An offense that at one time had the Philadelphia Union closer to first place than fifth place, must now recover that finishing touch, in order to get this team back into the playoffs.
I understand that at least two legitimate goals have been taken away from the Union during this past five-game slump, but scoring one goal in five games is not a recipe for success. The shutout streak has now reached 310 minutes over three plus games.
Bottom line, the big guns have stopped scoring.
Manager John Hackworth feels his team has created chances during this stretch but some bad finishing and bad calls have left this young team looking for answers.
Hackworth believes the team is playing better than the results have shown, and better than the perception of the way the team is playing. When you think about this five-game stretch, the club was only out of one of those games, the 5-1 loss at New England where a Conor Casey goal for sure should have counted which would have given the Union a 2-1 lead and some momentum and who knows what else had that goal been counted.
We may or may not find out on Friday, just how badly this Union team needed a break. Going two weeks without a game can be tricky, especially when other teams are playing and passing you by in the standings. However, the way the team was going to me, a break is really what was needed. Hackworth gave the club a hard three days of training, then three days off, before going back to prepare for not just Sporting Kansas City, but for the rest of the season.
There are no more breaks, just games.
With the Union idle, Columbus and New England took advantage of wins to make the eastern conference an even bigger race for the playoffs. Currently, New England sits in that fifth and last playoff spot with 40 points; next, Chicago and Philadelphia with 39 and Columbus with 38. This weekend New England hosts Houston, Chicago hosts Montreal, and Columbus visits FC Dallas. Come Monday, MLS’ Eastern Conference might look a little bit different.
For the Philadelphia Union, while they will be focused on their game Friday at Sporting Kansas City (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network), you can't fault them for also doing some scoreboard watching. Winning games now may not be enough unless you run the table and that's much easier said than done.
Of Philadelphia's five remaining games, three are on the road and two are at home. The most difficult part of the schedule has to be the two games vs. Sporting Kansas City. Their other opponents are Toronto, D.C. United and Montreal.
Friday's game is important for a number of reasons. First things first, you need to stop this five-game winless streak. To do that, goals are a must. How do you score goals though against the league’s number one defense?
Led by Danish goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, Sporting comes into this game with a goal against average of 0.97. They have also allowed the fewest shots in the league.
This Sporting Kansas City club is a high energy team, especially at home where they put you under so much pressure, right from the opening whistle. They look to disrupt the opponent and win ball possession closer to their opponent’s goal. Immediately the Union back four will be under pressure to keep the ball. It’s tough to play run and gun with Sporting Kansas City with all of their weapons, so the Union will have to be a bit cautious.
They may have to absorb some early pressure, but if they can settle in, and manage to find a goal, then some of the pressure will be lifted.
Friday night becomes the most important game in the Union schedule – until the next game. A win or a draw won’t get them into the playoffs and likewise a loss won’t eliminate them from playoff contention. The score and the result though, might give us an indication as to how the rest of the season will go.