The Union’s 36 matches as a running narrative

The season is so long that sometimes it’s difficult to see the whole thing at once. We present to you the Union’s season as a running narrative (snarky comments included).

March 5th, Vancouver 0, Philadelphia 0 – The U go into Vancouver, have more of the ball, put more shots on goal, and come out of Canada with an away point. So far, so good. The starting lineup? Andre Blake; Richie Marquez, Oguchi Onyewu, Fabinho, Keegan Rosenberry; Alejandro Bedoya, Derrick Jones, Haris Medunjanin, Chris Pontius, Fabian Herbers; Jay Simpson. C.J. Sapong and Fafa Picault were substitutes.

March 11th, Philadelphia 2, Toronto 2 – The Union go up on Jay Simpson’s only goal of the season, concede a PK to Jozy Altidore and a goal to Justin Morrow, and two minutes later, Sapong equalizes as the boys in blue get a point from the Eastern Conference finalists from last year. Things don’t look terrible.

March 18th, Orlando City 2, Philadelphia 1 – Sapong (who started for the first time this season) scores between two Cyle Larin goals as the Union lose in Orlando. Blake makes four saves in the losing effort.

April 1st, DC United 2, Philadelphia 1 – The Union could surely go into RFK, dodge some falling concrete, and beat the lowly United for their first win of the year, right? Nope. Jose Ortiz and Luciano Acosta scores to put D.C. up 2-0. Sapong pulls one back in the second half, but it’s not enough. Jack Elliot replaces a shaky Richie Marquez at the half in a portent of things to come. Jay Simpson was replaced by Sapong during the match and in the starting lineup following the match, as Sapong would start all but one of the rest of the games. Simpson’s stats for the year? 472 minutes played, 0 assists, 1 goal on 13 shots (6 on goal), and $508,000 made. That’s just under $65,000 per hour in match play if you’re keeping track.

April 8th, Philadelphia 1, Portland 3 – Richie Marquez opens the scoring in the 26th, but Portland answers back through Darlington Nagbe within the next six minutes and tacks two more on in the second half as the Union lose 3-1.

April 14th, Philadelphia 0, NYCFC 2 – NYCFC comes to Chester and outshoots, outchances, and outscores the Union 2-0 as Jack Harrison scores in the second half and David Villa chips Blake from midfield in the waning moments. It’s now been four full matches since the Union have had a lead. This is also the first match center-back Jack Elliot is selected for the first eleven, a position he would not give up for the rest of the year.

April 22nd, Philadelphia 3, Montreal 3 – This is it! A 3-0 lead! Surely this means theywe win! The Union pile on through Roland Alberg’s brace and a Sapong tally to lead 3-0 in the 39th minute, but a Nacho Piatti goal before half pulls one back, and the Impact score through Anthony Jackson-Hamel in the 69th and 87th minute to steal a road point from the Union. If there was one game that symbolizes the Union’s season, this is it. This is also the match that saw Rookie of the Year runner-up Keegan Rosenberry lose his job at right back to veteran Ray Gaddis.

April 29th, LA Galaxy 0, Philadelphia 0 – The boys in blue grind out a scoreless draw in LA against the Galaxy. A road point! Yay! Actually it turns out the Galaxy aren’t very good at all, finishing dead last in the West on 32 points with a -22 goal differential. Oops. At least they didn’t blow a three-goal lead this time.

May 6th, Philadelphia 3, RBNY 0 – FINALLY. The Union jumped on C.J. Sapong’s back and rode him to a 3-0 win against their rivals. Sapong completed a hat trick in eleven minutes, scoring in the 74th, the 81st, and the 85th on a penalty to complete the trifecta. It is the Union’s first win since August 27th, 2016, a span of sixteen matches and 252 calendar days.

