Playoffs next for luckless Union after another loss
CHESTER >> Despite the best attempts of a raucous River End, Talen Energy Stadium Sunday didn’t feel like the home of a team making its triumphant return to the MLS Cup Playoffs after a fiveyear hiatus.
It wasn’t quite the depths of playing-out-the-string joylessness that has blighted past years. But watching a Philadelphia Union team stretch its winless streak to seven games in a 2-0 loss to the Red Bulls, the ambience didn’t deliver on what sporting director Earnie Stewart and company probably envisioned for a substantial first step in their rebuilding plan.
Perhaps it was the utter superiority of the visitors, holders of a 16-game unbeaten streak to clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference on Decision Day.
Perhaps it’s the Union’s skid, including consecutive home shutouts, their first two of the year, or a 215-minute goal-scoring drought. There was news of Maurice Edu suffering a broken leg in training Saturday, reserves starting but not delivering and a general lack of inspiration in the team commensurate with the dearth of excitement around the postseason berth.
And on a day when they needed to merely lose by a non-monstrous margin in hopes that New England couldn’t win and overturn a 12-goal spread on goal differential, the Union managed to chew up nearly half of its allowable cushion for error, with the Revs’ 3-0 win over Montreal insufficient for a colossal reversal of fortunes. So here the Union are, a playoff team again, headed to Toronto Wednesday night (7:30, ESPN2) for a onegame playoff with the No. 3 seed. So it feels …
“It’s pro sports so there’s no celebrating when you lose,” manager Jim Curtin said. “The guys are competitive, they’re hard on themselves. It’s no secret we’ve had a drop in form, but we still have a good group and I’m self-critical. I look at myself in terms of a million different things.”
Needless to say, no champagne bottles were popped in the locker room, and the thin crowd remaining after the final whistle as Curtin and team captain Brian Carroll thanked the
fans was almost drowned out by the cheers of the Red Bulls’ traveling support.
The numbers back up the lack of buzz. The Union (11-14-9, 42 points) finish three games under .500. Their points-per-game average is equal to the 2014 team, which missed the playoffs. They are four points behind the pace of the 2013 side, which also missed the postseason, and obviously well shy of the 2011 team.
The Red Bulls (16-99, 57 points) didn’t let the Union’s malaise interfere with their plans. Bradley Wright-Phillips blasted home his 24th goal of the season in the 26th minute to clinch the league’s golden boot. He capitalized on another defensive lapse by the Union, when Ken Tribbett and Fabinho lost track of Wright-Phillips on a long ball from defender Aurelien Collin, and popped the ball over an onrushing Andre Blake before collecting on the other side and side-footing it home.
Alex Muyl added a goal in the 57th, set up by Sacha Kljestan, who wasn’t credited with an assist and fell one helper short of 20 for the year, a milestone eclipsed by only one player (Carlos Valderrama).
The Union, meanwhile, did precious little. Starting Eric Ayuk (who hadn’t even made the bench in MLS this season), Ilsinho, Roland Alberg and Fabian Herbers, the Union scarcely threatened. A lineup that hadn’t played together this season, they looked the part.
Alberg hit the post in the 47th minute, and after the
introduction of Tranquillo Barnetta, Ayuk fired a shot from the edge of the box that Luis Robles palmed over. Barnetta fired an attempt right at Robles in stoppage time, easily handled.
About the only positive was offered by Keegan Rosenberry, who went the full 90 minutes to become the first rookie to play every minute of a 34-game MLS season
“I’m lucky to stay healthy and blessed I’ve had the opportunity to play from day one,” Rosenberry said. “I’ve said it before, I’ll do my best to take advantage of the opportunity, but there’s so many things you can’t control, with injuries, suspensions and cards. There’s things that you can’t control, you have to be thankful for that.”
The rest of the match was whiled away trying not to capitulate a goal total that could give New England hope north of the border. In the process, the hosts presented not one scintilla of evidence that their stay in the postseason would last longer than 90 minutes at BMO Field. But against Toronto, a team that the Union drew last time they played, hope springs eternal in the postseason.
“It’s a one-off game,” Curtin said. “It’s not like a situation where they have more rest than us or anything. The quick turnaround in some ways probably suits the team that is going on the road. Our group’s done well if you look at our record on the Wednesday games, we’ve gotten results. We’re confident we can do that.”