Considering all the struggles the Union have dealt with this season, you might think that Wednesday’s 3-1 home win over the rival New York Red Bulls in a nationally televised game was simply a highlight of an otherwise doomed year.
But after the game, the Union couldn’t help but talk about the win as a springboard for a playoff run – a “statement game” that could change the course of their season.
And, you know what, they actually have a point.
Despite a seven-game home winless streak, a couple of horrible blowout losses, a five-game stretch without a player scoring from the run of play and a midseason firing of their head coach (feel free to fill in your other lowlights in the comments section), the Union are somehow right in the playoff mix.
Thanks to a not-so-good Eastern Conference, the Union are currently in sixth place, just one point out of the last two postseason spots. (Admittedly, they’ve still played one or two more games than most other teams … but still.) And we can now count Claude Giroux as one of the team's believers.
The reason for the turnaround? Interim manager Jim Curtin has certainly seemed to infuse some new life into a team we always knew had some talent. And the goals have been plentiful with the Union scoring three times in each of their last four leagues games at PPL Park, making a complete mockery of the team’s promotion that allows fans to get free haircuts at Great Clips when the Union score three goals. (If your hair is getting long, the Union’s next home game is Aug. 9 against old friend Jack McInerney and Montreal.)
And yet, while Saturday’s game featured Conor Casey scoring his sixth goal in the last six games, Sebastien Le Toux improving to 11-for-11 on penalty kicks with the Union, and Fred – FRED! – scoring his first MLS goalsince 2010, one defensive play stood out as the ultimate highlight.
In a wild 70th-minute sequence, Zac MacMath made a diving save on Eric Alexander, smothered the league’s leading scorer, Bradley Wright-Phillips, on a follow-up, and then got a nice pick-me-up from defender Sheanon Williams, who raced behind MacMath and saved a Thierry Henry shot off the goal line.
Watch the play at the 6:45 mark then watch it again. It almost makes you believe this team can make the playoffs, doesn’t it?