May 13th, DC United 0, Philadelphia 4 – With the Union offense suddenly firing on all cylinders, the boys in blue went down to D.C. and scored first through Medunjanin in the 39th. Luciano Acosta saw straight red for D.C. in the 55th, and that opened the flood gates as Oguchi Onyewu, Fafa Picault, and Fabian Herbers all scored in the last thirty minutes for a 4-0 shelling of a terrible United team. This would be the Union’s only road win of the year.

May 17th, Philadelphia 2, Houston 0 – The Union keep rolling as Fafa Picault and Ilsinho score in the first half  and Andre Blake keeps yet another clean sheet, making it his fourth in a row.

May 20th, Philadelphia 2, Colorado 1 – Caleb Calvert started the scoring in the 15th for the Rapids, who held the lead for most of the match. The Union struck back with a penalty taken by Sapong in the 67th. Calvert was shown yellow twice in the 69th and sent off, and the boys in blue scored just six minutes later on a gorgeous Haris Medunjanin free kick as the Union won their fourth straight match.

May 27th, Real Salt Lake 1, Philadelphia 0 – Nick Rimando makes seven saves and Joao Plata tallies in the 36th to send the Union home empty-handed and snap their winning streak.

June 3rd, NYCFC 2, Philadelphia 1 – Fafa Picault scores in the 69th to give the Union a 1-0 lead, but the defense falls apart again as Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens tally in the 80th and 85th to steal all three points from the U. Sean Johnson makes seven saves in the winning effort for NYCFC.

June 14th, Philadelphia 3, Harrisburg 1 – Ah the Open Cup, a welcome distraction for many a lost Union season. Youngsters Derrick Jones and Marcus Epps score around a C.J. Sapong goal as the Union cruise to a 3-1 win. John McCarthy makes his first start of the year and saves four shots.

June 18th, Philadelphia 0, RBNY 2 – Derrick Jones gets sent off in the 53rd with a straight red thanks to a studs up tackle on Felipe Martins, Bradley Wright-Phillips breaks the scoreless tie in the 87th minute and adds another in stoppage, and the Union go down to the archrival Red Bulls.

June 24th, Philadelphia 1, DC United 0 – Fafa Picault scores in the 31st minute on a left-footed shot off of an Alejandro Bedoya cross and the Union beat D.C. United in Chester on their way to a team-record ten wins at home.

June 28th, RBNY (5) 1, Philadelphia 1 (3) – Ah the Open Cup, a neverending fount of agony for Union supporters. After a bit of Roland Alberg heroics in the 86th minute to draw the U level, the boys in blue go down to RBNY in penalties in Harrison, NJ.

July 2nd, Philadelphia 3, New England 0 – A Sapong penalty in the fourth minute gave the Union all they’d need to beat the Revs on a day where the U forced New England keeper Cody Cropper to deal with six shots on goal. Ilsinho tallies right after half and then Roland Alberg scored on his first touch in the 78th to provide the final margin. The Revs (-8 goal differential) may have been one of the few teams worse than the Union (+3) this year, with Orlando City (-19) and D.C. United (-29) also joining that race. When your team is bad, you look for whatever positives you can find.

July 6th, Kansas City 1, Philadelphia 1 – The Union ride an Alberg penalty to a 1-1 draw against a Kansas City side that was missing Dom Dwyer, Matt Besler, and Graham Zusi thanks to the Gold Cup. This was a good point to get against a tough although short-handed side. Unfortunately, away points were generally hard to find this season, as they only earned nine of them, going 1-6-11 in away fixtures. Just eight more away points would have put them even with sixth place RBNY and in the playoffs. In fact, if all you did was guess that the Union would win at home and lose away for all league matches, you’d be right over sixty percent of the time! Let’s try it now:

July 19th, Montreal 2, Philadelphia 1 – Away loss? Yep.

July 22nd, Columbus 1, Philadelphia 0 – Away loss? Yep.

July 26th, Philadelphia 3, Columbus 0 – Home win? Yep.

July 29th, New England 3, Philadelphia 0 – Away loss? Check. One of the most infuriating things about this team is you’d think they’d beat bad teams and lose to good teams, but that just wasn’t the case. They’d drop a three goal stinker to the Revs..

