CHESTER, Pa. — There were no celebrations at Talen Energy Stadium as the final whistle mercifully blew on the Philadelphia Union’s ugly 2-0 home loss to Orlando City SC on Sunday.
But right at that moment, thanks to the Chicago Fire’s concurrent 2-1 win over the New England Revolution, the Union all but guaranteed their first MLS Cup playoff berth in five years.
Surely that called for at least some reason to be excited, right? Maybe? Sort of?
“It feels funny,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “You don’t really know how to feel because you don’t feel good about it — because we know we can do better.”
The Union go into the final week of the season in great shape to end their post-season drought — the only way New England can surpass them for the sixth and final spot is if they make up a 12-goal differential. But they’re certainly limping to the finish line.
The Union are now 0-4-2 in their last six, and could enter the playoffs on a seven-game winless streak if they don’t beat the New York Red Bulls in their regular-season finale.
That’s one reason why some fans left early and booed in the final minutes of Sunday’s loss to already-eliminated Orlando. Another was probably the manner in how they lost, as they fell behind on a couple of bad miscues. Fabinho gave it away at midfield, and Keegan Rosenberry failed to clear a deflected 59th-minute Carlos Rivas shot off the line, instead blasting it into his own net.
“I sympathize with how the fans feel, with how we feel, because the players and myself are the ones who are most gutted,” Curtin said. “It doesn’t quite feel like an accomplishment because it’s not 100 percent yet. But, at the same time, we put ourselves in a position where we should be in the playoffs now.”
Leading up to Sunday’s game, Curtin promised this was a “different” Philly team. But Orlando’s first goal probably brought back shades of some previous October collapses and gut-wrenching home performances.
Of course, the big difference now is that the Union, barring an absolutely crazy turn of events, will finally get back to the playoffs and have an opportunity to win the first postseason game in club history.
Time and again, Curtin took solace in that, even if the Union played very poorly in perhaps their biggest game of the season and lost an opportunity to potentially host a first-round contest.
“This is a league where there’s a lot of teams that would kill to be in our position right now,” Curtin said. “I should have a smile on my face because we’ve done something this club has only done once before. But it doesn’t feel that way.”
No matter how they do it, getting into the playoffs would certainly be a big accomplishment for several Union players. That's likely more true for Brian Carroll than anyone. He made the playoffs the first nine years of his career, including the Union’s last appearance in 2011, before missing out on the post-season in each of the last four seasons.
But unlike his coach, the veteran midfielder did not want to talk about ending that streak just yet.
“We just want to focus on playing better and playing like ourselves,” Carroll told MLSsoccer.com. “We just want to be playing good and finish the season strong. I’ll worry about all that when it’s official.”