Play­offs next for luck­less Union af­ter an­other loss

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matthew DeGe­orge mde­ge­orge@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @sports­doc­tormd on Twit­ter

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.”

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