HARRISON, N.J. — The Philadelphia Union complicated their situation Sunday, both in terms of the chase for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and their massive midweek road tilt against the San Jose Earthquakes.
A road win over the New York Red Bulls would have done wonders for the Union. Instead they limp into consecutive road games this week in what will be a stern test of their depth.
First they visit the Quakes on Wednesday (11 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada) six points out of first place and with a pair of fresh injuries to manage following a 2-0 loss to RBNY. Philadelphia lost both starting center back Mark McKenzie and forward Sergio Santos to hamstring strains. They then travel to Columbus to face the Crew on Sunday (5 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada).
“It doesn’t take a genius to realize hamstrings take time,” Union coach Jim Curtin said. “That’s not a good thing, but we have a deep squad and we’ll have to use it. We went into the game fully healthy and we suffered two injuries.”
Curtin knows the math. But he’s not conceding first place, not with a Decision Day presented by AT&T showdown against Eastern Conference-leading New York City FC set for Talen Energy Stadium. There’s also a keen hunt for second, too: The Union are two points behind Atlanta United in that chase with the Five Stripes playing NYCFC Wednesday (7 pm ET | TSN5 in Canada, MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US) at Yankee Stadium.
“We’re pushing for first place. It’s still possible,” Curtin said. “New York City has a tough schedule and we play them on the last day. We’re still going to fight for first place. Obviously one and two are the key seeds because then you get the next home game. We have a lot to play for now.”
While Curtin will have one eye on the clash between NYCFC and Atlanta, his more pressing concern is bouncing back from Sunday’s defeat when they take on an Earthquakes team that will be without Cristian Espinoza and Chris Wondolowski, who were both shown red cards in a 3-1 loss at Atlanta Saturday.
The original plan for the Union was for some squad rotation. But the loss, and the injuries, likely change that idea.
“That’s why it’s always tough to put your lineup on paper, because you go into these three-games-in-a-week stretches,” Curtin said. “Variables like San Jose also having a couple red cards [and] will have to juggle their lineup, as well. We'll be missing a few guys with injuries. We'll certainly have some fresh legs out there for sure. We're going to have to go after points now on the road. We dropped some tonight, and we could have got a tie out of tonight if we were a little sharper, but now we move on to San Jose and Columbus. We need points.”
The Union, who have clinched the right to host a home playoff game in the first round of the postseason, have a lot to play for. They also know a desperate Quakes team, who sit on the playoff line in the West courtesy of the third tiebreaker – goals scored – with the eighth-place Portland Timbers, await at Avaya Stadium.
“They need to win to stay in the playoffs, so it's going to be a hard game. They play very good soccer,” Philly midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. “And it's going to be a tough game for us and in three days, another game to show that you are a good team on the road.”