Blogs > Union Tally

A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Tweets, contracts and Steel: Rounding up the Union's last weekly press conference

No more "No Mo" questions. (DFM file)
A lot of things happened at Union training Thursday, a lot more than you’d expect before a finale between eliminated teams that carries little meaning. Brian Carroll’s retirement after 15 seasons deserves a share of the headlines, as does stunning news of Keegan Rosenberry’s tweet-inspired suspension for Sunday’s game against Orlando City.

That’s all to say that many of the lesser items won’t see the light of day in Friday’s Delco Times. So let’s round them up.

- First place for brevity goes to Jim Curtin. Two weeks ago, a report surfaced from Metro NY’s Kristian Dyer that Ilsinho’s contract included a vesting option triggered when the Brazilian hit the 75 percent threshold for appearances (which he has). Curtin’s response: “It doesn’t exist. … False.” Previous reporting indicated that Ilsinho is out of contract at the end of the season but a club option exists.

- Big day for tweets: Curtin had little to say about a tweet by Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus earlier this week, in light of the reports about Columbus Crew shipping to Austin, about changes in USL for next year that could include the shuttering of Bethlehem Steel. The club released a vague statement via Twitter this week. Curtin added nothing to that: “The statement that was released is as much as I know.”

- Oh yeah, soccer. That Union are playing some Sunday. Carroll will be on the field, Curtin said. But more time Thursday was devoted to who won’t be. That includes long-term injury problems to Fabian Herbers (spots hernia) and Maurice Edu (leg/quad). “No one will be coming back in that I hoped,” Curtin said. “Herbers has been much longer that I anticipated. … Warren Creavalle is a possibility. … Maurice, obviously out.”
Read more »

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Brian Carroll retires after 15 seasons

Brian Carroll’s career has become synonymous with longevity in MLS. Thursday, the Union legend called time on that career.

The 36-year-old midfield announced his retirement Thursday, after 15 pro seasons that saw the slight but cerebral midfielder assemble a resume surpassed by few in MLS history.

Carroll has been with the Union since 2011, the longest tenured member of the club. He ranks second in club history in games played (165) and first in both starts (156) and minutes (13,819). Carroll hasn’t played this season, the first time he’s been limited to fewer than 21 games in a season since his rookie campaign, when he didn’t see the field with D.C. United.

In 15 seasons with the Union, D.C. and Columbus, Carroll is tied for fourth in games played in MLS history among field players at 370 (he can be passed by Seattle’s Chad Marshall Sunday). Carroll is sixth among field players in starts with 345, one behind Toronto’s Drew Moor. Add in goalies, and Carroll is tied for sixth in games and eighth in starts.

He’s also sixth among MLS players in all-time minutes played at 30,776. Staggeringly, Carroll has never been red carded in his MLS career despite playing so frequently in a combative position in the center of the park. He holds the honor of the most career minutes in MLS without a red card. (Second is Landon Donovan at 28,898, but the long-time Galaxy forward has 119 yellow cards to Carroll’s comparatively paltry 57.)

Carroll has nine MLS goals to his name to go with 17 assists. In seven Union seasons, Carroll scored five times (including a career-high two goals in 2013) to go with three assists.

Carroll made the playoffs nine straight seasons from 2003-2011, the latter with the Union, then contributed 23 starts to the Union’s 2016 playoff berth. Carroll started 20 career MLS playoff games, winning MLS Cup in 2004 with D.C. (and assisting on Alecko Eskandarian’s opening goal in the final) and in 2008 with the Crew. Carroll lifted the Supporters’ Shield four straight years from 2006-09.

Carroll, a second-round draft pick (11th overall) of D.C. in the 2003 SuperDraft out of Wake Forest, was capped eight times by the U.S. national team from 2005-10.

Carroll and two of his brothers – Jeff and Pat – played in MLS, the only set of three brothers to play in MLS, per the league’s Facts and Record Book. Brian and Jeff were teammates for two seasons in D.C.

Carroll was capped eight times by the U.S. from 2005-10. He won MLS Cup in 2004 with D.C. United and 2008 with Columbus and was a four-time winner of the Supporters Shield from 2006-09.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

And so it ends: The elimination of the consistently mediocre Union

Most of the Philadelphia Union players were scattered across the country on a weekend off or away on international duty overseas when the club’s playoff hopes officially died Saturday.

