The Union got a much need win, and a confidence boost ahead of what is a treacherous part of their schedule. Philadelphia play three road game in nine days. They face reigning MLS Cup champions Toronto FC this coming Friday, then head to Columbus for a midweek clash; to finish off the road trip, the Union head back north to take on Montreal. All of these teams have destroyed the Union when they come to town in previous years; however this season all three of the Union’s opponents have shown spots of weakness at home. This road trip poses the question about the Union’s 2018 MLS chances; Will the Union’s 2018 hopes be strengthened or utterly destroyed?
The answer to the question:
The answer to this question can be found by looking at two main factors; the Union playing on the road, and the recent form of their opposition. Obviously, if the Union continue to play horribly on the road, and their opponents play up to their quality, then Philadelphia will be utterly destroyed. However if they can pull all positive results, and get at least five points, they could strengthen their cause to be a contender to move above the red line (quick aside here: I don’t see the Union pushing for spots 1-5, I think their going to have a fight for the sixth place in the east if things go right). Let’s jump into the two factors and see how things could turn out.
The Union’s atrocious away form vs their odd late spring surge:
As is public knowledge, Philadelphia have had atrocious road form in Jim Curtin’s tenure. Since 2014, the club has lost 57 games (some of those games were under John Hackworth, but still, it’s bad). It’s become reasonable to expect a loss on the road. However, if the Union want to climb out of the whole they have created early in the season, they are going to have to find a way to get positive results away from home. History may be on their side for this endeavor.
Over the past few seasons the Union have found a surge of confidence and good results in late spring. In 2016 the Union found themselves on an eight game unbeaten streak that lasted from the end of April to early June. Last season, the union went on a six game unbeaten streak that lasted from the end of April to the end of May. Could they do the same thing this season? This tough trip happens to fall towards the beginning of when the Union make their odd late spring run. Maybe they respond the same way they have the last two seasons. While their opponents are all very formidable, this daunting trip provides a momentum swinging opportunity for the Union.
A look at the Union’s opponents:
The Union face three eastern conference opponents on the road; Toronto, Columbus and Montreal. Here’s how they have been doing so far in their MLS campaigns.
The Union face a Toronto team that has put very little effort towards their early season MLS ties. They were more focuses on the CONCACAF Champions League. They made it all the way to the final only to lose to Chivas Guadalajara on penalties. Now that they have been knocked out, they can turn their full attention back to MLS play. After failing to win their Cup match midweek of last week, they blew a two goal lead to Chicago last weekend.
TFC have shown a weakness on the defensive side. Their lethal attack hasn’t produced the goals they’re capable of scoring, but they still have the quality to wipeout teams. Sporting a 1-4-1 record, and being at the basement of the table, Toronto will be looking for blood when the Union come to town this Friday.
Philadelphia travels south of the border for a midweek clash with Columbus next week. The Crew started the season red-hot, taking 10 points from their first four games. However they have cooled off a bit losing three of their last five. Columbus and the Union played a scoreless draw at Talen Energy Stadium back in March.
This coming match might see the same type of action the first did. While their March meeting was a game where both teams seemed to still be shaking off the rust off of the offseason, this one might be a game where both teams are fatigued. This will be the first time either team plays a midweek game after a weekend game. Look for squad rotation to play a heavy factor, mainly for Columbus.
To end their three game in nine-day stretch, the Union go to Quebec to take on Montreal. Montreal have done very little to create a positive impact early in the 2018 season. Winning just two out of eight games doesn’t help. Neither does losing your last four games in a row. Montreal will be ready for a scrappy fight against Philadelphia at the end of their own three game stretch over eight days.
Montreal have the offensive talent to be very formidable the problem this season has been finding ways to stifle opposition. This plays nicely into the Union’s hands, since when they have been allotted more time on the ball, they have produced more chances to score. This has to be considered the most winnable game out of the three for Philadelphia.
Tough nine-day stretch, yet an achievable goal:
The Union are faced with a tough task ahead of them. Since they dropped a lot of points from home matches early in the season, they will have to pick them up on the road to make up some ground. Although it hasn’t seemed like it, the Union have been one of the best teams at creating shots. They are currently seventh in that category out of the 23 teams in MLS. If they can continue to put up the number of shots on these opponents, they should be able to find a way to get some positive results.
The goal is not to win all three games, while that would be amazing to see, the Union are not that type of team on the road. They will sit back more, and look for shooting chances when on the ball, while putting more emphasis on keeping their shape rather than finding different/creative ways to score. That’s been the Union’s MO since Curtin has been coach. Luckily for the Union, doing that against these teams, with their current form, should be enough to grind out results. The young defense will have to step up and stay strong, and the offense will need to build on the win in DC to create these types of results.
Any way you slice it, the whole morale of the Union’s 2018 MLS campaign rides on these three road games
Three games that shape the Union’s hopes:
When you look at the task at hand, at this time in the season, one can see how this can be a crucial short stretch of games that will affect the rest of the Union’s season. It can either strengthen their hopes or utterly destroy the team. Negative results will cause the players to try to do too much, which doesn’t end well on the road. Where as, positive results will boost the overall confidence of the group. The body language will be good, the players looser when small mistakes happen.
The importance of these matches cannot be understated. Buckle up Union faithful this could be the start of a long bumpy ride, or the start of smoother sailing in the weeks/months to come!
Be sure to come back to Philly Sports Network for more Philadelphia Union, Steel FC, and other soccer content!
Follow our writers on Twitter:
Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports