With 10 games to play in this regular season for the Philadelphia Union, everyone knows these games are the toughest to win. All clubs can now clearly see the finish line, and many of the teams have been helped by recent transfers and/or trades.
On top of that, the Union will face nine divisional rivals over the last 10 games, with only two teams (Toronto and D.C. United) realistically out of the playoff race. The San Jose Earthquakes are the only Western team the Union will face the rest of the year.
Of the 10 remaining games, only four are at home. Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference race is a tight one with Sporting Kansas City on top with 39 points.
Only six points separates fifth place Houston from first place. The second place Red Bulls and third place Union will flip flop in the standings if the Union can do what they have never done before in their history: win at Red Bull Arena.
As it stands Philadelphia is 0-5-0 in all competitions at Red Bull Arena, but has emerged victorious in two consecutive road games, following a road win in their last visit to Vancouver.
The Red Bulls offer a great challenge to the Union with a 7-2-2 home record, led by dynamic players like Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, and Fabian Espindola. Both Henry and Cahill were injured and did not play in the club's 2-0 loss last weekend at Columbus. Both are back training and will most likely play Saturday for head coach Mike Petke who returns from a one-game suspension.
To win at New York and to continue their push to return to the playoffs here is what the Union must do:
Get Jack back in the flow
Jack McInerney scored 10 goals in his first 14 games and earned a call-up to the U.S. National Team because of his goal scoring. He's in a drought at the moment, no goals in his last seven starts, and his longest drought as a starter. All goal scorers have dry patches so I'm not worried about McInerney. These next 10 games are huge for the team and for Jack as well.
Of his 10 goals this season, seven have come on the road. Of his 22 career goals, 14 have come on the road. For whatever reason, the young striker has done the bulk of his scoring away from PPL Park. The team needs to help him get back on the score sheet.
Keep Casey healthy
A strong candidate for MLS Comeback Player of the Year, the veteran is also a team most valuable player candidate.
His nine goals are impressive enough, but how about seven of those goals coming in his last nine games played. His scoring has come at the best time, with McInerney being kept off the score sheet. Everyone knew at the start of the season that if Conor Casey were healthy, that the Union would benefit greatly by his presence in the lineup.
Manager John Hackworth didn't push him at the start, in order to maximize the big man for a full season. If two goals in his last game versus D.C. United weren’t impressive enough, how about a club record tying eight shots, with five shots on goal; it would be a benefit to the team if others can pick up the load so that Hackworth can give Casey a breather at some point during the stretch run.
No letup for Le Toux
With a pair of assists against D.C. United, Le Toux now has a league high 12 assists. It’s a franchise single season high, breaking a record 11 assists that he set in his first stint with the Union.
Like Casey, Le Toux is also a candidate for MLS Comeback Player of the Year. He has a chance to do some damage against his former team on Saturday. While Le Toux has not found joy or success playing out wide in the past, he has embraced the role this season.
What it’s done is make the Union more dangerous in that they can start Seba along with McInerney and Casey, and it’s also made Le Toux more of a complete player. The trio has helped the club to an average of 1.50 goals per game, among the best in MLS.
Defend as a unit
A team that struggled defensively for a good part of the season has been coming together lately. Young goalkeeper Zac MacMath has three shutouts in his last four games which is a good sign.
Yes he’s had some help – see Sheanon Williams – from his teammates, but shutouts are a team stat, even though it’s more on the goalkeeper’s record.
To get to the playoffs, it has to be a team effort, but if you can single out players, it’s McInerney, Casey, Le Toux and MacMath.
You can put them in any order you want, but to me it does start in goal. A red-hot goalkeeper can carry you, especially in these tougher games.
The tougher games start Saturday at Red Bull Arena.