That occurred 100 miles to the north, as the New York Red Bulls topped Vancouver, 3-0, to seal the sixth and final playoff berth in MLS’s Eastern Conference with two weeks of the season left. The Red Bulls, on 46 points, are untouchably ahead of the Union and three other teams stuck on 39, which consigns the Union (10-13-9) to a sixth playoff-free season in eight years.

Consolations are few and far between in a season that, after last year’s (probably ahead-of-schedule) playoff berth, can only be read as a disappointment. The Union cannot set the franchise record for losses in a season, which was once a question; more bizarrely, wins in consecutive games – at playoff-bound Chicago, then at home in the finale to Orlando – can tie the franchise mark for most wins in a season.

Regardless of what transpires, the Union for the seventh straight season will finish with between 10 and 12 wins over a 34-game schedule, a mind-numbing level of mediocrity.

With a win and a draw in the next two games, the Union would actually finish with their third-most productive season ever, even surpassing last year’s playoff season. Or to be more realistic, should the Union lose at Chicago and win at home against a similarly eliminated Orlando City side, they would match their record from last season to the game – 11-14-9 for 42 points.

Here’s where perception counts, both descriptive and prescriptive. The 2016 campaign – which featured that rarity of rarities, a first-place Union side, for multiple weeks and had the Union in playoff position nearly wire-to-wire – felt like a playoff campaign, even if it was dimmed by the slide to the finish line. This season, in which the Union never occupied a playoff position, feels like much more of a failure. Separate eight- and six-game winless streak exacerbate that feeling. At the end, though, they look exactly the same in the standings, a damnation by low standards.

The gulf in perception from 2016 to 2017 hits at a key debate that many anticipated. The Union – with the additions of Giliano Wijnaldum, Haris Medunjanin, Jay Simpson, Fafa Picault and a full preseason for Alejandro Bedoya – improved over last year in absolute terms, with more talent from one to 18 on the bench and one to 29 on the roster. The evidence is in the point total: Against a better and deeper East, the Union could yield the same number of points as last year.

But the question entering the season wasn’t, did the Union improve? It was, did the Union grow sufficiently to keep pace with a more competitive Eastern Conference? Did the club take a big enough step forward from scraping into the sixth and final spot last year to lay a convincing claim to a playoff berth this year?

The answer to that is a resounding no, echoed with two weeks still left to play. The lack of recognition of soccer’s version of the proficiency-vs.-growth debate is yet another example of MLS 1.0 thinking (or whatever version the consensus says is outdated) on the Union’s part. And looking ahead, if the Union end up with an identical record as last season, the club’s higher-ups can’t be entombed by the same old lines of thinking, that this result somehow reflects satisfactory improvement.

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Monday, October 2, 2017

A developing problem? What the latest 24 Under 24 indicates for the Union

The Union's Jack Elliott was likely the highest rated of the club's candidates
for MLS' 24 Under 24 series. (DFM/Mikey Reeves)
MLS last week released its “24 Under 24”, a ranking of the top players in the league under the age of 24, graded on a rubric of ability and upside by members of the media and MLS staff. In short, it’s the kind of list that a team trumpeting youth development should have a presence on.

And the Union are … absent, for the second time in three years. Their representative last year, Keegan Rosenberry at No. 6, didn’t make the shortlist despite being eligible; only Jack Elliott and Derrick Jones were in consideration but didn’t make the cut (rightly, in my opinion).

The Union traditionally have had a presence on the list, topping out with four players chosen in 2011. As you can see, that has rarely been a guarantor of anything.

2010: Danny Mwanga 5, Jack McInerney 22, Roger Torres 23
2011: Freddy Adu 6, Danny Mwanga 9, Roger Torres 22, Jack McInerney 23
2012: Sheanon Williams 18, Freddy Adu 19
2013: Jack McInerney 4, Amobi Okugo 8
2014: Amobi Okugo 13
2015: NONE
2016: Keegan Rosenberry 6
2017: NONE

Let’s put aside for a moment the evaluation of why players across multiple Union epochs haven’t sustained their developmental trajectories. That’s been written about before. And let’s also acknowledge that the list isn’t a perfect science, inasmuch as predicting the vicissitudes of 18-to-23-year-olds (or in this case, players young as 15), is a perilous endeavor. There’s certainly a bias toward recent performances over the short-term coloring long-term outlooks – see Rosenberry last year, or Kellyn Acosta this year. But I digress.

