Philadelphia Union Could Be Most Dangerous MLS Eastern Conference Team

PPL Park

Kerith Gabriel/ Twitter/ @sprtswtr

At first glance, the title of this article sounds absolutely crazy. The Philadelphia Union sit tied for seventh in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, fired their coach mid-season, haven’t hired a replacement or taken the interim tag off Jim Curtin, played a game more than most teams in the East, and all but two of their remaining games are against MLS teams in current playoff position.

However, the Union, despite being in seventh place at the moment, sit just one point  and two places out of a playoff spot, have an opportunity to win their first ever trophy in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup Final against the Seattle Sounders on Sept. 16, and have only lost two out of their last 11 games in league play. Both of those losses game in the Lone Star State.

But this brings us back to the title of the article.

How could the Union possibly be the most dangerous team in the East?

Well, to start off, Philadelphia haven’t found an identity yet this season. The influx of designated players in the offseason didn’t have the immediate impact that Union management – or fans for that matter – would have hoped for. The Union downgraded by trading away striker Jack McInerney in a long-term positive, short-term negative move and had to rely on unproven young strikers and an injury-prone veteran in Conor Casey up top. The defense was ripped to shreds multiple times as they tried to cope with the positioning of the fullbacks in relation with several talented midfielders, and, finally, every time the team seemed to be building momentum a key player would come up injured.

Overall, this season, which started out with so much promise for the Union, has faded into a struggle for survival in a convoluted battle for a playoff berth. But the Union have the talent to not only make a run to the MLS Playoffs, but a run in the MLS playoffs as well.

The difference in the play of the team over the last few weeks can be attributed to three main things, which will all help them improve as the season draws to a close. The revamped defense anchored by Ethan White and Carlos Valdes, the play of Sebastien Le Toux and Cristian Maidana in the midfield, and the appointment of interim coach Jim Curtin.

The Union’s defense was extremely shaky earlier in the season, but has straightened things out. They still continue to leak goals, but the defense has proven adept enough to keep Philadelphia in a position to win games. The decision to frequently play White, the return of Valdes, and the play of Amobi Okugu and Maurice Edu only looks to get better game after game. The more time the defense spends as a squad, the better the defense will perform.

Le Toux, who was one of the most exciting playmakers in MLS during the 2013 season, leads the Union with 11 goals. Playing higher up on the wing and pushing inside, Le Toux has become more of a goal scorer and pulls defenders away from other players like Casey and Andrew Wenger.

On the other hand, the offseason signing of Maidana was a major success. The Argentine leads the team in assists and has immediately stepped into the playmaker role for the Union, just as Le Toux has stepped into the goal-scorer role. Le Toux has also been successful on setting up his teammates for goals as well. In their last game against San Jose, Le Toux had one goal and three assists.

Interim coach Jim Curtin has given this team confidence, which has led to more consistent results. Read more about his return here.

Behind these positives, as well as several others, the Union are finally starting to mesh late in the season. Philadelphia may not be as flashy and exciting as Eastern Conference teams like Sporting Kansas City and the New York Red Bulls have been this year, but their midfield is one of the best in MLS.

If Philadelphia can sneak into the playoffs, don’t be surprised to see an Open Cup-winning Union knock out some of the favorites for the 2014 MLS Cup.

Sleep on the Union at your own risk.


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Taylor Sturm is a Columnist for StoppageTimeSoccer.net. Follow him on Twitter @TSturmRS, like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

One Response to Philadelphia Union Could Be Most Dangerous MLS Eastern Conference Team

  1. Pingback: DC United: Still at the Top Despite Loss | Stoppage Time Soccer

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