The last time a team won six road matches and missed the MLS playoffs it was Jim Curtin’s first year as a head coach and Portland Timbers had to tie nine home matches to fall one point below the red line. Four other teams notched at least six road wins that season, but no more than four have done it in one year since.
Now, in 2018, six clubs — including the Union after Wednesday’s 1-0 win in Seattle — have at least six road wins, and Atlanta United has a quite-frankly-absurd ten (over half of the Five Stripes’ 60 points have come away from their 70,000+ filled-to-capacity stadium). Additionally, Dallas and Vancouver have five road wins and seven combined matches away from home still to play.
This is a banner year for winning away.
For the Union, Wednesday night’s big win in Seattle didn’t just push the club’s single season road victory record to six, it also established a number of other team records both away from home and more generally.
First let’s focus on Fafa Picault. He already has as many road goals this season as he had total goals a year ago, and the winger has now scored in four straight road matches. Yeah, that’s good.
And even more impressive, three of Picault’s goals during this run of hot road form have come during the final 15 minutes of matches, and two have been game-winners. In short, while Cory Burke has quite fairly garnered headlines for forcing himself into the first eleven this season, Picault has quietly made himself undroppable as well. The Union acquired David Accam after he scored about 23% of Chicago Fire’s goals in his best MLS season last year. Picault has contributed about 19.5% of the Union’s goals in 2018 even though the team leans quite heavily to the right side of the field in possession.
Picault’s late tally against Seattle was the third time Philly has put in a game-winner while down a man. It was, however, the first time the team has scored from open play to win while short numbers. Previously, Sebastien Le Toux’s 2011 penalty kick and Kleberson’s epic free kick were the only times the Union had scored to win after losing a player to a red card.
Last, let’s go to the other end of the pitch and enjoy Andre Blake’s success. Blake has faced the fourth most shots on frame of any goalie in the league this year, and the result is a personal — and club — record number of saves in a season. Blake is at 105 saves in 2018 and he still has five games left to play. The Jamaican has always been a talented shot stopper, but this season he has upped his level in the air and taken on more of a leadership role behind young center backs. The results have been largely positive, with players like Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie bouncing back and showing immediate improvement after early mistakes, and Keegan Rosenberry recovering his rookie season form and then some. Meanwhile, Ray Gaddis has strolled into the left fullback spot and held it down all season. None of this is possible if Blake doesn’t step up vocally and provide support to a group that battled through the pressure of playing behind a sputtering offense to start the year. By allowing the Union back line to feel safe playing high and by improving his aerial control of the box, Blake has accumulated 13 wins this year, another personal and club record.
The win in Seattle was huge on its own, but in a broader context, it highlighted many of the things the Union have improved this year. They survived a heavy onslaught to start the match, fought until the final whistle, earned points on the road, and collected their fourth shutout in six matches. It wasn’t a perfect performance in Seattle, but it was a win that highlighted the Union’s willingness to rely on hard work to push through difficult moments.
That will be key as the club readies for a bruising four match run — with three games against teams above them in the standings — and an Open Cup final before a likely postseason berth.