We could break it down by club, as is popular. That will find three inclusions each for Atlanta United, FC Dallas, New York City FC and Real Salt Lake – two teams that would be labeled as “big market”. Only one of those clubs (Dallas) landed multiple Homegrown players on the team and can rightly be said to have “developed” more than one player on the list.

It’s more purposeful to break the list down based on acquisition method:

Homegrowns (9): K.Acosta, Davies, Morris, Adams, Palmer-Brown, Glad, Tabla, Gonzalez, Fagundez
Designated Players (7): Almiron, Arriola, Villalba, Elis, Gruezo, Rusnak, Savarino
SuperDraft picks (4): Harrison, Larin, Roldan, Manneh
Other (4): Herrera, Asad, L.Acosta, Matarrita
Read more »

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Union-Sounders: Lineups and prematch notes

Union (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: McCarthy, Onyewu, Wijnaldum, D.Jones, Simpson, Alberg

Sounders (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: Miller, Fisher, Wingo, Shipp, Kovar, Neagle, Dempsey 

- UPDATE: Chris Pontius misses out with an abdominal injury after originally introduced in the starting lineup. Marcus Epps is in on the win. Union go with 17 in the lineup.

- Two changes for the Union enforced by injury. Out go Warren Creavalle and Keegan Rosenberry; in come Ray Gaddis and Ilsinho, the latter playing the 10. That makes it closer to the customary 4-2-3-1 formation that the Union so often favor.

- Derrick Jones is back on the bench. It’s just his second time in the 18 since July 6.

- No Clint Dempsey for the Sounders from the start today, which puts the more bruising Will Bruin up top to battle with the Union defense. Watch for the interchange between Nicholas Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan: Roldan nominally starts centrally, but he and Lodeiro should move positions plenty, making a lot of work for the backline and Haris Medunjanin to track.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

The times they are a changin? What the Union's formation swap means going forward

Alejandro Bedoya, right, delivered a sterling performance Saturday
in a reconfigured midfielder that yielded a 3-1 Union win over Chicago.
(Mikey Reeves/DFM)
Jim Curtin heard you, dear citizens of Twitter, and decided to change his formation as a result.

OK, no, that wasn’t the reason that Curtin flipped the Union from the 4-2-3-1 into what is more of a 4-1-4-1 Saturday, a move that certainly contributed to a 3-1 win over the Chicago Fire. To what degree is debatable. Curtin pushed the right tactical button by clamping down on the central midfield space afforded to Dax McCarty in a Fire side deprived of Juninho and Bastian Schweinsteiger. But the efficacy of Saturday’s switch has limits, and no one was more cognizant of that than Curtin, who cheekily faced up to a question about the formation change with a response that deserves to be published in full:
“Yeah you know, people get caught up in the graphics and how they get put out and as soon as I saw the graphic get put out that I figured that you would probably come with that as the first question. To be honest, it's still a 4-2-3-1, you know, just because it's written that way on a schematic that comes out, it's the difference between a yard or two in either direction. If you look, go back and watch the tape, as we will as well, by design we still always had someone next to Warren, so it is still the 4-2-3-1. The best thing about the formation is there can be fluidity in it. Warren is a guy who is a ball winner. We thought, matchup-wise, he's obviously been in good form and what Chicago likes to do, we thought that it was important to invert the triangle a little bit in some moments to get pressure to Dax McCarty, who for me is the engine of that team. So, yes, on paper it looks a little different. The running of five, six yards a little more forward from Alejandro defensively and from Haris is a little bit of a change, but still the same formation, the same idea, same principles that the guys, as you saw, when they execute them, are pretty dangerous and tough to play against.”
It’s been two and a half years since Curtin has done anything even remotely as different as this in his formation, so the temptation could be to read too much into it. So let’s assess what this move does, and what it doesn’t do moving forward for the Union.

