It should be easier than it is to step back, look at how good the Union’s season has been overall, and appreciate the success.
But last Sunday’s disastrous 2-0 loss at Columbus left such a sour taste that it’s still impossible to get past.
The Crew were eliminated from contention days before the game. The Union would have had the inside track to second place, and thus the right to two home playoff games, with a tie or a win. New York City FC lost at New England while the Union were playing, which meant the chance was there to narrow the gap to first place to just three points, and put it up for grabs in the regular season finale.
All of that is gone now. First place is out of reach, and while the Union are tied with Atlanta United for second place on points, Atlanta has the first tiebreaker of total wins. The Union would have to not just beat NYCFC at home in Sunday’s regular season finale (4:25 p.m., PHL17), but hope Atlanta miraculously loses or ties at home against seventh-place New England.
And then there’s the cherry on top: Midfielder, captain and heart of the squad Alejandro Bedoya is almost certain to miss Sunday’s regular season finale because of a non-contact quadriceps strain suffered in Columbus. Bedoya didn’t practice Wednesday, and wasn’t even on the practice field to talk to the media.
“He’s a huge character for us when we’re playing, and a huge player for us," centerback Jack Elliott said Tuesday, after enduring a final blast of hot weather on the practice fields. "Obviously he’ll be missed, but I think as we’ve shown throughout the season, there’s plenty of players in the squad, and the depth of the squad is very high.”
The depth is indeed high, but the gas tank wasn’t on Sunday. Elliott admitted that fatigue was a factor in Columbus, at the end of three road games in eight days. It wasn’t the only factor, but he spoke at length about the travel burden that came with flying home from San Jose then back out to Columbus.
“I think there was a lot of things that went wrong for us the other day,” he said. “It’s a tough place to go. Especially after playing midweek [against] a west coast team, coming home the next day, having a whole travel day, getting home in the evening, getting up and then having to go and travel again a couple days later, it’s tough.”
Elliott didn’t say anything about what could have been -- charter travel or even flying commercial straight from the Bay Area to Ohio’s capital -- but he was plenty blunt overall.
“The way that week set up, going to the west coast, and then coming back -- that’s always going to be a tough week no matter what stage of the season is," he said. “I could feel it towards the end of the Columbus game. ... Even if you don’t play three games in a week, and you play [on the] West Coast and come back and play three, four days after you’re gonna feel it.”
“A win will set us up for whatever -- it could be second place -- but that’s what we’ve got to do,” Elliott said. He praised the team’s “strong mentality to come back" from defeats, shown by having not lost consecutive games since the first two games of the season.