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Union Stumble Again with Playoffs Approaching.

Once again, the Philadelphia Union had a chance to climb the table and show that they could be a contender for the MLS Cup. They, however, fell flat when it mattered most.

After the loss to Miami in Leagues Cup, I wrote about my attitude toward the Union and how our expectations for their success have changed over the last few years. You can read that piece here. Unfortunately, I have the same pessimistic feeling today, Sunday September 17th, as I did back in mid-August.

This match was as advertised in the first 45 minutes. Curtin vs Noonan has been a popular storyline over the last few seasons, and with Cincinnati having such a dominant year, the intensity between these two clubs has grown. The first half had a bit of everything. Small scuffles, yellow cards being thrown around by Elfath to settle down the players, a Jose Martinez screamer, and another penalty kick goal from Daniel Gazdag. Despite some bookings for Philly, it was exactly what you had hoped for from the Home Team. Curtin has been pushing for his club to have a killer instinct again, and the Boys in Blue were up to the task. They matched Cincy's physicality, but more importantly took advantage of the scoring chances when they were available.

The second half started, and the Union reminded us that this isn't 2022 anymore. Let's discuss the goals, as Cincy found the back of the net within a few minutes. Vazquez received the ball around midfield, and he was immediately greeted by both Elliott and Lowe. His quick touch to Kubo sent Cincy down the right side of the box, and Kubo easily found Boupendza who had beaten Kai to the ball. From watching the replay, it seemed like Elliott had the defensive positioning in front of Vazquez, but Lowe comes in hard to try to win the ball. You wonder if Damion had kept a closer distance to Boupendza that it ends with an easy clearance for Damion, rather than Kai struggling to close the gap on the run. I love that Lowe is an aggressive player, but that's a moment where he and Elliott need to be on the same page.

There was another injury scare for Philly in the 63rd minute. Jose Martinez fell to the ground when crossing the ball into the box, and he immediately reached for the left side of his back. The MLS All Star was eventually replaced by Jesus Bueno, who had a recent knee issue when he was training for Venezuela. After the match, Curtin says it is a back injury for Martinez, but they are not yet sure of the severity for Brujo. Uhre was also brought down hard in the 72nd minute, and he limped off the field and replaced by Tai Baribo. Mikael did walk off the knock, and it didn't appear to be anything more than just a hard tackle.

The second goal may have been more frustrating than the first. Julian Carranza had possession around midfield, but his pass back to Nathan Harriel was extremely poor. Cincy then took advantage of the turnover, and Vazquez was able to sneak away from Damion Lowe. The Cincy forward didn't get the best touch on the ball, but it was enough to bounce over Blake and into the net. Carranza cannot turn the ball over so easily in the Union's half of the field, and once again Damion has to be better defensively. Letting Vazquez slip behind him is inexcusable there.

Although the Union were able to salvage a point at home, Jack Elliott was given a harsh yellow card in stoppage time, and he was sent off with a red card. He will now be absent for the Charlotte match. After seeing Damion's performance last night, and with some recent poor outings by Lowe, you begin to worry about how he will play each night.

The problem with dropping 2 points at home is the Union's upcoming schedule is far from easy. It may arguably be the toughest stretch they've had all season. First, the Union travel to Charlotte on Wednesday and face off against a team that is still fighting for playoff security. Philly comes back home on Saturday, but they'll be welcoming their West Coast Rival, LAFC, who seem to have the clear matchup advantage of late. The Union then host Dallas, travel to Columbus, host Atlanta and Nashville, and end their season against New England on October 21st. If there was ever a time when dropping points could make or break a season, it's right now. So as I said before, my pessimism for this club continues to linger. When firing on all cylinders, the Philadelphia Union can be the best team in all of MLS. There is talent at every position, and they are an experienced club with strong leadership. This year, however, has been a roller coaster ride from the start. Whether it was the CCL Semi-Final loss to LAFC, the early exit from Open Cup, or getting embarrassed at Toronto, the Union are struggling to rise to the occasion when they need to. Maybe it's because of the amount of games the team has played, or maybe they just aren't as good as we originally thought. The inability to win when it matters could easily push them into a road playoff game or two if other teams take advantage of the countless miscues. If I'm being honest, the Union trying to push for MLS Cup on the road isn't a promising scenario.

A win against Charlotte will shift the momentum a bit when they return for LAFC, but right now I can't say I'm expecting anything more than a draw on Wednesday.

- Mike Barrera (Mbarrera1323)

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