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
August 23, 2013, 4:30 pm
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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:

True story: If Javier Morales doesn't convert that stoppage time PK, then Philly and RSL are tied for the Supporter's Shield lead.

— Kevin Kinkead (@PhilUnionKevinK) August 19, 2013

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.

[nbcsports_video src=http://p.mlssoccer.com/SAu5a/video/1797014/mls_2013-07-04-001114.640hq.mp4 service=mlssoccer width=590 height=332]

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.

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/jhUJHKix070 service=youtube width=590 height=443]

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