CHESTER, Pa. – It’s a testament to both the Philadelphia Union’s dominance over the first four months of the season as well as the parity in the Eastern Conference that, despite their current eight-game winless skid, Philly remain in good shape to qualify for the playoffs.
Currently tied for third place in the conference, the Union are four points back of Sporting Kansas City and five behind Columbus Crew with a game in hand on both. And coincidentally, those two teams are next on Philly's schedule.
The Union (8-7-12, 36 points) can start making up some serious ground to get back to the top of the standings and gain even better traction in the playoff race when they host Columbus (11-9-8, 41 points) on Saturday at PPL Park (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“It’s probably one of the biggest games we’ve had in club history – or perhaps the biggest game,” Union center back Danny Califf said. “It’s going to be really important to come out and make a statement.”
Although the Union have not won since July 17, they are still coming off a pair of character-building results, rallying from three goals back to earn a draw with the New England Revolution last Wednesday and then shutting out the Portland Timbers in another draw last Saturday.
Now, in their third straight game at PPL Park, they hope to build off those draws and earn three points against one of the two teams in front of them in the Eastern Conference standings.
“Even though we’re not winning, we’re not losing ground on the rest of the group who are chasing for the playoff spot,” Union manager Peter Nowak said. “And that’s the positive side.”
As further motivation, the Union also have painful memories from their last game vs. Columbus – a 2-1 loss at Crew Stadium on Aug. 20. In that defeat, Philly defender Sheanon Williams was called for a controversial hand ball in the box, which led to a game-winning penalty kick goal from the Crew.
“I think we played a good game in Columbus,” Nowak said. “From many angles, we had a very good game. Overall, we had our chances. The PK call was made from a bad angle, but even after that we had a couple of chances to tie the game. I think it was a good game.”
And perhaps the best thing to come from that game for the Union was that they knew they’d soon get another crack at the Crew.
That chance has come.
“The fires are still fresh,” Califf said.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.