The Philadelphia Union remains an enigma. Still atop the Eastern Conference, a position its held since June, the Sons of Ben can’t seem to get out of their own way. An inexplicable loss to Chicago, who currently sit outside the playoff picture is followed by a solid performance in a win against DC United and an outstanding final half hour against Atlanta to come away with a 3-1 victory.
It seems no one can figure this team out, least of all your friendly neighborhood oddsmakers, who, despite, the two recent wins at home, dropped the Union’s money line from +1200 to +1400 thanks to the loss in the Windy City.
When we last talked about Philadelphia, one of the things we touted was that the club spread its scoring so well. Philly now has seven players with four or more goals. The six goals against DC and Atlanta came off the feet of four different players with Kasper Przybylko and Brendan Aaronson tallying in each match.
Who Will Answer the Bell for the Philadelphia Union?
Spreading the wealth like that may be the team’s ultimate downfall, however. It’s great when Ilsinho and Jamiro Monteiro are creating, either on the wings or through the center, but as the game against the Fire displayed, the Union have yet to find that striker; the one guy they can count on to say “get me a goal” and he does. Don’t get me wrong, Przybylko has shown better finishing prowess than anyone in the last five years in Philadelphia and sits in the top-5 in MLS in goals. At just 18, Aaronson has incredible potential. But there’s no Josef Martinez. There’s no Carlos Vela. There’s no Zlatan. Defenses may not know where the attack for the Union is coming from, but as the game in Chicago showed, sometimes Philadelphia doesn’t know either.
One area of hope is that the back line and goalkeeping seems to have rounded into form during August. The Union allowed one goal in four of its five games and two goals in the other, an average of 1.2 a contest, which would rank third in the league if that was the mark for the full season. I’d still like to see a clean sheet from Andre Blake, but with Auston Trusty growing into a strong defender and Carlos Bedoya still playing a good two-way game now into his 30’s, Blake hasn’t had to show off the level he displayed early in his career.
The Union has already clinched a playoff spot, and with a 10-point lead over the Red Bulls in the standins with eight matches remaining, a home contest in the playoffs seems likely. As it stands right now, Philadelphia is given a 13 percent chance at first round bye and a seven percent chance to hoist the MLS Cup. At the end of the day, outside of the defense getting stronger in the last month, not much has changed for the Union. The offense is open, exciting, and wildly unpredictable. Those factors, coupled with a lack of general playoff experience and no success in the postseason makes Philly a club that’s worth the money if you have it to lose, but not one you should hitch your portfolio to.