On the other, they lost in the Open Cup final for the third time in five years, stumbled into the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs on a two-game losing streak, and missed out on an opportunity to host their first playoff game in seven years.
So the question must be asked: if the Union get eliminated in Wednesday’s Knockout Round match at New York City FC (7 pm ET | FS1, UniMas, TSN 1/4, TVAS), will the season still be considered a success?
“I don’t think win or lose, it’s going to define our season,” captain Alejandro Bedoya told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “I think we’ve had a hell of a season. We could have finished third [in the Eastern Conference] and we just fell short. I think we made a great run to the Open Cup final and unfortunately we lost.”
Bedoya then pointed to some of the records that were set this year, including the most wins (15), road wins (6) and points (50) in the franchise’s nine-year history.
“How can you say it’s a terrible season? I’ll leave that up to the pundits. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and advancing. I think we can still be proud of the effort that’s been put forth this season and I hope it doesn’t end tomorrow night.”
Whether they like it or not, the perception from outsiders may very well change if the Union fail to capture their first playoff win in club history.
If you were wondering about the difference in dimensions from Talen to Yankee stadium pic.twitter.com/YFBgRwqHxq— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) October 30, 2018
But Philadelphia are confident they’ll look more like the team that went 7-1-2 from mid-August to mid-October than the one that looked very shaky on the big stages of Decision Day and the U.S. Open Cup final.
“Listen, after 34 games, the real season starts,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “I’m proud of the Union to be one of the 12 remaining clubs. But we also recognize the only way to make what’s been a good season a great season is to win.”
To do so, Curtin knows the Union must clean up some of the areas that plagued them in Sunday’s 3-1 loss at Yankee Stadium, admitting that due to the field dimensions it “may take a more roll-up-your-sleeves street fight” than the pretty possession game the Philly midfield generally likes to play. He also said Ilsinho, usually one of the first guys off the bench, will likely “play a major role” to help them better control the wings.
“You’ll see a little bit of a different approach,” the Union coach said. “We’d be stubborn and maybe a bit naive to do the exact same thing against New York.”
Bedoya agreed with that, saying that “all we need to do is make some minor adjustments and I’m pretty darn confident we’re not going to be losing 2-0 in the first 10 minutes” like they were Sunday. And the longer they can keep it a close game, the better chance the Union will have to finally clear a major postseason hurdle after getting swept by Houston in the 2011 Eastern Conference semifinals and getting bounced by Toronto in the 2016 Knockout Round, their only two other playoff appearances.
“I’m looking to do that,” Bedoya said. “That’s been my ambition since coming here, to get more respect for the club, to make it a more reputable club.”
“We’re the underdog, there’s no secret there,” Curtin said. “But our group embraces that. And I think we’re going to put in a good performance.”