- It does … minimize a weakness and maximize a strength. We can argue until we’re blue in the face whether Ilsinho and/or Roland Alberg has been given too many opportunities this season. There’s no rationale I’ll allow for saying that Warren Creavalle should be starting fewer than 10 MLS games. He’s just a better player than that, and his failure to find the field regularly lands squarely on the lack of attacking creativity in the other five members of the midfield/forward six. In this regard, it’s a smart move by Curtin given the constraints of his roster.
Read more »

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Union-Red Bulls: Lineups and prematch notes

UNION (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: McCarthy, Gaddis, Yaro, Creavalle, Alberg, Simpson, Davies 

New York Red Bulls (3-1-3-3) 
Lade- Davis-Etienne 
Bench: Meara, Long, Escobar, Duka, Adams, Wright-Phillips, Kljestan 

- It’s four changes this week for the Union as they travel to Red Bull Arena. Richie Marquez starts for the first time in MLS since April 29 thanks to Oguchi Onyewu’s suspension and a Josh Yaro knee injury that leaves him on the bench. Fabinho is in for Giliano Wijnaldum, who has started 12 of the last 13 MLS matches. Alejandro Bedoya returns from suspension, and Marcus Epps is in at the wing for Fafa Picault, who misses out with an illness.

- Beyond the changes, it’s more of the same for the Union. Ilsinho gets the nod at the No. 10 for the fifth time in seven games, preferred to Roland Alberg. It’s an attack-minded bench with Alberg, Jay Simpson and Charlie Davies included.

- The Red Bulls opt for rest for some of their top guys, but it’s still a daunting lineup three days in advance of the U.S. Open Cup final Wednesday with Sporting Kansas City. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan start on the bench. But Felipe is out there, as are the likes of Sean Davis and Alex Muyl and the omnipresent Luis Robles, with Gonzalo Veron the danger man up top.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

A career year: Digging into CJ Sapong's successful 2017

This hasn't been the season the Union wanted.
But none of the blame goes to CJ Sapong. (AP)
In certain corners of Union Twitter, there persists a notion that blame for the team’s devolution to non-playoff status this season owes to a failure to address concerns at the striker position. Some would argue that the factor constraining the Union is the lack of a star up top; for further evidence, look at how the Union endeavored and failed to fill that hole via Jay Simpson last offseason.

That stance – that somehow CJ Sapong is the deficiency holding this team back – is completely ludicrous. And quietly, while Sapong has been chronically underestimated, he’s compiled one of the best seasons ever by a Union player.

It’s September and Sapong is tied with Jozy Altidore for the MLS lead in goals by an American player at 13. Sapong has played more games than Jozy Altidore, but has fired fewer shots in that time. I’d argue that Sapong is more central to the Union’s attack than Altidore is to Toronto’s, in part due to the absence of a central playmaker (of which TFC possesses two). Both have 10 goals from open play and three from the penalty spot, though Sapong is 3-for-3 on penalties while Altidore has missed a pair. Sapong has also drawn two penalties for others to take.

Sapong has five assists, a high number for the kind of target forward Sapong is usually typecast as. All five are primary assists. His assist and goal totals are both career highs.

There’s no disputing how monumental those achievements are given Sapong’s history. But where does he fall in Union history and in MLS this season?

Lucky No. 20

In eight MLS seasons, the Union have had 20 players account for more than 10 combined goals and assists in a season, a group that includes Haris Medunjanin (two goals and eight assists this season).

The cut for the elite seasons falls at 19, which culls the fraternity to five.

Sebastien Le Toux, 2010 14 goals, 11 assists (25)
Chris Pontius, 2016 12 goals, 6 assists, 3 PKs drawn (21)
Sebastien Le Toux, 2011 11 goals, 9 assists (20)
CJ Sapong, 2017 13 goals, 5 assists, 2 PKs drawn (20)
Sebastien Le Toux, 2014 12 goals, 7 assists (19)

(Note: Penalties drawn aren’t easily recovered, so they’re not included in Le Toux’s numbers. Chances are he would’ve taken those PKs anyway; in Pontius’ and Sapong’s case, the PKs were taken by others.)

