Having just gotten past the half way point of the 2011 season, one would think that, overall, the Philadelphia Union have to be pleased with their accomplishments. Throughout the season, the club has been in either first or second place. Their win total (seven) is only one shy of their total wins from a year ago (eight).
Defense has been their key, with six shutouts entering this weekend, compared to just two in 2010, and both of those shutouts came late in their first MLS campaign.
Having said that, from the front office to the players, everyone knows that things change in the second half of the season in MLS.
The temperatures get hotter, fatigue sets in, and each game becomes more important down the stretch. For all of the good things Philadelphia have done in the first half, it will be of little consequence if they can’t come close to the same level of success in the second half.
Injuries will play a role here, as will new transfers, and trades. With each MLS team at least at the half way point of the schedule, you pretty much know your strengths as well as your weaknesses.
That’s why this week, the Columbus Crew traded for Tony Tchani. It’s why the New York Red Bulls used up a DP slot for arriving German goalkeeper Frank Rost.
It’s why San Jose made a 3-for-1 deal with Toronto and it’s also why Toronto picked up Designated Players Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans.
It might also be why the Union traded Jordan Harvey prior to the San Jose game. A Philadelphia team that has positioned itself well under the salary cap gained extra money on the Harvey deal.
Bottom line, all 18 clubs know what they need in order to push for the playoffs, and ultimately on to MLS Cup. There have been a significant amount of moves made already, with plenty more expected. Stay tuned to see what the Union might do.
Staying with the Union, how important is this Sunday’s game at New England? You are playing against the team with the fewest wins and fewest points in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia are also going up against the team with the fewest goals scored in MLS with 16. Midfielder Shalrie Joseph has five of those goals to lead the club, but he is suspended from Sunday’s game.
Despite New England’s woes, you can never expect an easy game when you face them, especially if you are facing Matt Reis in goal. This will be a desperate New England team, playing at home, winless in their last eight, and coming off a midweek 4-1 loss vs. Manchester United. They have not played an MLS game since July 4th.
For Philadelphia, for the most part they are healthy. The only notable injuries are Veljko Paunovic (doubtful, left hip strain) and Justin Mapp (questionable, left hamstring strain). They know they are capable of coming away with three points Sunday if they can bring their “A” game to Foxboro.
They might have a couple of older guys playing this weekend as Roger Torres turned 20 mid-week, and on game day, Danny Mwanga will also hit that age.
It’s important for Philly to pick up points here as they won’t play another MLS game until the end of the month vs. Colorado.
Up next for the Union are international matches vs. Everton and Real Madrid.
You can catch the Union at New England game on Comcast SportsNet, Sunday, beginning with the pre-game show at 6:30 p.m.