Oct 18, 2013, 11:59 AM EDT
From afar, if you simply looked at this year’s standings with two games to go and last year’s standings, you’d call this season a success for the Union, whether they make the playoffs or not (this cool graphic shows the Union’s form this season).
The team already has 10 more points than it earned all of last season, and controls its own playoff destiny with two games to go. A win on Saturday in Montreal (2 p.m. — Comcast Network) and another next weekend at home against Sporting Kansas City would clinch a playoff berth, no matter what happens elsewhere in the incredibly tight Eastern Conference.
But if you have followed the season closely, there is a feeling of frustration with this year’s team. That’s because there are a few specific cases where the Union “dropped points.”
There’s two kinds of games where you can drop points (an oft-used soccer term meaning a match you lost when you should’ve drawn, or settled for a draw when you had three points in the bag).
The first is a game you were expected to win from the jump. A bad team, or a home game — or a bad team in a home game. These are games where you looked at the schedule back in March and said, “That’s three points right there.”
The other kind of miss is a little trickier to identify. These are games where maybe you weren’t expecting much at kickoff, but with 15 minutes left to play, you look up and say, “Hey, we can win this thing!” It doesn’t matter the opponent, it doesn’t matter the venue. This is where you learn if your team can close things out.
The Union have had a few misses this season in each category. Should they miss the playoffs, here’s three they’ll really regret — six dropped points that should have them fighting for the Supporter’s Shield instead of scrambling for a playoff spot.
Without further ado, in reverse order from “gut punch” to “throwing things around the living room.”
April 13 — Union 1, Toronto FC 1
This falls in the first category: a bad team in a home game. Toronto is a team you MUST beat at home. And if not for Kleberson’s amazing free kick a few weeks ago, the Union would have two home draws this year against the Reds.
In the first meeting, the Union not only settled for a draw, they needed a stoppage-time equalizer from Jack McInerney to get the one point. Danny Cruz missed a gifted first-half chance, Toronto goalie Joe Bendik made two big saves early in the second half on a Jack McInerney header and Conor Casey drive, and the Union had a goal disallowed due to a foul.
The late goal may have left Union fans feeling relieved. But another look at the Toronto goal makes you realize just how bad a draw it really was.
June 29 — Union 2, FC Dallas 2
This one actually fits in both categories. Dallas is a below average team that was winless in five games coming in, the game was at PPL Park, and the Union had a win in the bag if they could close it out.
But they didn’t.
After Casey, McInerney and Sebastien Le Toux combined to waste an early counterattack, Amobi Okugo put the Union on top in the first half. After giving up an equalizer, Aaron Wheeler appeared to lock it up with an 87th minute goal to give the Union a 2-1 lead.
From there, it got crazy. Dallas — which was playing a man down – should have tied it if the ref had seen that a Blas Perez shot went across the line. Minute later, DEEP into stoppage time, Union goalie Zac MacMath came out weakly for a ball in the area and watched from his butt as Perez tied the game. Remember, they were STILL playing a man down.
July 3 — Real Salt Lake 2, Union 2
The only road game on the list is yet another draw. A road draw against a team that can still win the Supporter’s Shield for the most points in the league. A game where you’d GLADLY take a draw when looking at the schedule, especially without an at-the-time-red-hot McInerney, who was away with the U.S. National Team.
But a closer look reveals a game that might be the toughest result to swallow this season.
Le Toux gave the Union a first-half lead, and the Union went up a man for the final half hour after an RSL red card. Philadelphia lost the lead on a nice header off a corner, but quickly regained it on a nice play from Antoine Hoppenot and Casey.
With a 2-1 lead, Le Toux had an absolute gimme breakaway in stoppage time to ice the game, but failed to finish.
He would regret it a few minutes later.
Just Missed the Cut: Oct. 12 at D.C. United (1-1 draw); Sept. 14 vs. Houston (1-0 loss); Aug. 31 vs. Montreal (0-0 draw).
Prediction Sure to Be Wrong
The Union play a Saturday matinee in Montreal. Normally, it would be a game where you’d accept a road draw. But the Union would lose playoff tiebreakers to Houston, Montreal and Chicago, so they need to separate themselves. They go into a tough setting needing a win.
Since they couldn’t get three road points against lowly D.C. United last weekend, I can’t count on the Union to get three against a much better team in a much more intimidating environment against Montreal.
That means they’ll enter the finale against Sporting KC needing a home win and likely some help.
Union 1, Impact 1.
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