That list is a long way of getting to a concise point: Sapong is having one of the most statistically productive seasons the club has ever had.

18 and over only please

Across MLS, Sapong is one of 14 players this season whose goals and assists sum to 18 or greater. It’s the kind of company an attacking player aspires to keep: Read more »

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Down the stretch they come: Seven goals for the Union's last seven games

The Union's 2017 season is likely lost. So why not give minutes
to young players like Keegan Rosenberry? (DFM/Mikey Reeves)
If you’re of the sort that trusts probability, the Union’s chances of making the 2017 MLS Cup playoffs are essentially nil. That means to salvage merit from a lost season, the sixth of eight in Union existence in which they’ve fallen at the manageable hurdle of playoff qualification, the goals must shift. (Even tanking for the sake of a draft pick is off the table, as you’ll recall.)

The remaining seven games of 2017 should be aimed at granular accomplishments. Time to take a page out of the Phillies’ book of perpetual rebuilding: The Union need to know who is worth keeping and who isn’t. The best way to glean that info is to let players take their lumps and, for better or worse, evaluate how they emerge on the other side.

Let’s consider seven objectives, which care little how many of the 21 points on offer the Union reap.

Play. Your. Kids. Josh Yaro has struggled this year. Keegan Rosenberry has been up and down. But the Union are better off knowing if their rookie successes were outliers or the norm. Given the peaks and valleys, Jim Curtin and the organization need to know where the mean for each player rests. Yaro won’t travel to Minnesota in observance of his red card. He should play the last six games. We know well what Ray Gaddis brings at right back, and it’s unlikely to differ in the next seven games from his previous 138. (Not a value judgement, just an observation on plasticity.) What Rosenberry brings requires space to be sussed out.

Two starts for Adam Najem. That’s at a minimum. I doubt Roland Alberg is in the Union’s plans beyond this season. I don’t know if Ilsinho is. I would hope the organization recognizes and will act on the glaring need for a No. 10. But ascertaining what it has Najem, in terms of starting potential or merely carving a positional niche, is vital.
Read more »

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Union's 2017 fade in two theories

Putting the shortcomings of the 2017 Union into context,
it's a complex task. (DFM/Mikey Reeves)
Often the conversation surrounding the Philadelphia Union, particularly among members of the media contingent striving to make sense of the how and why of another playoff-free season, devolves into a declaration of, ‘they’re just not good enough.’

The standings can tell you that, for sure, but that’s unsatisfactory for the scientific part of my brain. And particularly given the last week, where the Union have squandered four points in stoppage time to resolve the mystery of if there’s a last gasp of intrigue remaining, the questions seem more salient.

So if I may, I’ll offer two explanations, one qualitative, one quantitative.

The “too much effort” explanation

This issue reared its ugly head way back in April when Portland came to town: The talent gulf between the Union and most opponents is vast. In terms of pure talent to start the season, I would’ve pegged the Union between eight- and 10th-best in the Eastern Conference. After the summer shopping, and the Union’s lack thereof, drop them a spot or two.

When you’re always at a collective disadvantage, you’re always playing catchup. Since John Hackworth was in charge, the prevailing mantra has always been that the Union can play with anyone. And that’s true, though in a parity-driven league, every MLS team is designed to be able to compete with anyone.

But when you expound so much effort trying to work back to level talent terms, you get these coin-flip games. The Union spend so much energy trying to stay within a goal of Montreal two weeks ago, then a pin prick pops the balloon and the release is a 3-0 loss. They work so hard against San Jose, then the late penalty kick deflates them. The talent gulf deprives them of ever starting at a position of power, which magnifies mistakes and lumps pressure on a young core.

Manager Jim Curtin is correct in saying that the Toronto loss last week is one of the few times they’ve been outclassed. But the Union are so often edged by small margins in a system of discreet point yields that it’s unsustainable over the span of a season. It doesn’t matter that their performance in San Jose was objectively worthy of two points; they get one or three, and the late mistake decided that.

That entails an inescapable conclusion that Curtin now owns but that has been obvious since March.

