For the Philadelphia Union, last Saturday’s 2-1 win vs the New York Red Bulls was another example of how much the team has improved over the last part of the season.
Goals by Fred and Michael Orozco Fiscal gave the Union a rare first half two-goal cushion over the Eastern Conference leaders. Giving up that early second half goal could have turned the game over to New York, and earlier in the season that most likely would have been the case, but not this time. A late defensive clearance off the goal line by Fred preserved the three points for Philadelphia.
For Peter Nowak’s team, the game reflected another good performance vs a very strong side. In the game prior, the Union played well enough to at least get a point, but lost 1-0 to the LA Galaxy in a nationally televised game.
Now, there is just one more game to prepare for, and that’s the season finale against a struggling Columbus Crew. While the Crew managed a 2-2 draw in Toronto on Saturday thanks to goalkeeper Will Hesmer’s goal (see video here), the team has had to battle through the fatigue of a season that has included an extended run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, as well as playing in the CONCACAF Champions League. This is one of the many issues that MLS must face in the very near future.
At one time Columbus was one of the favorites to win MLS Cup, but now they could be the first team to be upset in the opening round, based on their current form. I know that Real Salt Lake has so far managed to play well, despite their play in the CCL, but isn’t it an unfair advantage to have some MLS teams play far less games than others? Playing all of these extra games has hurt, not helped the Crew.
As we approach the Union’s last game on Sunday, here are some things to reflect on:
Since Philadelphia’s 2-0 loss to DC United on August 22nd, at that time perhaps their worst performance of the season, the team has gone 4-3-2 over the last nine games, outscoring their opponents 11-10. If you take out the 4-1 loss at Colorado, those numbers look even better. The Colorado game was the only game in the last nine where Philadelphia were never really in the game. Nowak and his staff have to be pleased with the consistency over the past nine games, along with the overall improved defensive play. Over this stretch, the team has posted two shutouts (compared to zero before that) and with the exception of the Rapids game has not allowed more than one goal in any of those matches.
Sunday’s game vs Columbus is the final chance for the players to make an impression on the coaching staff. Following that game, it’s on to planning for the 2011 season, which will include deciding on who is going to be protected in the upcoming expansion draft.
As individuals, and as a team, Philadelphia’s goal is to finish the year with their best effort of the season.