CHESTER, Pa. – For the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s game, the Philadelphia Union looked ready to wipe away the bitter disappointments of the past month and get their season back on track.
But then the problems once again reared their ugly head and the already-growing pressure on the club and head coach Jim Curtin only mounted further.
How is Curtin keeping his team together – while thinking about his own job security – as the club’s record winless streak grew to 13 (dating back to last season) following Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers?
“I don’t hide from that,” the Union coach said. “I’m not a guy who doesn’t understand that there’s pressure in pro sports. Our players recognize that, I recognize that, I feel that. I’m not scared of it because I still believe in the team. I believe in the group.
“You can put it on me, that’s fine. I take the blame. People are going to have their opinions and they’re entitled to them. It’s our job to stick together as a team, continue to work hard and bounce back from this. And the only way you get out of it is to win a game.”
The Union looked like they might finally win Saturday, controlling the early part of the game and jumping out to a 1-0 lead on a 26th-minute goal from Richie Marquez, who was just cleared to play a day earlier after undergoing concussion protocol all week.
But Darlington Nagbe tied the game six minutes later on a shot from distance through traffic, and the Timbers took advantage of a couple of Philly miscues from there — scoring second-half goals on a deflection off Marquez and on a Fabinho giveaway followed by a penalty call.
“We gift goals,” said Union center back Oguchi Onyewu after his fierce battles with Fanendo Adi, who scored the Timbers’ third goal on a PK. “The first one was a very soft goal. The second one was a lucky deflection. And the third one, the penalty was clearly outside the box anyway. The calls don’t seem to be falling our way and we seem to be getting punished for mistakes.”
Onyewu went on to say that the Union have “dominated the majority of games in terms of possession, shots, offensive attacking,” while playing solid team defense, aside from a few untimely mistakes. It’s a sentiment that many of his teammates share — which makes the club’s 0-3-2 record even harder to swallow.
“It’s very tough,” goalkeeper Andre Blake said. “It’s frustrating. I believe there is still some good that can come from this. If all the guys believe the way I do, we will be fine. I think last year at this time we were probably first or second place. I believe we can turn this thing around."
Their next chance to turn the season around comes Friday night when they host New York City FC in the middle contest of a three-game homestand (7 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US, MLS LIVE in Canada).
“Right now it’s the moment for each individual in the organization to take a look in the mirror and dig deep down and try to find an answer within themselves, because personally I feel we have the clientele to get wins,” Onyewu said. “I think teams see that when we play, they are scared of us. But we haven’t been able to convert, which is unfortunate and it makes us look bad at the end of the day because the scoresheet is all anybody really cares about. You can play the most beautiful soccer in the world but if that doesn’t manifest itself to three points, we ultimately fail.”
Added Curtin: “We’ll stick together. We have a great group, a great staff, a great group of players. And we’re going to fight.”