CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union have cleared one major hurdle by clinching the franchise’s third Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berth with two games to spare.
With a scorching 7-1-2 record over their last 10 games and, according to head coach Jim Curtin, “playing as good as anyone in the league right now,” the Union appear ready to take another leap, hopeful to make, at the very least, a deep playoff run through the Eastern Conference.
They'll have a chance to show they’re capable of doing that by making a statement against the dominant New York Red Bulls in their final regular-season home game Sunday (3 pm ET).
“I think this team always feels like it has something to prove and I think that’s a little part of our identity,” right back Keegan Rosenberry told MLSsoccer.com. “And I think that’s good. As a club, we strive to have that chip on our shoulder all the time.
“It’s exciting for us and a chance to continue to see where we stack up against the rest of the league and to try to continue this form we’re in going into the playoffs.”
With the possibility of finishing anywhere between third and sixth in the East, the Union have a lot to play for when they host the Red Bulls followed by a Decision Day showdown at New York City FC next weekend.
Rosenberry said the chance to spoil the Red Bulls’ Supporters’ Shield hopes is not at the top of their priority list, but Curtin did point to the rivalry between the two clubs as adding a juicy element to a late-season matchup.
“The Red Bulls and us, our fan bases don’t get along too well,” the Union coach said. “And I think we both bring the best out of each other in these types of games. I’m happy we’re playing games of significance at this stage of the season. When the weather shifts and it gets cold, your brain should be programmed that it’s playoff time and these are big games.”
Attacking midfielder Borek Dockal, just back from national team duty with the Czech Republic, agreed.
“I would say the best possible way to prepare for the playoffs is to meet Red Bull and NYC[FC],” Dockal said. “So I expect [it to be] kind of like a playoff game.”
While winning the franchise’s first playoff game will of course be the first goal in the Knockout Round, the Union know they’ll need to get by the Red Bulls or Atlanta United to keep any MLS Cup aspirations alive beyond that.
And while they have had some success against the Red Bulls, beating them in this year’s Open Cup and earning a road draw in MLS play, they’ve lost to Atlanta in both 2018 matchups.
“This is one of the strongest Eastern Conferences I’ve ever seen,” Curtin said. “Atlanta and Red Bull can both set the record for points in a season. Everyone talks so much about Toronto last year and here’s two teams in our conference that both quietly have the possibility of breaking the all-time record.
“But you want to test yourself against the best. You want to see what they have and where we stand.”