CHESTER, Pa. – It would have been easy to write off the Philadelphia Union just a couple of weeks ago after they started the season on an eight-game winless streak, which followed an eight-game winless streak that ended the previous campaign.
But through it all, from sporting director Earnie Stewart to head coach Jim Curtin to the players, the Union insisted the talent was there and the spirit remained high.
That may have seemed like a cliché at the time, but, a couple of weeks later, the Union look like a brand new team. Philadelphia have reeled off three-straight dominating wins, capped by a 2-0 home victory against the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night.
So what’s changed? Or could it be that not much changed at all?
“I think we were hard done by a few results earlier in the year,” said winger Chris Pontius, whose two assists Wednesday gave him six on the season, matching his career high. “Certainly we weren’t an 0-4-4 team. That was the biggest thing for me. I’ve been on a bad team. I know what a bad team feels like. This wasn’t a bad team. We just kept plugging away. We didn’t change much.”
While the Union may not have changed the formation, routines or general belief, they have made some important personnel moves over the past month, which included moving Pontius from the left wing to the right wing, starting Fafa Picault on the left wing and sliding Ilsinho to the No. 10 role to fill in for the injured Roland Alberg. Picault has responded with goals in each of the last two games, and Ilsinho also scored Wednesday while enjoying one of the better games of his Union career.
Then, there’s the backline. Three defenders that weren’t expected to have big roles at the beginning of the year – Oguchi Onyewu, Ray Gaddis and rookie Jack Elliott – have stepped into the starting lineup and helped lead the team to a club-record four straight shutouts.
“We have quality players and sometimes things take time,” Gaddis said. “Last week someone asked me about our spirit and our spirit has always been high. We have a good group of guys.”
Gaddis may eventually lose his spot back to Keegan Rosenberry, who along with Richie Marquez and Joshua Yaro, is one of the defenders the team will likely look build around for the future. But, for now, Curtin will stick with the makeshift backline that’s stayed compact and organized – and will look for its fifth-straight clean sheet when the Colorado Rapids visit on Saturday (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE).
“This shutout streak, we’ve challenged them,” Curtin said. “It’s not like a no-hitter where we’re not talking about it. We’re talking about it a lot, and the guys are really taking pride in it.”
The big question now, of course, is if the Union can continue to charge up the Eastern Conference table or if they’ll revert back to the group that made a lot of untimely miscues over the first couple of months.
Or is the real team, perhaps, somewhere in the middle?
“Even the first games, we played some games very good,” said midfielder Haris Medunjanin, whose growing partnership with Alejandro Bedoya in the central midfield has also fueled the turnaround. “But when you lose, nobody’s talking about that. Football is like that. When you win, you’re doing it good. When you lose, you’re doing it bad.
“That’s why we need to keep working as a team. We don’t have star players. We need to do it together as a team and we need to work for each other.”