Play-by-Play Plus: Union still continue to control playoff destiny, but goals need to flow
When the Philadelphia Union looked at its last four games on the schedule, the feeling was six plus points would be enough to make it to the MLS Cup playoffs. A win over Toronto and last week's draw against D.C. United has given them four of those points, with two games to play. Win these last two games, and you would have to like the club's chances.
Anything less and you hope you are as fortunate as Mexico was the other night when they qualified for a FIFA World Cup qualifying playoff spot despite losing their last game. Going into this Montreal game on Saturday (2 p.m., Comcast SportsNet) there's good news and bad news.
Let's start with the good news:
- In the last six games, the Union has allowed just three goals. Another good point to make is the club's resolve.
- Minutes away from a 0-0 draw against Toronto and a 1-0 loss at D.C. United, the team found a way to get late goals in both to pull points.
- Starters Sheanon Williams and Fabinho return to the club following one-game suspensions.
- Jack McInerney is back on the scoring sheet after going 14 games without a goal.
On the negative side:
- Offensively, the club is still in a funk with just four goals scored in their last eight games, and just two by forwards.
- Because of yellow card accumulation, Michael Farfan is suspended for the Montreal game on Saturday.
- A right foot injury to Sebastien Le Toux leaves his playing status in doubt. Can he play? Can he start? Could he go 90?
These are all things for Manager John Hackworth to be thinking about as his team heads north of the border. They are taking on an Impact team that is in free fall with their once secure playoff appearance very much in jeopardy.
Under Marco Schallibaum they are now winless in their last six which includes three consecutive losses at home. On Wednesday they traveled to Los Angeles where they lost to the Galaxy, 1-0. It was a makeshift team that traveled without Justin Mapp, Alessandro Nesta and goalkeeper Troy Perkins – all left back in Montreal along with two suspended players.
Their starting back four consisted of one veteran, a second year pro and two rookies. I'm guessing the Union will see a much different side on Saturday. The pressure is mostly on Montreal who at one time looked like a conference favorite. Led by Marco DiVaio’s 19 goals, this is a team who lit up the Union for five goals in a prior visit this season. The second game was a totally different affair that resulted in a scoreless draw at PPL Park.
Even though there is more pressure on Montreal and the Union seem to relish and succeed more in the role of the underdog, the team has to think of this as a must win game, thus while publicly everyone will say there is more pressure on Montreal – in must win games, the pressure, in reality is on both.
With the offense still clearly struggling the Union must continue to rely on that strong defense and shut down Marco DiVaio. He's going to make his runs and get his chances if you don't put pressure on the player with the ball. Deny the service to DiVaio and you increase your odds of winning.
Of course, this is much easier to say than to do.
It's an exciting time of the year for Major League Soccer with so many playoff positions still up for grabs in both conferences with just a couple of games to go.