The U.S. is done in the World Cup after an unexpected run to the Round of 16 and an extraordinary performance by goalkeeper Tim Howard in the fateful match against Belgium. But never fear. There is still plenty of drama left in Brazil, based on the way things have gone down there so far.
Meanwhile, your Philadelphia Union has been quietly piling-up wins and playing its most inspired soccer of Season 5. Two W’s came in the first stages of this year’s U.S. Cup run. Two more came in league play, along with a draw that could’ve been a win. Sebastien Le Toux, Conor Casey and Andrew Wenger have all found the net during this run—multiple times. And the Union have succeeded with the occasional back-up player filling-in for the front line injured.
OH, SAY CAN YOU WIN?
Now comes an Independence Day show down (really, Independence Night) with FC Dallas (9 p.m. Friday, TCN), yet another club that 6 weeks ago would’ve seemed a near insurmountable opponent for Philadelphia. Not so now, however, after the Union have roared back against Vancouver with 3 second-half goals at home and slammed the once mighty New England Revolution on the road 3-1. Suddenly, all things seem possible.
Dallas, a perennial play-off contender in the MLS Western Conference, occupies fourth place going into this match. The club has scored a relatively healthy 28 goals in its first 18 league contests and is enjoying nice seasons from forwards Blas Perez and Fabian Castillo, along with offensive-minded defender Michel (questionable for Friday with a gimpy hamstring), all 3 of whom have 5 goals. The Dallas offense is well rounded, strikes from everywhere and has the Texas club in a competitive position in the tougher Western half of the league.
On the other hand, Dallas has also allowed as much as they’ve scored and are sitting only a few points out of miss-the-playoffs-land. The middle of the season was especially brutal. Dallas endured an 8-game stretch that featured no wins and six losses. They’ve had better results lately (1-0-2 in their last three league matches, plus a U.S. Cup win against a non-league opponent from San Antonio), but it’s not like they’re putting people away. Their last tilt was a 0-0 draw in Columbus.
THE BEST PART OF WAKING-UP…
The Union, meanwhile, have found their missing offense in recent weeks. Including their 2 U.S. Cup matches, the club is averaging just a hair under 3 goals a game (remember the first couple of months of the season when you wondered whether they’d ever manage more than 1?) and have awoken several of their dormant strikers. Philadelphia has cut its league-play goal differential from -6 to -3 in the last month and has been playing a defense that is dead-even with Dallas (28 goals allowed in 18 matches).
In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately department, the Union has scored 9 goals in its last 3 league clashes. Dallas has 5.
There is potential for more good news coming out of this match for the Union, whose recent success has raised its overall record to 4-7-6, placing the club on the perimeter of the play-off conversation for the first time since all those pre-season prognosticators had their say. New York, Columbus, Houston and Philadelphia are all within two points of each other in a log-jam of teams looking to claim 5th place in the East.
To keep the ball rolling, however, the Union may need to rely on something less than the A-Team again. Vincent Nogueira is still on the questionable list with the same groin strain that kept him off the pitch in Massachusetts last week. Conor Casey and Aaron Wheeler are also iffy. Sebastien Le Toux, who looked like he was having a good time here at 6abc on Tuesday tweeting with fans during the U.S. World Cup match, is apparently healthy after limping from the field on Saturday.
A loss would not be fatal. A road draw would do nicely against a historically strong opponent. But you get the feeling watching these guys going about their business the last few weeks as most eyes were on the World Cup, that another win might just be what they’ve really got planned.
PETS OF BEN
The Sons of Ben are at it again, with that whole charity thing. This time, it’s the inaugural “Pints Fur Pets” fundraiser benefiting the Delaware County SPCA and Philly ACCT. It will be a simultaneous event happening Sunday, August 3 at the Field House in center city and CR Shenanigans in Aston. Some of your favorite Union players will be playing guest bartender. Click here for information and tickets.
CENTRAL AMERICA DREAMIN’
And while I know it stinks that the U.S. is out, Costa Rica is still in. Why not get behind this spirited underdog? I’m partial, having been there recently rooting for the team beside the locals. You wouldn’t believe the level of excitement rolling around down there right now. And when you watch, keep your eyes on Number 10. He’s having a great tournament.