Talk about a Super Bowl hangover. After their shaky start, the Birds are now 3-3 after their win against the Giants Thursday night.
As the Eagles look to shift their focus to the Carolina Panthers, another Philadelphia team has already clinched a playoff spot.
Enter the Philadelphia Union.
The Union currently have the best record in franchise history going 15-12-5. They’ve elevated their game so incredibly well (for Philly soccer standards) that MLS shot a mini-documentary covering Chester and praised us for playing our youth and an attractive playing style week in and week out.
Aside from the horrid display in the U.S. Open Cup Final, lets concentrate on the positives. The Union have successfully reached the Open Cup Final three times in the past five years and qualified for playoffs for the second time in three seasons. We have to be doing something right… right?
While the Sons of Ben (Union’s supporter group) doesn’t have any silverware to boast about, they, and even the casual Philadelphia soccer fan, should be prideful of the commitment the exec board and technical staff have made to uphold their philosophy, even through the lowest of lows.
In MLS 3.0, it’s difficult to keep up with expansion teams. The last class joined the league with state-of-the-art facilities, young, technical designated players, and funds to splurge on a wider scope of players than before.
These factors don’t seem to create any doubt or fear throughout the Union body. They know where they want to be.
“We have a philosophy behind our club,” the Union coach said. “We have certain beliefs, and it’s playing young players, sticking to a system and principles that’s understood from the academy all the way through, and then executing it with the first team. Youth is always going to be a big part of the Philadelphia Union setup. And I think we’re well on our way in being the leader in youth development.”
To give you an insight, below are the ages and number of appearances of the Union’s defensive line:
- Mark Mckenzie / 19 years old / 16 apps / Centre-back
- Auston Trusty / 20 years old / 32 apps / Centre-back
- Keegan Rosenberry / 24 years old / 29 apps / Right back
- Jack Elliot / 23 years old / 16 apps / Centre-back
- Matthew Real / 19 years old / 3 apps / Left back
It’s unprecedented to rely on such a young and inexperienced line for such a long duration of the season. Fortunately, the gamble is paying off.
So far, Head Coach Jim Curtain has relished playing his youth. Concentrating on making sure the pieces up front are brought in for the right reasons is a whole another ball game. Luckily, he did just that. Three players in particular come to mind:
- Borek Dockal, 30, has started 28 games this season and notched 17 assists and now stands as the league leader. Dockal had bounced around Europe throughout the past number of years, most recently arriving from China.
- Cory Burke, 26, has 13 appearances with 9 goals and 1 assist, rising from the Union’s lower division affiliate, the Bethlehem Steel.
- Fabrice-Jean Picault joined the club for the 17-18 season. The 27-year-old winger scored seven goals for the Union last year, and has built upon that with 10 goals and five assists in 27 appearance. The USMNT recently called up Picault for another chance to flaunt the Stars and Stripes.
For most, the Union are enjoying some sort of a renaissance.
I’ve been following the Union since 2012 and with it, I’ve grown accustomed to the feeling of never really being on the same level as other clubs.
This year is different. It might have taken 8 years since the club’s inception, but it appears all the pieces are falling into the right places, and at the right time. Let’s hope we can make some noise this playoff season; if the Eagles did it last year, why can’t the Union?