CHESTER, Pa. – When Saturday’s game against Toronto FC ended in a 1-1 draw, there was hardly any celebration from the Philadelphia Union players.
Yes, they had just qualified for the club’s first ever MLS Cup playoffs after seven grueling months. But no, they were not ready to mob each other in the middle of the field – not when there’s still so much more they hope to accomplish.
The next few things on the team’s checklist include finishing atop the Eastern Conference, a deep run through the playoffs and, perhaps, an MLS Cup championship.
“For 20 months, we’ve been standing in front of the store, looking through the window at the candies inside,” said Union manager Peter Nowak. “After all of our hard work, we’re in the store. But it’s up to us how many candies we will take. Will it be one or three or five? Or are we going to take the whole store?”
The Union certainly hope for a sweet result Thursday when they take on the New York Red Bulls in a nationally televised showdown at Red Bull Arena (8 pm ET; ESPN2/ESPN Deportes, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Philadelphia (11-7-15) are currently tied with Sporting Kansas City atop the Eastern Conference, and are just one point ahead of Columbus and two points ahead of Houston in the standings.
Although they have already clinched a playoff berth, the Union could use a favorable result to claim a top three spot in the conference and avoid next week’s wild card games.
“It’s an important game because of the standings,” Nowak said. “You have four teams right now and I think all four teams have a chance to be in the top three and be positioned well going into the playoffs.”
Still, while many things remain in doubt when it comes to playoff seeding, one is certain: Nowak is proud of his club no matter when and where their postseason begins.
And even though his team’s celebration was fairly muted following their playoff berth – and even though there are still many pieces of candy left to be eaten – the Union manager has made sure to remind everyone just what they already achieved.
“For a franchise as young as ours, in our second year, to not only be in the playoffs but still be a contender to be first place in the East, that’s a great accomplishment for the whole group,” Nowak said. “Many teams out there wish to be in our position.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.