Down the Stretch They Come: What the Union Need to Do to Make Waves in MLS

Down the Stretch They Come: What the Union Need to Do to Make Waves in MLS

With just one game a week (usually) and 34 games to play, it seems like the Major League Soccer season goes on forever. But, if you can believe it, the Union have just nine games left before playoff positioning is decided.

And the Union are right in the thick of that chase, and are even in the discussion for the Supporters Shield, an absolutely massive trophy given to the team with the most regular season points. In case you were curious how much one bounce or one mistake can make a difference in a long season, I present this tweet that caught my attention from last week from Union writer Kevin Kinkead:

That free kick came back on July 3 while you were out watching fireworks, when the Union watched a  sure three points slip away in Salt Lake City.

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Since that tweet from Kinkead, Real Salt Lake picked up another point with a draw against Portland, but the discussion remains the same. Your Philadelphia Union, with all their flaws, hiccups and bumps in the road, are -- at least right now -- part of MLS's elite tier.

The Union begin the final stretch on the road Sunday night in New England before returning home next Saturday for a critical home game against Montreal.

The way I see it, there are three realistic scenarios for the Union: Get hot and stay in the hunt for the Supporters Shield, play solidly and secure a playoff berth, or fall apart and watch the postseason from home.

Here's what the Union will need for each scenario:

To Win the Supporters Shield (or at least be there at the end):

As optimistic as I'd like to be, this seems somewhat unlikely. But it's not impossible.

In the last three years, the Supporters Shield winner had 66 (San Jose), 67 (LA Galaxy) and 59 points (LA Galaxy). The total this year is more likely to be in the 50s than the 60s, considering the parity in the league right now -- Real Salt Lake has 42 points while four teams have 39 (Sporting KC, New York, Colorado and Portland). The Union and Montreal are on 38 points, while EIGHT other teams have over 30.

With nine games left, that means there are 27 points on the table. To stay in the race or win the Shield, the Union likely need at least 20 of those (likely more). Here's how to get there:

  • WIN ALL 4 HOME GAMES (12 points): This is much easier said than done, with Montreal coming next week and Sporting Kansas City to end the year (Houston and Toronto are the other two). But top teams win their home games. End of story.
  • 2 WINS, 2 DRAWS AND 1 LOSS AWAY (8 points): This could actually prove easier than Step 1. Road games at New England and DC United are must-wins, while the game against a disappointing San Jose team needs to be at least a draw. A win at Sporting KC might be too much to ask for, but draws in Montreal and San Jose could be enough.

To Finish Top 3 in the East (and earn a first-round bye):

This is more realistic -- and more important -- than winning the Shield. To get there, the Union likely need 16-18 points.

  • WIN 3 HOME GAMES AND LOSE 1 (9 points): Ideally, the fourth one would be a draw, but let's say the Union lay an egg against KC or Montreal. If they can get wins over Houston, Toronto and KC or Montreal, that would still be a strong finish.
  • 2 WINS, 1 DRAW AND 2 LOSSES AWAY (7 points): Beating DC United is a must, plus a win over either San Jose or New England. Draw the other one and lose to Montreal and KC, and the Union would still have 54 points. That should be enough for a top-three finish.

To Miss the Playoffs or Be on the Bubble come late-October:

With the way this team has played -- especially on the road -- I don't see this happening. We've officially reached the point of the season where this would be a MASSIVE disappointment (10 points or fewer).

  • WIN JUST TWICE AT HOME (6 points): With Montreal and KC coming in, this is still possible. But it would make things quite difficult for the Union.
  • WIN 1, DRAW 1, LOSE 3 AWAY (4 points): OK, the Union beat DC United. But they only draw on Sunday in New England and then lose to Montreal, San Jose and KC. On their own, those are all very possible. But as a whole, this would be a huge collapse.

As it stands now, the second scenario is the most realistic and would be a great result. A Supporters Shield would be an enormous shock, but so would missing out on a top-three finish.

We'll have a much clearer picture in nine days time, after Sunday's trip to Foxboro and next week's home date with Montreal. As for Sunday...

PREDICTION SURE TO GO WRONG:

UNION 2, REVOLUTION 0

The Revs are much better than they have been in recent years, with Juan Agudelo (please watch the video below for the goal of the year) and the world's second-most-famous Boston College product (Doug Flutie, of course) -- Charlie Davies -- on the roster.

But, I'm loving Fabinho at left back and Zac MacMath is playing like a man possessed of late. Jack McInerney breaks out of his slump and Conor Casey ices the game with a second-half goal.

