CHESTER, Pa. — 22 matches down, 12 to go.
The stretch run has commenced for the second-place Philadelphia Union, a side still seeking offensive consistency as the MLS playoff picture begins to take shape.
While the Union have shown tremendous attacking promise on several occasions this season, sustained success has proven elusive. Philadelphia have only managed to score more than one goal in five out of 22 matches this year.
That statistic would normally reflect the struggles of a club near the bottom of the table, yet Philadelphia are still in prime position to make a run at the Eastern Conference crown, in large part because of a defense that ranks among the league's best.
And with the transfer window closing on Sunday, the Union appear set to make some noise. Nowak indicated that reinforcing the offense was the club's primary focus.
“The important thing is that we try shuffle the front line a little bit,” manager Peter Nowak said on Thursday at his weekly press conference. “Jack [McInerney] and [Velkjo] Paunovic did a very good job the last few games, but that’s one area we need some cover. The rest we can figure out, but now we’re looking to score more goals.”
The task then will be integrating the club's acquisitions with the existing players on the roster. That, Paunovic says, is a good problem to have.
“The season is very long and we are all not always in the same shape,” said the Serbian striker. “Sometimes [there are] injuries and [suspensions due to accumulation of] yellow cards. There are many of us and we are all trying to do our best in training. Our coaching staff is always thinking of what is best for the team. He’s looking for who is in the best shape at the moment or what the team needs in that moment — he's the one who plays.”
The season started off with a partnership of then newly-inked striker Carlos Ruiz and Sebastien Le Toux. Second-year forward Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney have also both spent time in the starting XI, while the addition of Paunovic has given the Union another experienced option.
With Ruiz’s departure, Mwanga is now the team leader in goals with five.
Le Toux, who is among the league leaders in assists with eight, has often been dropped back into the midfield, but he's the first to admit that he should have a few extra goals to his name. The league leader in striking woodwork (five) still believes it's only matter of time before the breaks starting falling his way.
“If I didn’t hit the post [against Houston] and the ball goes into the net, everyone would be talking a little differently right now,” said Le Toux. “It’s just small things we have to work on. It’s a matter of time before the ball starts going into the net and we are taking all three points.”
With the end of the regular season in sight, the Union are laser-focused on finding more offensive consistency — in a hurry.
“I think we are more focused now because of the playoffs [approaching],” said Le Toux. “It is not a matter of who is going to score. As we’ve shown this season, everybody on the team can do it. We are confident as a team and we will stay focused on making the playoffs.”