Will the Union clinch a playoff spot this weekend?
The Union are playing in their ninth season. In the previous eight, they’ve only made the playoffs twice. Considering that about half of the teams in Major League Soccer make the playoffs, that is a pretty sorry record.
But it’s looking like the Union will get that third playoff berth this year. It would take an epic Phillies-like, end-of-season collapse to thwart that. This is the Union we’re talking about though. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility with this team.
Fortunately, they get to host the team with the worst road record in MLS: Minnesota United FC. They only have five points earned in 15 road matches. If the Union beat them, they will have clinched at least sixth place in the Eastern Conference. That will guarantee them a spot in the knockout round of the MLS playoffs. If the Union win and the Chicago Fire can manage to beat surging D.C. United on Sunday, the U will have fifth place clinched. Not that there’s a lot of difference between fifth and sixth place, as either one would force the team to go on the road for the knockout round. But the Union are currently only one point behind the fourth place Columbus Crew SC, and if they can leapfrog them in the standings, Union fans will get to enjoy their second-ever playoff match in Chester (and their first since 2011).
That’s definitely doable, but they need to take care of business at home. The Loons are not a great team. They have a -13 goal differential in 30 matches. They brought in Columbian striker Angelo Rodriguez in July in an attempt to increase their scoring, but Rodriguez didn’t even score a goal until mid-September. Kevin Molino, arguably their best midfielder, is out for the season with a torn ACL. In his Wednesday press conference, Union head coach called the Loons “a dangerous team, an attacking team.” He kind of has to say that, and they are dangerous at home. But they aren’t at home this week.
For the Union to win, they’ll need to get more shots on goal than they did in their last match, during which they failed to get any at all. The boys in blue need to keep Minnesota’s veteran goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth busy, and get some balls past him. Borek Dockal should be back starting in the number 10 role. Curtin says that Ilsinho is now fully fit, so perhaps he’ll end the experiment where he’s using C.J. Sapong on the right wing.
The Union’s offense may not have been able to get on track last week against Columbus, but the defense did a good job. Auston Trusty bounced back well after his horrible performance in Houston in the U.S. Open Cup final, and Mark McKenzie made the most of getting back on the pitch due to Jack Elliott’s suspension from yellow card accumulation. Elliott is eligible to return this week, so Curtin has a decision to make concerning that centerback position.
The Union have three matches left, and this should be the least challenging of the bunch. After this, they play the New York Red Bulls at home and New York City FC in Yankee Stadium. Both of those matches will be tough, so they need to win a match like this, a match they are supposed to win. The best case scenario this week is a win by the U, coupled with a win by the Montreal Impact over Columbus. Let Montreal have sixth place; the Union are aiming higher.
This is a big match, the team is at home, and their opponent sucks on the road. I say the Union will rise to the occasion, and Union fans will have at least one more match to watch after the regular season ends. Prediction: Union 2, Minnesota United 0