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Best of NBA: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

Best of NBA: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

MIAMI -- Dion Waiters' 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left capped his 33-point effort, and the Miami Heat beat Golden State 105-102 on Monday night to end the Warriors' seven-game winning streak.

The Heat wasted a 10-point lead in the final 4 minutes, and Kevin Durant tied the game on a dunk with 11.7 seconds left. With no timeouts, Waiters walked the ball up the court and drilled what became the game-winner over Klay Thompson.

Stephen Curry missed a 3-pointer as time expired for the Warriors (see full recap).

Rivers, Crawford lead Clippers past Hawks
ATLANTA -- Austin Rivers scored 27 points and Jamal Crawford broke out of a shooting slump with 19, helping the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Atlanta Hawks 115-105 on Monday night.

Crawford had eight points in the fourth quarter, including a driving basket after Atlanta cut the Clippers' lead from 24 to five points.

Kent Bazemore led the Hawks with 25 points. Dennis Schroder had 21, and Dwight Howard added 16 points and 12 rebounds (see full recap).

Wizards beat Hornets behind Wall’s 24
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- John Wall firmly believes the Washington Wizards are a good team with plenty of playoff potential.

The key, he said, "is we just got to believe it every time we step on the court."

Wall had 24 points and seven assists, and the Wizards looked plenty confident as they continued their run up the Eastern Conference standings with a 109-99 win against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night (see full recap).

Kings snap skid with win over Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- DeMarcus Cousins had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and the Sacramento Kings snapped a five-game losing streak with a 109-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

Ty Lawson added 19 points and helped Sacramento turn the game around with a strong second quarter. Lawson scored nine points in the second, and the Kings outscored the Pistons 37-24 in the period to take a 65-62 lead into halftime.

A 3-pointer by Lawson put Sacramento up 101-90 in the fourth, and the Kings held on from there to stop Detroit's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Jones, Holiday lead Pelicans past Cavs
NEW ORLEANS -- Terrence Jones filled in brilliantly for injured All-Star Anthony Davis, scoring a season-high 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking LeBron James' dunk attempt in the fourth quarter, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-122 on Monday night.

Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans, and Langston Galloway capped a 12-point night with a clean steal on James' drive in the final minute, preventing the Cavs from erasing a deficit they had trimmed from 22 late in the first half to three with 1:32 left in the game.

Kyrie Irving scoring 35 of his 49 points in the second half, but the Cleveland fell to its fifth loss in seven games. James had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Henrik Lundqvist's 36 saves leads Rangers past Kings

Best of NHL: Henrik Lundqvist's 36 saves leads Rangers past Kings

NEW YORK -- Henrik Lundqvist stopped 36 shots to lead the New York Rangers over the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Monday night.

Brandon Pirri, Matt Puempel and Mats Zuccarello scored to help New York win its third straight since a three-game skid.

Jordan Nolan and Kyle Clifford scored, and Jeff Zatkoff finished with 14 saves for Los Angeles, which has lost four straight and five of seven.

Lundqvist has given up just four goals on 84 shots during the winning streak -- including a 1-0 shutout at Detroit on Monday -- after allowing 20 on 113 shots the previous four games.

The veteran goalie needed to be at his best in this one as the Kings, who last played Saturday across town against the Islanders, seemed a step faster from the start and controlled play for most of the first two periods (see full recap).

Caps top 'Canes to extend point streak to 14 games
WASHINGTON -- Defenseman Dmitry Orlov scored twice and the Washington Capitals kept the offense rolling to beat the Carolina Hurricanes 6-1 on Monday night and extend their point streak to 14 games.

Orlov doubled his goal output for the season and Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller also scored for the Capitals, who have won three in a row and haven't lost in regulation since Dec. 27. Washington scored on six of its 25 shots on Cam Ward and handed Carolina its fourth consecutive loss.

Braden Holtby made 25 saves for his 23rd victory of the season. The only goal he allowed came from Jordan Staal on the power play in the first period.

The Capitals allowed the first goal for the first time in 11 games but scored six unanswered to continue their winning ways. They've scored 44 goals in their past eight games (see full recap).

Kadri reaches 20 goals as Leafs beat Flames
TORONTO -- Nazem Kadri scored twice to tie his career high with 20 goals this season, Frederik Andersen stopped 26 shots and the Toronto Maple Leafs ended a two-game winless streak with a 4-0 win over the Calgary Flames on Monday night.

Kadri beat Brian Elliott twice, and Andersen captured his second shutout as a Leaf.

Rookies Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman also scored for Toronto, which sits third in the Atlantic Division with 53 points.

Elliott gave up four goals on 28 shots, dropping his fourth consecutive start.

The Flames have lost three in a row and five of the past six. They are a point up on Vancouver for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference (see full recap).