Salt Lake, Seattle, and San Jose.
But the Union have six games left against five potentially playoff-bound teams. Four of those games are on the road.
"You always want to measure yourself," said midfielder Brian Carroll, when asked about the remaining schedule. "What better way to do it than [by playing] some of the best teams in your conference? That's the measuring stick, and we have to find out exactly who can rise to the occasion. We have to see exactly where we are to improve for the rest of the year, and gain confidence hopefully for the offseason into next year."
"I feel like every game should be a test of what the team is made of," added rookie fullback Ray Gaddis. "But we do face almost five playoff teams. We just want to finish the season strong, and finish on a good note, and leave it all out on the field."
Against the remaining six opponents, Philadelphia has posted a record of 4-7-1 in all competitions this year.
It's a difficult challenge, and a test for a young team that wants to keep improving.
"It sets up perfect for us," Hackworth explained. "I still feel that our performances, on the whole over the last month, or two months, though we weren't getting the wins that we thought we would get - we've had some good results. We got three draws on the road on our last three away games, but our performances have been pretty consistent, and that's the most important thing. We're telling the guys in the locker room – 'let's keep doing that, let's get better every game'. Let's set ourselves up, that if it doesn't happen this year, then we build some momentum going forward into next year. Again, it's a tough stretch. You have some really tough away games that will be crucial to that stretch for us. That's something we're definitely pointing towards."
Contact writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kevin on Twitter @philunionkevink