In many ways, Saturday’s disappointing 2-1 loss to San Jose was the same old story. Except never before had the Union so thoroughly dominated a match and came away empty. Applying a little perspective, the progress this expansion club has made in less than half a season is quite encouraging, but it’s hard to be satisfied when you could have, and should have, earned three valuable points.
“It absolutely stinks,” said goalkeeper Chris Seitz. “We play (San Jose) again this season and we have another one this Wednesday (against Celtic FC) and we’ll go back and try to get the bad taste out of our mouths.”
It’s easy to forget that Philadelphia is a club built for the future. Forward Danny Mwanga’s scary potential as an 18 year old rookie with five goals is one of the most obvious reasons for optimism, but there are plenty of others. Sebastien Le Toux is still only 26 years old, Roger Torres, Jack McInerney and Amobi Okugo are all teenagers along with Mwanga, blossoming goalkeeper Chris Seitz is just 23, Shea Salinas is only 24, and 13 out of 20 players on the roster are 25 years of age or younger.
There were many missed opportunities against the Earthquakes that will frustrate the Union, but it’s hard to argue against the fact that they’re headed in the right direction. Possession, pace and creativity were all on display from the home side at PPL Park, and their never-say-die mentality has never been in doubt.
“You just have to keep your head up and keep fighting to the end,” said Mwanga about the club’s attitude. “I think we did that tonight. Unfortunately it’s just one of those games where you try and do your best and things just don’t fall together.”
Unfortunately for Philadelphia, that fate has become a bit too common in the club’s first season. Inexperience is certainly a factor, but not one that manager Peter Nowak will be willing to accept as an excuse any time soon.
"We shot ourselves in the foot today,” he said after Saturday’s match. “Probably inexperience, not reacting, not anticipating the things that might happen. From the flow of the game, from commitment, you can’t really say bad words about this team and how they pushed forward and even the way we exposed ourselves (while pressing for a go-ahead goal).
“There are little things that need to be corrected and fixed very fast because that's what this game is all about. Not about how many shots you have on goal, (whether) it was a handball, not a handball, foul, not a foul. At the end of the day, the results stand regardless of the situation. We lost a game we were supposed to win, and that hurts us as much as the other losses we've had. We're supposed to tie or win games.”
And that’s precisely what Philadelphia must do to take the next step in their continued evolution; win the matches they should win by translating superiority in the run of play into points.
The Union have outplayed their opponent in all four matches at home this season, two of which have come at PPL Park. Despite Saturday’s speed bump, it’s clear the club plays with added confidence at home.
"Anytime we’re at home, we’re not going to settle for a tie,” said Seitz. “Obviously, if we tie we take home a point, but we have a mentality that at home we don’t lose, and we’re going to go for the win no matter what.
“Anytime we push up to score it’s going to open up at the back, and we need to be organized and prepared in case that happens. Soccer is a funny sport sometimes. You can be in complete control only to see it slip away. We have to be able to grasp the wins when they're there in front of us."
The Union won’t have to wait long to shrug off their disappointment, as the club will take on Scottish Premier League side Celtic F.C. Wednesday at PPL Park followed by a league match at home on Saturday against Eastern Conference foe Toronto FC.
“We are going to just take this (Celtic) game like a practice game and a friendly to give the fans a good show so they can come and enjoy good soccer,” said Le Toux. “I’m sure the staff will do a good job with the players to give some time to everybody. We’re going to be ready physically for the next game (against Toronto).
While defender Jordan Harvey’s rhetoric places more of an emphasis on the importance of the Celtic friendly, the club’s mindset is ubiquitous; The Union must continue to get better and make sure they’re rewarded in the standings when they play well.
"After the Celtic match, we have a big game against Toronto on Saturday,” Harvey said. “But every game is big for us. They're all big. From here on out, we're looking at getting as many wins as possible. I think we are a very resilient club. It's a matter of execution from here on out."