IT IS easy to look at the Union's scoreless draw with the Colorado Rapids on Saturday at PPL Park and say it played out like too many Philadelphia matches the past two seasons.

Despite outplaying an opponent, controlling play and having a man advantage for more than 20 minutes, the Union didn't complete the final piece of the puzzle and ended up dropping points - in this case, getting just one instead of three.

Still, to be honest, if we were going to say, "It's the same old Union," manager Jim Curtin's troops would have blundered in the final 10 minutes, surrendered a goal and walked away with a loss instead of a draw.

That did not happen, and in the spirit of looking at the opening game as a fresh start, that was a good thing, even if a minor one.

"It's a new season," Union captain Maurice Edu said. "Obviously, every season becomes a learning experience and you try to improve on the mistakes you made.

"Closing out games last year was something we struggled with at times. That's been a focus of ours. So to get a clean sheet and dominate the game overall was a good result in how we played. Unfortunately, the score line doesn't show that."

Ultimately, and quite possibly real soon considering the way the final Eastern Conference playoff spots usually come down to a few points, the final score line will be all that matters.

It is always hard to judge any team after the first game, especially one that has some significant alterations, including a manager starting his first full season.

Five starters on Saturday - goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi, center back Steve Vitoria, left wing Andrew Wenger and forwards C.J. Sapong and Fernando Aristeguieta - were not on the team at the beginning of the 2014 campaign.

The Union had 60.7 percent of the possessions, a 16-2 advantage in shots and led in corner kicks, 5-1. Scoring goals can sometimes come down to the subtle things that the Union lacked on Saturday but hopes will develop with familiarity and chemistry.

"Absolutely," Wenger said of the Union improving as it spends more time together in training and games. "Let's also be honest that in a game like that, things come easier after you get a goal because the weight comes off your shoulders and guys start feeling it.

"You could see that on several instances we were just inches off. I played a ball to [Aristeguieta] that was a touch too hard; otherwise he's in on goal. We hit the crossbar.

"It's things like that, but that comes with the year. You have games like this. The idea is to stay positive. We kept a clean sheet. They didn't have many opportunities and we did create some chances."

The good thing for the Union is that while Curtin is not the type of manager to dwell on the negatives, he is also limited in his reliance on the positives in an outcome like Saturday. As a longtime player in MLS, Curtin knows there is a bottom line that all adds up in the end. You are on the wrong side of the ledger when you lose points at home after being up a man for more than 20 minutes late in the game. (Colorado's Bobby Burling got a second yellow card and was sent off in the 68th minute.)

"I'm happy with the group in terms of defense," Curtin said. "We didn't give up many chances.

"Still, we created enough chances to get three points today, so I look at it as two points dropped. I'm disappointed from that standpoint.

"We had some balls in the box, but we need to finish. We got some good looks and guys that are usually of quality in front of the goal were a little off in terms of the final pass or getting on the end of a cross into the box.

"The goals will come as we move forward. We created enough chances to win, but didn't get the full three points so the guys are disappointed."

Especially at the beginning of a season, a single game has to be viewed in the context of a complete season. The Union's 2015 opener wasn't disappointing, just far from satisfying.

Dropping two points when the Union should have had three isn't a major worry unless it becomes the restart of a pattern that inevitably has led to the Union missing the playoffs.

" is something that has been a message from the top down," Wenger said. "It's a positive in that we were able to keep a clean sheet and get the point we did.

"On the other hand, it's just one game of a 34-game [season] so we'll just keep trying to build on things."

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL