Photo: mlssoccer.com

Photo: mlssoccer.com

Union Season Review Part 8: The Union forget how to win

Another in a series recapping the 2016 Philadelphia Union season

The story so far: The Union were in first place going into mid-June when the sudden departure of midfielder Vincent Nogueira left the team reeling. The club stumbled along and tumbled down the table until they acquired US Men’s National Team midfielder Alejandro Bedoya at the beginning of August. Going into September, they looked like they might have found their playoff form again.

After recording a 3-1-1 record in the month of August, the Philadelphia Union were feeling ready to make a serious push for a playoff spot, and possibly even snag a precious first-round bye.

They had the fortune of starting the month of September by playing against the worst team in Major League Soccer, the Chicago Fire. However, the Union weren’t playing at full strength when they traveled to Toyota Park in Bridgeview, IL. Bedoya was away on USMNT duty, forcing Tranquillo Barnetta to slide back to the number 8 spot, with Roland Alberg taking over at number 10. Centerback Joshua Yaro was gone for his mother’s funeral, bringing Ken Tribbett back into the starting XI. Goalkeeper Andre Blake was also away on international duty playing for Jamaica’s national team, and John McCarthy came in to replace him. From the start, the weakened Union looked terrible. An own goal by Alberg in the 22nd minute gave the Fire the lead. Chicago doubled the lead with a Michael de Leeuw goal in the 71st minute, and Arturo Alverez completed the humiliation with a goal in the 90th minute. The final was 3-0 Fire.

This was a really bad performance by the boys in blue; perhaps their worst showing of the season to date. But there was no reason to panic yet considering the weakened state of the team for this match.

The Union had reason to hope for a better result when they returned home to host the Montreal Impact on September 10. They were back in the friendly confines of Talen Energy Stadium, and Bedoya, Blake, and Yaro had all returned to the fold. And they did indeed look much better. A Barnetta goal in the 45th minute gave the Union the lead going into the second half.

barnetta_goal

Barnetta scores in the 45th minute.

They managed to maintain that 1-0 edge throughout the half, but could not get an insurance goal despite some good chances. The inability to finish finally hurt the Union in the 89th minute when Matteo Mancosu scored an equalizer off a short corner kick. The Union blew 2 points at home by settling for a 1-1 draw.

The Union then hit the road on September 17 to play in the difficult environment that is Portland’s Providence Park, home of the Timbers. The match was played in a driving rain, and neither side managed to score in the first half. As the second half started,  the Timbers wasted no time, taking the lead on a Diego Valeri goal in the 45th minute. The goal was set up by Darren Mattocks, who faked out Keegen Rosenberry before passing to the waiting Valeri. The Union equalized a minute later on a powerful shot by Chris Pontius just outside the box. In the 53rd minute, Mattocks ran past Rosenberry again and took a shot which was redirected by Fenando Adi to make the score 2-1. A Yaro red card in the 85th minute left the U short a man and they had to go home empty-handed.

Yaro’s red card meant he was unavailable for the next match against Toronto FC on September 24. Barnetta was also unavailable due to knee swelling, giving Bedoya an opportunity to play at number 10. However, Toronto FC wasn’t at full strength either as their star striker Sebastian Giovinco was out due to muscle strains. The Union dominated the first 30 minutes, with Bedoya getting his first MLS goal on a beautiful chip over TFC goalkeeper Clint Irwin in the 25th minute.

Toronto took over the run of play in the second half and tied the match on a Justin Morrow goal in the 70th minute. The Union hung on and were happy to take a road point home from a quality team.

Off the field, Union fans received some disappointing news when Barnetta announced he would not return for the 2017 season, as he wanted to finish his career playing for his hometown club of FC St Gallen in Switzerland. He would remain with the Union for the remainder of the 2016 season though.

The Union ended September with a 0-2-2 record, and were now out of the running for a first-round bye in the playoffs. However, they were still in good position for a home playoff game as they sat at 4th place in the standings, with 4 points separating them from the 5th place Impact.

Next: Union end the season in free-fall.