It’s been a dynamite World Cup so far with brilliant matches, thrilling upsets, plenty of controversy to chew on, and an unexpected, strong showing by the U.S. National Team. I was in Costa Rica last week as that nation’s team was stunning everyone by pushing it’s way to the knock-out round, which was a very special way to experience this grand tournament, indeed (I’m still pulling for C.R., by the way, along with the United States).
But while shopping at the local Maxi Pali (a Costa Rica Wal-Mart-type chain owned by, come to think of it, Wal-Mart), I was reminded of just how much I’ve missed watching the Philadelphia Union. The shelves were loaded with about a dozen versions of Bimbo Bread (man, they love that stuff is Central America) and tonight, the wait is over as the Union return to MLS action against New England (7:30 p.m., CSN).
In case you’ve been focused in another direction lately, let’s review. As the World Cup Group Stage was unfolding, Philadelphia fired the coach, fired the assistant coach, named some interim replacements, won its first two Lamar Hunt U.S. Cup matches (putting the club just three wins away from its first trophy) and are coming off a combined 4 matches without a loss. The Cup matches were close, but each featured braces, one from Andrew Wenger, another from Sebastien Le Toux (two players the Union would love to get on track in league play). Prior to that, the Union dispensed with Chivas USA in California 3-0, before staging the season’s best half, a 3-goal explosion against talented Vancouver, erasing a first half, 2 goal deficit. Never mind that the club conceded a draw on a late penalty kick. In all, the Union is averaging nearly 3 goals a game in it’s last four overall matches and in case you’ve forgotten, a couple of those International, off-season imports, Cristian Maidana and Vincent Noguiera, have come into their own and are both producing at a high level. Conor Casey also has a quick four goals in recent league play, a very good sign for the Philadelphia offense which is finally beginning to perculate after spending much of the season’s first half in neutral.
There are eighteen games left in the MLS season, plenty of time for Philadelphia to start earning points and salvaging their season. The Union is 3-7-6, settled in 8th place in the Eastern Conference, 5 points out of the fifth and final play-off position. To climb, they’ll need more strong games against good competition (similar to the performance against Vancouver).
They get a chance to shine against quality tonight with a road match against New England, one of the better teams in the east so far this year. The Revolution currently holds third place in the East with a 7-5-2 record. The Union, despite their recent U.S. Cup matches, should be fairly well rested and energized from their recent spate of good play. Thanks to Maurice Edu’s failure to make the U.S. National squad, are essentially at full-strength, although Casey, Nogueira and Aaron Wheeler are all listed as questionable for tonight due to a series of strains and pulls.
New England has minimal issues on the health front and should be usually tough. But the Union have been on a roll lately. It should be an interesting match-up and a nice supplement to today’s World Cup viewing.