August 5th, Philadelphia 3, Dallas 1 – …And then come home and beat then second-place Dallas soundly.

August 12th, Philadelphia 0, Montreal 3 – Here you see the Union losing to an inferior team, this time at home.

August 19th, San Jose 2, Philadelphia 2 – And here’s the Union special: the late blown lead. With a 2-1 lead and seconds remaining, defender Josh Yaro makes a very questionable challenge in the box and concedes a penalty, which Chris Wondolowski converts (since this is club play and not in the World Cup quarters against Belgium, not that I’m still salty or anything).

August 23rd, Toronto 3, Philadelphia 0 – The Union are destroyed by Eastern juggernaut Toronto FC, who ended the campaign with 69 points, good for the record for points in a season as well as giggles for those with a sense of humor.

August 26th, Philadelphia 2, Atlanta 2 – Hey, another blown lead! The Union go up 2-0 on goals by Alberg and Bedoya in the 18th and 22nd minute then cough one up in the 26th. Josh Yaro, defender of defenders, pulls down Josef Martinez as he’s running into the box in the 52nd minute and is given a red for denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. The 10-man Union batten down the hatches and hold on, only to cough up the equalizer in stoppage time. That’s so Union.

September 9th, Minnesota 1, Philadelphia 1 – Yet another blown lead! C.J. Sapong scores in the fifth minute, Ethan Finlay answers in the 40th, and the Union hang on to a 1-1 draw. This match was weird: Oguchi Onyewu picked up a yellow in the 55th minute for unsporting behavior and then appeared to pick up a second yellow for a handball in the box in the 67th minute, giving the Loons a penalty and sending Onyewu off (a fact that Minnesota players literally applauded on the field). However, the video assistant referee judged that a foul had been committed by a Minnesota player before the handball, negating the penalty and the sending-off, letting Gooch finish the match.

September 17th, RBNY 0, Philadelphia 0 – This scoreline looks like a snoozefest but it was the Andre Blake show, who made nine saves and absolutely stole a point for the Union and denied two to RBNY at a moment when the Red Bulls were hanging on the edge of the playoffs (which they made and then were bounced from). The Red Bulls rested or gave reduced duty to some regulars to be at full strength for the Open Cup final (which they also lost), thus keeping current the time-honored joke of “why is Red Bull sold in cans? Because they don’t have any Cups!”.

September 23rd, Philadelphia 3, Chicago 1 – Chris Pontius scored his only two goals of the season in this, the Union’s thirtieth league match. How about a comparison?

Pontius in 2016: 32 games started, 12 goals, 4 assists

Pontius in 2017: 27 games started, 2 goals, 6 assists

September 27th, Atlanta 3, Philadelphia 0 – The nascent Atlanta side puts two in before the 35th minute, Brad Guzan makes seven saves, and the Union leave Atlanta quietly for the first time in history.

October 1st, Philadelphia 2, Seattle 0 – Marcus Epps and Roland Alberg score while Blake keeps his ninth clean sheet of the season as the Union deny Seattle an early playoff clincher. This was only the second win for the U in the last nine matches.

October 15th, Chicago 3, Philadelphia 2 – This was a wild one that ended (perhaps predictably) in another Union loss. Nemanja Nikolic scored in the third minute, but the Union answered back three minutes later, and then soon after took the lead… which they of course horked up in the second half.

October 22nd, Philadelphia 6, Orlando 1 – The offensive fireworks that happened in this match served to mask how bad a team they were this year. The 5-goal victory gave them a total goal differential of +3 for the year; it had been -2 before the match. In his post-season press conference, Earnie Stewart was quick to point to the plus differential as a sign of progress, but really, this match put lipstick on the pig that was the Union’s 2017 campaign. At least C.J. Sapong set the single-season goal mark of 16 with a brace in this match, a record well-deserved by the hard-working striker.

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