Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Is Union 'ready for big stretch' in second half?

WHEN THE UNION takes the pitch against Columbus tonight, it will officially mark the second half of its inaugural Major League Soccer campaign.

"Sometimes you have to go through tough times in order to get better," Sebastien Le Toux said. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
"Sometimes you have to go through tough times in order to get better," Sebastien Le Toux said. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)Read more

WHEN THE UNION takes the pitch against Columbus tonight, it will officially mark the second half of its inaugural Major League Soccer campaign.

With that said, feel free to fill in the customary cliches writers love to hate: Crunch time. Down to the wire. Stretch run.

But the reality is that, in the Union's case, to make a strong playoff push, the sayings actually hold validity.

Let's be honest, given its expansion status, the Union wasn't expected to shock the masses as an MLS team in its first season, sans 2009 expansion side Seattle.

Previously, three expansion teams, in Real Salt Lake, Toronto FC and Chivas USA - not exactly in that order - all finished with dismal records in their initial seasons and the same appeared to be the case for the hometown club.

But, luckily for Philadelphia's newest soccer franchise, its opponents in the Eastern Conference aren't exactly leading by example. With a 4-8-3 record, the Union is sixth best in the eight-team field and has a slew of home games that could very well start the talk of (gasp) playoffs.

It's crazy to imagine, but the Union is 3-1-2 at home in MLS competition, with nine of its remaining 15 games to be held at the foot of the Commodore Barry Bridge.

"We are just creating more chances [to score] for ourselves now and when you do that, you have more chances to win," said Sebastien Le Toux, who - with a team-leading eight goals - knows all about finishing chances. His goal last Saturday, a bender around New England goalkeeper Matt Reis, put the most recent exclamation point on what has been an MVP season for the Frenchman. "We are more prepared now to be tougher and not to give up easy goals. Sometimes you have to go through tough times in order to get better."

Tough is putting it lightly when explaining what the Union endured during the first half of the season. In a run where losses became the norm, it was hard to gauge if this team might ever shake the funk or lapse into the role of MLS whipping boy. Of its first 15 MLS matches, nine were on the road. Factor in being temporary tenants of Lincoln Financial Field and you'll find the Union gave true meaning to the term nomad.

"Road games stink, especially the run of them we had; it was honestly hard to find a rhythm," said defender Danny Califf. "The fact that we were traveling every single week, flights, hotels, disruption in our training schedule, it was the worst. In no means was that the excuse as to why we can't get a result every game, it's just that with initially shooting ourselves in the foot with mistake after mistake, it was just one more thing we, as a new team, had to deal with and ultimately overcome."

But it appears that the recent swing the team has taken shows progress, even in the eyes of its uber-demanding manager, Peter Nowak. He shocked the pants off many with his placid response to the Union's 1-1 tie against New England last Saturday.

"I think games like today make us stronger mentally and physically," he said. "We have big games coming up and this result today will make them more hungry for a win . . . I think we are ready for a big stretch. It's been good so far and we are getting stronger every week."

There's little argument that the acquisitions of Eduardo Coudet and Justin Mapp have added a different dimension and valuable experience to the attack corps. But questions linger as roughly 2 weeks remain in the MLS' summer-transfer window. Most notably the lack of depth in the defensive third, with the trading of Dave Myrie and Shavar Thomas. With Shea Salinas on the mend (fractured leg) and a relatively ineffective Toni Stahl - who fares only slightly better when utilized at his natural midfield position - that is assuredly one of the areas Nowak and the technical staff need to address.

Consider tonight as foreshadowing on whether this second chapter sets up the climax for an unexpected denouement.

Odds and endlines

Apparently, I rubbed a few readers the wrong way in Monday's follow-up to the game against the Revolution. Not in the game analysis, but in the notes portion where I mentioned the recent exploits of FC Delco, the local youth soccer power whose under-19 club lost 1-0, in the USYSA national championship game to the Columbus Crew Juniors, July 24. In saying that "only true youth soccer aficionados" cared about the team's remarkable run was obviously an incorrect statement. My bad, and a personal congrats to head coach Alan Mezger . . . Speaking of FC Delco, when D.C. United sent Curt Onalfo packing yesterday, it named Pennsylvania native and Delco alum Ben Olsen interim head coach. As a midfielder, Olsen won a pair of MLS Cup titles with United - one while Peter Nowak was manager (2004) - and earned 37 caps with the U.S. national team . . . The Independence will wear pink in its match against Boston this Sunday in one of five WPS matches in which a team will wear pink to benefit Project Pink, an initiative developed by Puma to aid breast-cancer research. Profits from the sale of apparel will be donated to a nonprofit selected via a national online voting campaign.

Shots on goal


Columbus (10-4-4) at Union (4-8-3)

Tonight, 8 o'clock, PPL Park, Chester


On the Web: Streaming webcast on

For kicks: The MLS Eastern Conference leaders enter PPL Park coming off a 3-1 loss to Chivas USA, but boasting one of the best goalkeepers in the league in William Hesmer. Hesmer, (0.89 goals against average) has eight shutouts to his credit and ranks third best in the league in saves (54) . . . Union forward Alejandro Moreno and midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi were both on the Columbus roster when it won the MLS Cup title in 2008 . . . Crew designated player Guillermo Barros Schelotto is a player to keep an eye on. In 17 games, Schelotto has three game-winning goals and ranks tops in the league in the assist category. Playmaker Eddie Gaven is listed as out as he recovers from a concussion.


Out for the Union: Shea Salinas, MF (left fibula fracture); Probable: Jordan Harvey, DF (left groin strain); Alejandro Moreno, FW (right knee contusion); Danny Mwanga,FW (right ankle sprain); Roger Torres, MF (right ankle sprain)

Out for the Crew: Eddie Gaven, MF (concussion); Gino Padula, DF (left knee inflammation); Doubtful: Robbie Rogers, MF (left knee inflammation)

HE SAID IT: "I keep working and I keep doing my job. I am not discouraged, one of these will fall in at some point." - Union forward Alejandro Moreno, on his 15-game scoring drought


For the 1990 World Cup, the roster of the U.S. team listed three players from the same city. Which city?

A. St. Louis

B. Philadelphia

C. Kearny, N.J.

By Jamie Clary, author of the "First American Soccer Trivia Book," available at:

Send search engine-free answer to:

Answer will appear in upcoming Union Meeting.