The Philadelphia Union are on a bit of a tear. Just this month they have secured their third trip to the US Open Cup Final in five years, and haven’t lost since August fourth. Now with a win at DC united last night and another away match at Orlando City SC this weekend, the Union can set their sights to something that seemed impossible a month ago. The Philadelphia Union could win their way to a home playoff game.
With the MLS season reaching its later stages, getting points from games is even more crucial. This current stretch of five games against five Eastern Conference opponents set the stage for Philadelphia to show if they would be a real contender, or a fringe team.
So far, Philadelphia has taken nine points from three of the five matches. In this stretch the Union have shown that they can win at home and on the road. They have been able to dictate their style of play against their opponents as of late.
Because of this win streak, just one point separates the Union from Columbus Crew SC. The battle for fourth place, and that coveted home playoff game will come down to how the Union and Crew finish the season. Let’s look at both teams remaining games, as a way to visualize how a home playoff game is not far out of reach for Philadelphia.
Columbus’ remaining schedule:
First, let’s look at Columbus’s remaining schedule. With eight games left, the Crew play four home matches and four away matches. Crew SC face five teams who are in the thick of playoff races (New York City FC, FC Dallas, Portland Timbers, Philadelphia Union and Minnesota United FC). Their other three matches are ones they should take care of business in (Colorado Rapids, Montreal Impact and Orlando City SC).
Crew SC’s tough schedule should have Union fans salivating at the thought of Columbus dropping points.
This coming weekend they welcome NYCFC, a team who has not won in their last two matches. NYCFC will be hungry to get back in the win column to close the gap on Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls.
After September’s international break, Columbus has to travel out west to take on first place FC Dallas. While Dallas has looked shaky at times this season, Oscar Pareja men have been able to play consistently enough to lead the strong Western Conference.
Just four days after traveling to Dallas, Crew SC have to travel to Portland. The Timbers are in the midst of a struggle to stay in playoff contention in the Western Conference, and will likely need to take all three points from the Crew to stay relevant in their playoff push.
Three days after that the Crew get a home match against struggling Colorado Rapids. Colorado has struggled all season; however, their addition of Kellyn Acosta has been a real bright spot. The Crew will be facing a team they should beat, but it’s also a team who has nothing to lose. It’d fit the theme of MLS for Columbus to drop points against a bottom feeder in the West.
That next weekend is the match that could be the deciding factor on who gets the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia Union come to Mapfre Stadium to take on the Crew. This one will feel like a playoff game.
As the calendar turns to October, Crew SC heads north to face Montreal Impact. While Montreal are currently in a playoff spot, I am writing them off completely. DC United and Toronto FC are coming for them, and at this point of the season, one of them will be ahead of the Impact. Columbus should be able to take care of business in this match as long as they contain Ignacio Piatti.
After a two-week break, Columbus Crew SC heads down to Orlando SC. At this point Orlando will be officially out of the playoff race. The Lion’s will be playing for pride, so they may play Columbus hard. However, Columbus should be able to take points from the disappointing Orlando City side.
Columbus’ finale comes at home against Minnesota United. The Loons have been a more impressive side this year with forward Darwin Quintero stealing the show. They will likely still be in the playoff race even in the last game of the season with the Western Conference being as wild as it is. Minnesota may need three points to make the playoffs on the last day, so Columbus will be in for a tough match.
One could conceivably see Columbus only take 11 points from their eight remaining games. With a strong schedule remaining Columbus are in for a true test. Should they drop points, the Union will have a real opportunity to overtake them.
Philadelphia’s remaining schedule:
The Union’s schedule is similar to Crew SC’s as they have four home games and four away matches remaining in their 2018 MLS campaign. The remaining schedule for the Union is a daunting one that features games against six games against opponents in playoff contention (Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City, Columbus Crew SC, Minnesota United FC, New York Red Bulls and New York City FC). The two other matches are against teams who are “easier” opponents (Orlando City SC and Montreal Impact).
While the end to the Union’s schedule is tough, there are still opportunities to take points to move past Columbus Crew SC.
This coming Saturday’s match is one where the Union should be shooting for all three points. Orlando City SC has struggled all season. At this point the Lions are close to playing youth products in their starting 11. While it’d be a “that’s so Union” moment to lose at Orlando, this confident Union side should be able to walk all over Orlando.
The Union come back from the September’s international break to play Montreal Impact in a game that could thrash the Canadian side’s playoff hopes. The Union’s current form, and home crowd behind them should be enough to carry them over Montreal, who have put all their hopes on their captain Ignacio Piatti.
Four days later the Union have to make a midweek trip out to meet a high-flying Seattle side. With little rest, and being a week away from playing the US Open Cup Final at Houston, I’d expect the Union to field a team of reserves and Bethlehem Steel Players. This game will be an interesting one to watch, but it’ll be one that ends in a loss.
That Sunday the Union return to action at home to face Sporting Kansas City. While the US Open Cup Final is the following Wednesday, I expect the Union to play their starters in this match. Sporting Kansas City had been on the up recently and could be the top side in the west when these two sides meet. The Union will want to play their top guys as a test for the playoffs.
Three days after the US Open Cup Final the Union head to Columbus in the match that could be the ultimate decider of who gets the fourth seed. Should the Union be coming off a high of winning a Cup, then there could be some squad rotation. However, if the Union are coming off a loss, then we’ll likely see the starters go up against Columbus in an attempt to redeem their 2018 season.
The following week, the Union welcome Minnesota United. The October matches will be crucial to the Union’s playoff hopes. Minnesota makes the long trip east to try to strengthen playoff hopes. This being one of the last two Union home games in the regular season, Philadelphia will want to take all three points.
The home finale for the Union comes two weeks later against New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls have just passed Atlanta United FC for the top spot in the East. By the time October rolls around, Red Bulls and Atlanta will likely still be battling it out for the top spot, and the Supporters shield. This means that Red Bulls will still play their starters. This will be a tough match, but it’s one where the Union will want to go all out in their last regular season home game!
The Season finale comes at NYCFC where the Union will look to solidify their playoff spot. New York City could still be vying for that coveted bye in the playoffs. With the match meaning so much for both sides, we’ll likely see both teams play their best to better their sides for the playoffs.
This homestretch for Philadelphia is difficult. The benchmark for that fourth place spot seems to be right around 11 points taken from these remaining eight games. Philadelphia could be looking at 11-13 points from these matches, if they can continue the strong form that have shown in the month of August.
A home playoff game isn’t out of the question:
After looking at both teams remaining schedule, one cannot help but feel optimistic about the Union’s chances to compete for a home playoff game. As many of the players, coaches and media have said, success is in front of the Union.
They are in the midst of a playoff race, where they now sit 10 points above the red line. A playoff game is very close to a guarantee at this point, where the Union play that wildcard round game is still to be determined.
A win this Saturday at Orlando City SC should secure the playoff berth for the Union. That creates a good foundation where they need just seven-to-10 points from their remaining seven matches to overtake Columbus for that fourth spot in the Eastern Conference.
Should the Union be able to do that, and play a home playoff match in the wildcard round Philadelphia could be on the verge of winning their first ever MLS playoff match. That coupled with the potential of lifting the club’s first ever trophy at Houston in the US Open Cup Final makes this season one that could be truly special.
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Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.