In a sport where a goal or two is often enough, wins and draws are frequently secured despite subpar performances. Other times, of course, a strong showing may justify a better outcome. It’s not uncommon for a club to feel one way about their level of play in a match and another about the result.
What is unusual in the case of Philadelphia Union, however, is the frequency with which the expansion side’s quality in the run of play and the final score don’t equate.
Perpetuating what has become a recurrent theme in the Union's inaugural season -- one that Manager Peter Nowak recently described as ‘Groundhog Day’ -- the club earned a point against defending MLS Cup champion Real Salt Lake in a match they could’ve easily won.
Midfielder Amobi Okugo, who entered Wednesday’s 1-1 draw in the 63rd minute, pretty well summed up the squad's current mindset when asked after the match if he was happy with the result.
“No, we always want the win but it’s better than a loss, so I guess we’ll take it,” the rookie said. “We’re always looking to get the win, especially at home. “
When subsequently asked whether he was happy with the way the team played, Okugo's answer changes - sort of.
“Yeah, we’re satisfied but we’re always looking for more,” he said. "We’re always striving for perfection. We know we could have come out with the win so it was disheartening right there. At least we didn’t lose so we are just looking forward to the next game.”
For the Union to take the next step in their progression as a first-year club, it’s obvious that ties will need to turn into wins and losses will need to turn into ties. What’s equally apparent, though, is that Philadelphia are already doing many of the things that ordinarily lead to positive results.
“I’m very impressed with their team,” said Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis after the match. “I have been since the beginning of the year. I think they have a lot of very gifted, dynamic players that play the game the way I like to see it played.
“They posses the ball well, they move it around, they create chances. They’re dangerous going forward, but then they got a little bit stretched out when they gave up our goal. That’s been a little bit typical of them this season. Again, hats off to them and their coaching staff. They’re doing a great job.”
As Kreis pointed out, the Union’s form on Wednesday closely resembled a number of other matches this season - aggressive, attractive, but ultimately imperfect.
“To get a draw is a bit frustrating because we’re playing at home and we always want to get three points,” said goalkeeper Chris Seitz. “We played well and we can take that away from it and look forward to Saturday.
“Obviously we had a little bit of a letdown in the first half on one play really and that was their best chance of the game and they capitalized. But for us, we need to take away that we created chances, so we have until Saturday to work on it and hopefully take a little bit of our style of play here and put it (to use) against Colorado.”
While Philadelphia would’ve certainly liked to walk away with three points against Salt Lake, the sentiment in the locker room was one of restored confidence following a disheartening 3-1 loss to Dallas three days prior.
“I think we saw a little bit of our old selves (against Salt Lake),” Seitz added. “We were creating a heck of a lot of chances and the next step is obviously putting them away. Their ‘keeper played very well tonight so we want to tip our hat to him. But with that being said, we need to find a way to win and that answer is in the locker room and we just need to find it.”
For Nowak, the key to pulling out victories on a more regular basis may be worrying less about the opposing side.
“Sometimes we give too much respect to the other team,” he said. “When you come to our house, you have to expect that nothing is for free … Anybody who comes to our house needs to know that they have to be up to the challenge. I think that we compete pretty well and that’s a good sign going forward.
“We controlled the game and the play, so there’s nothing much to say about the effort. They played with a lot of heart today, especially after the last game. The game on Saturday is going to be another fight. All these guys are going to do a better job.”
Considering the way Philadelphia has drastically outperformed their record this season, the club really only needs to make minor adjustments to prevent opposing teams from exploiting brief moments of weakness. They'll get another chance at home Saturday against Colorado, and one would think that at some point the Union will begin to see things swing in their favor.