Alert! There is a first place team in Philadelphia! The Philadelphia Union won two to nothing Saturday over NYCFC to give them twelve points on the season. The win, coupled with a Montreal loss, gave the Union first place in the East. The Union were dominant in their win against NYCFC; scoring their two goals in the first half, and shutting down New York in the second half.
This Union team has changed massively in the space of a year, they achieved their fourth win a month and a half earlier then they had done in 2015. This time last year the Philly was one of the worst teams in the league.. so how has this team been able to go from worst to first in a year? The Union’s new found confidence, Earnie Stewart’s vision, and the rest of the Eastern Conference not playing up to their highest standards are a few of the reasons why the Union are where they are right now.
When you look at the Union’s performances this season, you see a team that is very confident. There is confidence to take on opposing players, to find the best pass, to shoot the ball when in/around the box, and to close down games when they have to. The confidence is everywhere, and when the opposition lacks confidence or slips up, the Union take advantage. This is how both Union goals were scored Saturday.
In the twenty-sixth minute, a period of good passing lead to a ball played into the box. A failed clearance by NYCFC, and dirty running by Tranquillo Barnetta, lead to a Union opportunity. Barnetta saw space by the byline, chipped the ball over a sliding defender, and spotted Chris Pontius making a run in the middle of the box. The pass was made, and an easy one-time finish was the result from Pontius.
In the forty-first minute the Union had a free kick late in the half. Marquez sent the ball deep and found the head of Sapong. Sapong played the ball back to Le Toux. Sapong then drifted into the box, away from the defense. Le Toux hit the ball first time; whether it was a shot or a pass, the ball found the open Sapong, who redirected the ball into the side netting. These type of Union goals have been the staple of this team in 2016, and it has all stemmed from the confidence the players feel. The change in vision and the change in structure has completely transformed the Union.
Earnie Stewart, the clubs sporting director, has implemented a way of thinking that has produced a winning mentality for the Union. He envisioned a system for the club, and moved quickly to implement it. He got rid of players that did not fit the system, and brought in players that did. Chris Pontius is a veteran with injury problems, and fans were quick to write him off; he is currently second in team scoring with three goals in seven games. Keegan Rosenberry was seen as a player that was not worth his third overall pick from the draft; he’s played every single minute this season, and seems to be a crucial player for the Union going forward. CJ Sapong was the Unions leading scorer last year with nine goals, but fans were still shouting for another striker before the season; CJ is the Union’s leading scorer with four goals, tied for third in all of MLS. These players fit Stewart’s mold, but all of the players brought in show a passion for the game, are true competitors, and are good people off of the field as well. Stewart also stresses that to be successful the team needs to have two good players at every position, and the Union have that depth thanks to the moves made by Stewart in the offseason, and will continue to make in further transfer windows. The team is also being successful thanks to the other Eastern Conference teams.
The Union are 4-1 when playing Eastern conference teams this year. Philly plays well against their eastern competitors, and are benefiting from teams not living up to their potential.
New York Red Bulls have lost six times.
New York City FC have great foreign players, and young American talent, but only have six points on the year as they struggle to fit all the pieces of the jigsaw together.
Chicago Fire can only win when a man up.
New England Revolution are inconsistent, and often look lost on the field.
Columbus Crew can’t seem to get a string of wins together with their firepower.
DC United struggle massively on the road.
Orlando City SC has the early season injury bug.
Toronto has lost some tough ones, and seem to only win against lower teams, or in rivalry games.
Montreal seem to be solid but lose in big/rivalry games.
This conference is one that seems difficult to predict as any team could shrug off these tendencies, but Philly has been pretty consistent this year, accept when they go down a man. They have potential to be up near the top if things stay they way they are.
The Union are in first place for now, and with two more home games in a row they have the chance to put some distance between themselves and the other teams in the east. This team is confident, has a new leader, and mentality, and the rest of the conference has flaws that can be attacked. Now is the time for Philly to put some distance between themselves and their competition. They are number one for now, let’s hope this team continues to play confident, first place type football!