The Union played to a draw for the third straight game on Saturday against Eastern conference leaders Montreal. Philadelphia failed to take first away from from the Impact, but are only one point behind them with one game in hand.
The game itself was back and forth, both teams saw around the same number of shots, same percentage of passing accuracy, and practically the same amount of possession. The game’s goals were scored early. A failed clearance from CJ Sapong on an early Montreal corner found legend Didier Drogba. Drogba took a touch and fired the ball into the top left corner of the net.
Philly responded well after conceding, they played strong and found an equalizer in the twenty-fourth minute. A good cross from Pontius found the foot of Le Toux, deep in the box. He played the ball across the front of the goal, to a wide open CJ Sapong, who put the ball into the open side of the net! This game was a good one from the two top teams in the east, but crucial points that could put distance between the teams and the rest of the conference were not taken.
The Eastern conference is looking very competitive this season. The Union are sitting in a playoff place, but there has been a lot of movement in the East throughout this year. Only five points separate the Union from teams outside of playoff spots, and yes the Philadelphia unit are playing well, but if their form wavers they will drop..and drop fast.
This puts the recent successes of the Union in perspective. That perspective is points per game (PPG), and goal differential (GD). PPG is often the most important number on the stat sheet in MLS, but somehow often gets overlooked. This statistic shows the average points that a team gets from their results. Goal differential is a system that shows goals for and goals against through competitions. These stats are more important than points at this time of the season. So if a team has a good PPG and GD will most likely be better off as the season progresses. Philadelphia has the best PPG, and goal difference in the Eastern conference, but how do they match up against the western conference teams?
This Union team has been unbeaten in their last four games, and have the third best goal difference in MLS at plus three. They also have the best PPG average in the Eastern conference (1.5 PPG), but they aren’t coming close to the top western teams in this statistic. The top six western conference teams have better points per game than the Union. The teams ahead of Philly are:
Colorado (2 PPG),
LA Galaxy (1.9),
FC Dallas (1.77),
Real Salt Lake (1.7),
San Jose Earthquakes (1.64),
Vancouver Whitecaps (1.54).
If the Union want to be the best in this league they will need to improve their points per game percentage. How can they do this? By getting more points from their games.
The Union are doing much better than in past years, but if they want to be truly be a contender then they will have to stop the mistakes that lead to dropped points. Looking at losses this season two of the three were one goal games where the Union were playing with ten men. The mistakes of silly challenges that lead to both red’s, and eventually both losses, could be a hindrance that causes the Union to lose the label of “championship contender”.
Out of the Union’s three draws. two of them have been the Union’s own fault. Against San Jose the Union were one goal, and one man up and still let San Jose find a late equalizer and this past week The Union let in the early goal off of a failed clearance inside their own eighteen yard box. If the Union did not have those instances where they faltered and showed lapse’s of judgement, then they would have six more points and a better PPG average than a few of the Western conference teams.
These mistakes made by the Union are ones that need to be addressed if they want to be considered a true contender for MLS cup, and reviewing them brings the Union’s recent success into perspective.
The team are leaps and bounds better than they were last year under the reign of Earnie Stewart, but just because they have been good does not mean they are earmarked for future success’.
If the Union want to be a true contender this year, they will need to do three things; score goals, not let goals in, and win. It sounds simplistic, but it will show in the stat sheet in more ways than just points and where they sit in the standings.
Goals and wins will improve their goal difference, and PPG; this will show that they are a good team that gets the majority of the points from every game, and they do it by scoring goals, playing good defense, and winning.
We will see if the Union take the next step to become true MLS Cup contenders this Friday when they take on rivals DC United at Talen Energy Stadium. The Union have yet to lose at home this year, and are playing attractive soccer. These traits could be the start to even more success this year, if they want to contend, in the eye’s of MLS fans at least, they will need to get wins and score goals without letting any in.