For optimists, some positives could be found in the Union's 4-4 Major League Soccer draw Wednesday with the visiting New England Revolution. But they don't override the negative concerning a defense that has continued a recent pattern of sloppy play.
First, the positives:
Coming back from a 4-1 halftime deficit, even against a defense-deficient team such as the Revolution, is admirable.
Freddy Adu played his first full game for the Union, scored his first goal, and provided the attacking presence the team has been expecting from him.
Sebastien Le Toux scored two, and looks as if he is warming up. True, four of his six goals have been on penalty kicks, but he appears to be more comfortable and ready for a big stretch run with eight games remaining.
Now, the worrisome part for a team that is ninth in a playoff field that will feature 10 teams:
New England took leads of 3-0 and 4-1 in the first half. Two of the goals were scored on headers by unmarked players. Another came on a penalty kick that was highly questionable, so it wouldn't be fair to assess the blame on rookie goalkeeper Zac MacMath, making his first MLS start, for any of those three.
The fourth goal, a rocket by Benny Feilhaber to the lower left corner where there was very little room, was one that could be pinned on the rookie keeper, although it was a great shot.
Either way, the Union talked after the game about showing character, which is true. But against playoff-bound teams, they wouldn't have been able to come back. New England has earned a 4-11-12 record on merit.
The Union defense, and it's not just the back four, has been sloppy for much of this current 0-3-4 swoon. Team manager Peter Nowak did go out of his way to compliment central defenders Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes, but he didn't throw too many other bouquets out there.
"Califf has been a rock back there and has been playing strong for weeks," Nowak said. "Valdes is very stable and great back there."
We agree about Califf. But Valdes, who was the team's best player in the first half of the season, has had some lapses in the second half.
Another player who was lights-out in the first half, outside defender Sheanon Williams, has continued to push up from the back, which has helped the offense. But has it been at the expense of the defense?
"He is a defender first, and he needs to pick his spots to make plays," Nowak said. "He needs to know the right moment to go up and recognize those moments and go."
More important, the team needs to make sure that the opposition is marked tighter, especially inside the box.
"In recent weeks we have gone backward a little bit and started making individual mistakes on goals, guys being unmarked," Califf said. "Teams are getting easy goals, and as soon as we clean that up and make it difficult for teams to score goals, we will be right back there and be successful again as a unit."
Of the Union's eight remaining games, seven are against teams in realistic playoff contention, including Saturday's at PPL Park against the Portland Timbers, who are three points behind the Union.
In defending, the Union (8-7-11) must pay more attention to detail. If not, a playoff berth that once appeared almost assured could slip away.