The Union’s 2-0 loss at Chicago last Saturday was a classic trap game that they fell right into.
A defeat at the East’s 10th-place team — with a man advantage for the entire second half, by the way — cost the Union first place, and they might not get it back. Atlanta United, the team now sitting atop the conference standings, has finally turned its unrivaled array of talent into a cohesive unit; and third-place New York City FC still has multiple games in hand on the field.
The coming schedule also does no favors. Though the Union’s next three games are at home, they’re against some of MLS’ best and most star-studded teams: Wayne Rooney’s D.C. United on Saturday (7:30 p.m., PHL17), Atlanta on Aug. 31, and runaway Western Conference leader Los Angeles FC on Sept. 14.
After that comes a stretch of three road games in eight days: Sept. 22 at the rival New York Red Bulls, Sept. 25 at San Jose, and Sept. 29 at Columbus.
“We take one game at a time, and we know that every game we have to win,” centerback Aurélien Collin said after Tuesday’s practice. “So right now, there’s no excuses. We have to make sure that what happened in Chicago doesn’t happen again, and we win on Saturday.”
Union manager Jim Curtin has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he wants his team’s veterans to lead the way to the playoffs. There’s no better example of that than Collin, 33, who was signed in January to add depth and has overtaken Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie as a starter.
The Union lost just three of 14 games from April through June, but have a 4-3-1 record since the start of July. Are they swooning? Collin has some experience with the subject — and notably, he got it with a Red Bulls team that plays a high-pressure game similar to the Union’s.
Those Red Bulls squads were notorious for running out of gas late in the season and exiting the playoffs early, including last year’s side that won the Supporters’ Shield for the league’s best regular-season record.
“At the end of the season, we were tired — mentally, emotionally, and of course, during the playoffs,” Collin said. “It’s no excuse [for] why we lost every year in the playoffs, but I’m sure it didn’t help."
Perhaps fears of a Union collapse this year come from the team’s scarred past as much as its seemingly rocky future. Collin, however, believes this team is in a much better situation than those Red Bulls.
“The high press in [the] Red Bulls was a little bit different, and much more intense,” he said. “Right now, here, the high press is not as intense, so we have still a lot of energy. I think the way Jim trains, he’s really focused on making sure everybody is 100 percent on Saturday night."