Union now poised to make noise in MLS | John Smallwood
Riding a four-game winning streak, the Union is showing that its not the same team that started the season with an eight-game winless streak.
GUESS WHICH team has decided to make the summer and the rest of the Major League Soccer season interesting?
With its 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union continued its recent trend of not just proving it is a legitimate MLS team but that it also is capable of being a troublesome opponent for any team left on the schedule.
Entering May, a winless Union team was charged with the task of salvaging its season.
Now, the team is riding a franchise-high four-match winning streak and has put itself in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Union, which is unbeaten in its last six matches, has picked up 14 of a possible 18 points and now sits just one point behind the New York Red Bulls (17 points) for the sixth and final playoff spot in the East just past the one-third mark of its schedule.
The Union has a match in hand over the Red Bulls and the Columbus Crew, which is in the fifth spot with 19 points.
Just as important, the Union (4-4-4) is only five points behind the Chicago Fire (21 points), which is in second place in the East.
The Union is playing so well right now that the only complaint from Saturday was that its shutout streak ended at 378 minutes.
The shot by Colorado's Caleb Calvert was the first to get by Union goalkeeper Andre Blake since Montreal scored in the 87th minute of a 3-3 draw on April 22.
"Good winning streak now, something to build on," Union coach Jim Curtin said.
Curtin's statement is again an example of how the context of a situation changes things.
Four matches ago, when the Union was 0-4-4 and Curtin said something similar after a scoreless draw at Los Angeles, it seemed like the desperate statement from a coach trying to grasp onto anything positive.
On Saturday, it sounded like something from a coach who believes his team has finally found its footing and is moving forward.
During an eight-game winless streak to start the season, it was difficult to convey the notion that the Union had made a considerable number of changes and it might take some time for things to blend together.
When the Union staff and players would point out that it had a different roster from the team that finished the 2016 season without a win in its final eight matches, including the playoffs, it fell on many deaf ears.
A 16-match winless streak takes on a massive life of its own and devours every excuse - even ones that at their essence could be true.
After a squad has gone 4-0-2, outscored opponents 14-4 and picked up 14 points, things can be viewed in a different perspective.
Midfielder Haris Medunjanin had never played in MLS before the Union signed him from Maccabi Tel Aviv on Jan. 31. A native of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Medunjanin could not get his visa cleared until after the Union had opened preseason camp.
Playing in a new country in a new league on a new team with new teammates requires a period of adjustment.
Still, who wants to hear about adjusting when the team is winless in its first eight games?
During the same period, who wants to hear about designated player Alejandro Bedoya having to play in an unfamiliar role; or international "Discovery" signings Jay Simpson and Giliano Wijnaldum learning the MLS style of play; or All-Star Keegan Rosenberry suffering from a sophomore jinx; or defender Jack Elliott and midfielders Derrick Jones and Fafa Picault being rookies; or aged center back Oguchi Onyewu stepping in as a starter instead of being a veteran mentor.
When a team is winless in its first eight matches, talk of players trying to find their roles and get comfortable in them quickly becomes annoying excuse making.
When a team puts together a four-match winning streak, players having found their roles and gotten comfortable in them become legitimate reasons for a turnaround.
The Union's six-game unbeaten streak is currently second to East-leading Toronto FC, which had a six-game winning streak ended with a 1-1 draw at the Red Bulls on Friday.
Even something as arbitrary as luck has a different meaning when a team is winning, as opposed to not winning.
"You see the way that a couple of the bounces went our way later in the game, that's definitely something that we didn't see earlier in the season," said forward CJ Sapong, who scored his eighth goal Saturday. "For me, a guy that's really big on energy and stuff like that, I think that's a testament to the positivity, the confidence, and the belief that we have as a group now."
The faces remain the same, but this is a different Union team from the one of four weeks ago.
This is a team that has found its way and is finally playing like a quality MLS team that is ready to make some noise this season.