“I think we do recognize that a difference maker is something we need to add and increase,” Curtin said Wednesday in his off-week press conference. “We have a good group that creates enough chances in most games. We have to finish chances and do a good job of preventing them at the end of games.”

That game of catchup in the squad – of important depth ballast without that big over-the-top player – is mirrored in the way the results happen.

“Just not good enough” in numbers
Read more »

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Union-Atlanta United: Lineups and prematch observations

UNION (4-2-3-1) 
Bench: McCarthy, Marquez, Gaddis, Creavalle, Epps, Ilsinho, Simpson

Atlanta (4-2-3-1) 
Walkes-Parkhurst-Gonzalez Pirez-Garza 
Bench: Reynish, Mears, Kratz, Ambrose, Gressel, Vazquez, Peterson 

- It’s three changes on the backline for the Union today, with Jack Elliott the lone holdover. Josh Yaro is in for Oguchi Onyewu, which makes sense given the matchup and the Wednesday-Saturday turnaround. Keegan Rosenberry makes his first start since April 14. This is this most squad rotation I can recall from Jim Curtin, particularly at the back. Sticking with his preferred guys in the past hasn’t worked, so let’s see how this does.

- It’s the full complement for Atlanta in its first meeting with the Union, making only one change in central midfield with Chris McCann in central midfield. Other than that, the front four of Miguel Almiron, Yamil Asad, Josef Martinez and Hector Villalba up top. Atlanta is coming off a tough 1-0 loss to D.C. Wednesday, so they could be hungry for a result with a glut of home games upcoming.

- The matchup at the back for the Union is logical, but will be testing. Yaro makes sense as the guy today for his speed. But increasingly, his positional awareness seems lacking. And he’ll be tested by a passel of MLS’s most dynamic attackers today from Atlanta. How Yaro prevents the backline from being torn and distorted by the motion of Almiron and Villalba is going to be vital in the Union’s quest to get a home result.

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

What a difference a year makes: The perpetual slide of the Philadelphia Union

For John McCarthy and the Union, the last year hasn't been great. (AP)
On this weekend a year ago, the Philadelphia Union was flying high. They had just handled Sporting Kansas City, 2-0 at home. With a record of 11-9-7, their 40 points were situated third in the Eastern Conference, three points from leaders Toronto and soaring over the red line for playoff qualification.

The question had ceased to be if the Union would end a playoff drought or even if they would break the franchise record for points in a season; needing just eight points from seven games, the Union would certainly blast through the 48 points they tallied in 2011 with even mediocre form.

Then the roof caved in. Seven winless to end 2016. Ninety minutes being comprehensively outclassed in Toronto on a Wednesday night in a gone-before-you-knew-it playoff berth. Then eight winless to start 2017 at so great a disadvantage that now, officially, has been deemed insurmountable.

For all the oddities of the MLS calendar, the schedule makers offer the Union symmetry. Saturday’s visit from Atlanta United marks the 34th regular-season game since that night 364 days ago against SKC.

Through all the ups and downs, what has this 33-game snapshot of Union existence shown? In short, it’s not good.

In that 33-game stretch of regular season, starting with the Sept. 3 loss at Chicago, the Union are 8-17-8. That includes the 0-5-2 stretch to end 2016 and the 8-12-6 mark they’ve stumbled to this year.

That’s 32 points in 33 games. There’s no result the Union can achieve Saturday against Atlanta to avoid falling short of the franchise’s lowest tally for a season, set in 2012 at 36.

A win Saturday is required to avoid falling short of the season-low set in the expansion year, when the club played four fewer matches. A loss Saturday would equal the franchise record of 18 set in 2012, which remains in play for the Union this year. (N.B.: I’m comparing this stretch to full calendar seasons, from the Union and other clubs, via MLS' Fact and Record Book. Even I’m not that much of a masochist to parse each team’s worst 34-game stretch across seasons, even if the info was complete enough.)

The Union in the last 33 games have a points per game average of 0.97. The sub-1 realm is where the truly terrible MLS campaigns reside. How bad? Well, bad enough that no Union team has ever been there before – the 2012 team came closest at 1.06 over a calendar season – and the Union have had some atrocious seasons.
Read more »

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