The Philadelphia Union are still alive to make the playoffs.
But they’re on life support.
After blowing a lead in a 2-1 loss at Montreal over the weekend, the Union now need to win their regular-season finale against Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park on Saturday while getting some help to sneak into the postseason in the final Eastern Conference slot.
In this week’s “Inside Doop,” we’ll break down those playoff scenarios and take a look back at what went wrong in Saturday’s heartbreaking loss in Canada.
Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. For the first 45 minutes, the Union were playing their scrappy underdog role to a tee, taking an unlikely 1-0 lead into the break and looking like they’d be able to win their first-ever game at Montreal’s State Saputo. But in the second half, the hosts quickly began to assert their dominance, getting a slew of opportunities, scoring twice, and all but locking up their own playoff berth while dooming Philly’s. Honestly, the Union played pretty well for stretches of Saturday’s game -- just not good enough to win, on the road, against a team that’s probably better than they are. In some ways, the game was a microcosm of the Union's season: pretty good but not quite good enough.
2. Adding insult to injury was the fact that ex-Union midfielder Justin Mapp drove a dagger into his former team’s heart, getting the assist on the Impact’s game-winning goal with a wonderfully weighted free kick. (It helped that a couple of Union defenders seemed to lose their marks defending the set piece, which continues to be a struggle for them.) Mapp also probably should have had at least another assist or goal as he continues his fine season in Montreal. It’s hard not to think how the Union’s fortunes might have been different over the past two seasons had they not lost Mapp in the 2011 Expansion Draft. Looking back at that draft, it must also be frustrating that they left Mapp exposed while protecting a player –- Faryd Mondragon –- that would decide to sign in a different league a couple of months later.
3. Had Union manager John Hackworth not finally unleashed Kleberson earlier this month, who knows where the offense would be coming from right now? On Saturday, Kleberson played a perfect through ball to fellow Brazilian Fabinho, who roofed a tough-angle goal to put Philly in front in the first half. Kleberson has now had a hand in every Union goal this month (one goal, two assists) -– which, more than, anything else, makes it even more baffling why Hackworth refused to play him for most of the season.
Three questions for the week ahead
1. So the big question this week is whether the Union count on two other teams, including one big rival, to help them out. To get into the playoffs, the Union need to beat Sporting Kansas City on Saturday and have New England lose to Columbus and Houston lose to D.C. United on Sunday. A low-scoring Houston-D.C. United draw will also probably be do the trick, although then you start getting deeper into playoff tiebreakers. Are all three of those results possible? Sure. Are they likely? Of course not. But it will still make for a fun final weekend, especially if the Union can win on Saturday and put the pressure on Houston and New England.
2. The next biggest question: How will the Union survive without their captain Brian Carroll, who's suspended for the final game because of yellow card accumulation? Carroll has started 59 straight games and played all but one minute this season, so Hackworth has never had a need to try to replace him. One solution would be to move Amobi Okugo into his natural holding midfield spot but the Union couldn’t afford to lose him on the backline. The more likely scenario is putting Michael Lahoud or Keon Daniel in that spot but both have to be healthy first. If they’re not, Hackworth might have to get creative -- which is probably not something he wants to do in the team's final game.
3. The loss to Montreal was probably Philly's most gut-wrenching of the season, both because of the massive playoff implications and because they couldn’t hold on to a lead. How will the Union come back from that? It certainly helps that they’re playing at home and still have something to play for –- but because of their remote playoff hopes, they still could come into the contest feeling down or bad about themselves.
Stat of the week
Even if it’s not enough for the playoffs, a Union win would give the club the most single-season points in franchise history. They already have the most wins.
Quote of the week
“We let ourselves down.” – Union manager John Hackworth following Saturday’s loss in Montreal
Player of the week
Despite the defensive struggles in the second half, center back Jeff Parke was a beast all game, stopping Montreal runs time and time again and mostly containing Impact leading scorer Marco Di Vaio. If not for Parke, the final score could have been a whole lot worse.