Just five matchdays into the MLS season, is it already time to reconsider the Philadelphia Union as a 2023 favorite?
Head coach Jim Curtin wasn’t about to go that far after Saturday’s 2-1 home loss to Orlando City SC. However, he did acknowledge something’s not quite right with the club fans and pundits alike predicted massive things from them after a memorable 2022 campaign.
“I know the expectations for the group at the start of the season have been very, very high,” Curtin said of the Eastern Conference contender.
“And maybe we’re all trying to be perfect rather than just doing our job. … I think that’s what we need to get back to.”
It’s been far from perfect so far this year, with the Union suffering their second straight loss and – even worse – seeing their 24-match home unbeaten streak come to an unceremonious end.
It wasn’t enough, and Philadelphia suffered their third loss to go 2W-3L-0D on the season. In 2022, while losing MLS Cup on penalty kicks and falling in the Supporters' Shield on a tiebreaker, they had just five regular-season defeats all year.
“We let ourselves down as a team by conceding two goals early. That’s unacceptable for us, especially in this building,” Curtin acknowledged.
What’s more concerning for the two-time Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year Award winner is last year’s most dominant defensive team (just 26 goals conceded) has struggled out of the gates one too many times in league play this season.
“The more I talk about it the worse it gets," Curtin said. "So we talk about it over and over. I might just shut up about it this week and not talk about the start of the game because, you know, we’ve let ourselves down in a lot of the beginnings of games.”
To complicate things even further, the Union were missing several starters due to injury (goalkeeper Andre Blake) and international call-ups (midfielders Daniel Gazdag and José Martínez). These absences were definitely felt, according to Curtin.
"Do we miss the guys that aren’t here? Of course,” he said. “…It was hard and we came up a little bit short tonight… I’ll take ownership and take the blame on this one.”
What Curtin refuses to do is let this latest setback derail what could very well still be a massive season for the Union. Despite their slow MLS start, Philly have looked strong on the international front, cruising past Alianza FC of El Salvador in the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 to set up a quarterfinal showdown with Liga MX side Atlas in mid-April.
Still, their current league form is not up to the coach's or his players' high standards.
“It’s early, it’s five games in," Curtin said. "We’re pissed and we’re going to get better.”