The final installment in a series recapping the 2016 Philadelphia Union season
The story so far: The Philadelphia Union had started the season strong, but despite the acquisition of USMNT midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, the team was faltering down the stretch as they went winless in the month of September.
The Philadelphia Union were in 4th place in the Eastern Conference after going 0-2-2 in September. Thanks to all the points they amassed earlier in the season, they were still in a good position to earn a home playoff game if they could remember how to win in October.
They had an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth as they traveled to Harrison, NJ on October 1 to take on the hated New York Red Bulls. The Union’s was challenge to prevent the Red Bulls from taking over the game early with their fierce pressing. They managed to do that and took the initial lead when Fabian Herbers shot a Chris Pontius pass into the net in the 15th minute.
Herbers scores off a Pontius pass.
The team took a hit a minute later when Joshua Yaro got sandwiched between Andre Blake and Aurelien Collin, which knocked him out. Ken Tribbett took Yaro’s place, and NYRB took control of the match. A goal off a Sacha Kljestan one-timer tied the game in the 44th minute. NYRB didn’t waste any time in the second half when Bradley Wright-Philips ran past both Tribbett and Keegan Rosenberry and placed a perfect shot into the goal in the 47th minute. The Union scored against the run of play on a Pontius header in the 56th minute to tie it at 2-2. NYRB took the lead for good in the 66th minute when Dax McCarty headed in a goal off a Kljestan free kick to make the score 3-2. The Union were lucky to only lose by one, and to make things worse, Alejandro Bedoya hurt his ribs and had to come out the game.
The Union had clinched nothing, but still had a chance for that home playoff match. They had a great opportunity to punch their tickets for the playoffs when they came home on October 16 to host Orlando City SC, a team that was already out of the playoffs. With nothing to play for, OCSC coach Jason Kries opted to give some of his lesser-used players a start, yet the Union could not capitalize. An own goal by Keegan Rosenberry gave the Lions the lead in the 59th minute. A Julio Baptista goal at the death of the match made the final score 2-0. Despite the loss, the Union had all but clinched a playoff spot thanks to a New England loss and a Montreal tie. But the dream of hosting a playoff match was now over.
When the Union hosted the New York Red Bulls on October 23, they knew that this would be their last match in Talen Energy Stadium in 2016. NYRB had already clinched a first-round bye, but head coach Jesse Marsch decided to treat this game as dress rehearsal and played most of their regular starters. The Red Bulls outplayed the Union for most of the match, winning 2-0 off a Wright-Phillips goal in the 26th minute and an Alex Muyl goal in the 57th minute. The Union fans in attendance expressed their displeasure by booing when head coach Jim Curtin addressed the fans after the game.
The Union had ended the regular season with a 3-game losing streak and a 7-game winless streak. But somehow they still managed to finish in 6th place with 42 points, produced by an 11-14-9 record. New England also had 42 points, but the Union’s goal differential of -3 was plenty to stay ahead of the Revs’ differential of -10. And in Major League Soccer, 6th place gets you into the playoffs.
The first round of the MLS playoffs is a knockout round, and the Union had to face a Toronto FC team that was hosting a playoff game for the first time in their history. TFC got the early lead when Tribbett misplayed a ball. Blake was caught way off line and Jozy Altidore made him pay by passing the ball to Sebastian Giovinco, who easily put the ball in to the empty net for the 1-0 lead in the 15th minute. Jonathan Osorio double TFC’s lead when he scored in the 48th minute. The boys in blue finally woke up after that, and Bedoya cut the lead in half with a goal in the 73rd minute. Despite the Union’s improved play, they could not find an equalizer, and Altidore put the game away for good when he scored in the 85th minute.
Alejandro Bedoya scores the Union’s last goal in 2016
The Philadelphia Union’s seesaw 2016 season was over. At the beginning of the season, most Union fans would have probably said they’d be happy with the progress shown by getting a playoff berth. But the Union’s strong start to the season raised the bar. They did indeed make the playoffs, but lack of wins in the last 2 months, and the experience of total free-fall in October, left a bitter feeling in the mouths of the fans. To make things worse, they knew there would be no Tranquillo Barnetta on the team in 2017. There were other holes to be filled. CJ Sapong wasn’t getting the job done at striker, and depth at centerback was needed to avoid having to depend on Tribbett.
The off-season was now underway. Time would tell how Earnie Stewart would manage the roster before the 2017 season began.