Thanks to back to back wins, the Philadelphia Union return to fifth place in MLS’ Eastern Conference going into this weekend's action. Who would have thought the playoffs would still be a possibility, knowing that the club would score just two goals in those two games, and a total of three in their last seven.
A team that was setting club scoring records weeks ago is now winning with defense, led by a 22-year-old goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
Now the last time I wrote about MacMath and the defense, they were lit up for five goals at New England, so do I dare write about this group again? When you just look at the numbers, you have to go for it.
In the last five games, MacMath and company have allowed just two goals.
In the last eight games, the Union has given up seven, with five coming in one game. MacMath and the back four (plus help from others) have notched five shutouts in those last eight games.
The young goalkeeper is now tied for the league lead in shutouts with 12. He and the club have not been scored upon over the last 217 minutes.
We have witnessed MacMath continually grow and mature, especially during the past few weeks. His positioning is better, as is his timing. He is coming up with the big save when it's been needed.
His body language exudes his own confidence, and now the added confidence his teammates have in him. He practically stole those three road points in Kansas City two games ago.
The only question was, was this MacMath’s best game of the season – or was it the best game of his career?
Now he and his teammates have to be even better on Saturday against their eastern conference rivals D.C. United. United, like Toronto is playing “freestyle soccer;” long eliminated from the playoff chase, this is a club that is setting all kinds of records for futility this season. They are last in the league overall with just three wins. Their offensive numbers rank at the bottom, (0.65 goals per game), while defensively, only Chivas USA have allowed more goals. Toronto proved last week though, that you can't go by the record, so the Union won’t take D.C. United lightly.
This is a club that despite a poor season, won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup against Real Salt Lake on the road, once again proving that when it comes to MLS teams, that just about anything can happen. D.C. United went into that final as a huge underdog, yet they won.
The talk going into this game with D.C. United (7 p.m., The Comcast Network) will be centered on a couple of topics.
One of those topics centers on who will replace suspended starters Sheanon Williams and Fabinho. At this moment, manager John Hackworth has several options to ponder:
One topic will be the club's lack of scoring over the past seven games.
Another – and perhaps an even bigger topic for me – has to be the defensive effort that the club has shown over these last several games.
Can it continue against a lineup that is expected to be very young, and very hungry for some personal success?
If they can come up with another big night on the defensive end, they can take three more big points on the road to the MLS Cup playoffs. When it's working right, defensive success relies on 11 players all on the same page.
When it’s working right, good defense can lead to a productive offense. While we would all like to see the Union break out of their offensive slump, we don't want it to be at the expense of a defense that is playing as well as any unit has recently in MLS.
It will be important on Saturday that the replacements for Williams and Fabinho start the night with a strong defensive mentality.
If we are still talking positive about the Union defense at the end of the night Saturday, you would have to like the club's playoff chances even more.