More Sports:

September 15, 2016

The Philadelphia Union really aren't that bad on the road

Soccer Union
091516_union_PSP Daniel Gajdamowicz/Philly Soccer Page

Three straight road games will determine whether or not the Union qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

A road record of three wins, seven losses, and four draws doesn't seem that great on the surface.

The Philadelphia Union have claimed just 13 out of 42 points away from home this season. The remainder of the team's 41 total points has come from eight home victories and four home draws.

Talen Energy Stadium is very much the place to be, but that won't be the case for more than a month, as Jim Curtin's club hits the road for three straight road games beginning this Saturday.

The outlook feels grim, at least to me. Where are the points coming from? At Portland? At Toronto? At Red Bull? The teams behind the Union, Montreal and Orlando, are playing reasonably well and both have a game in hand.

By the time Philly emerges from the gauntlet, it might be in fifth or sixth place and the Union could be fighting for their playoff lives. Anything beyond fourth place results in a weekday road trip, likely against one of the Canadian clubs. Anything beyond sixth place results in an early trip to the golf course.

It could also work in the opposite way, with Philly starting well against the Timbers this week and taking some momentum to Toronto. Maybe the club is close to clinching a postseason berth by the end of this road trip, avoiding that nail-biting anxiety in the final two home games.

Whatever the result, this road stretch will define the Union season. It's the final, monumental, symbolic hurdle to clear before possibly entering the playoffs for first time since 2011.

"I think when you look at the schedule when it comes out, you see that block of three games and go, 'that’s a tough stretch right there'," Curtin said on Wednesday. "You want to set yourself up in a good spot, which I think we have. Could there be a couple more points on the board for us? Absolutely, but everybody could probably say that at this point of the year. I like where we’re at. It’s important when it’s a block of three road games that you get a good punch on the first one."

There's certainly a belief among Union players that they can pull points from these road games. While the wins haven't necessarily been there, the consensus seems to be that the overall performances are respectable, even if the results are not.

It's hard to wrap your head around, considering that the Union went five months from March to August without a road win. Even then, only three Union road points have come against the 12 teams currently in playoff position.

In a way, you can only really validate 2016 Union road performances via the "eye test". How many people watched every minute of every road game? Do they know about the red cards? How about short rest and international call-ups?

Obscured by those relatively gloomy statistics are gritty results in Orlando and Colorado, plus a decent draw in Montreal and promising performances that were scuppered by ejections and other variables. There were a couple of times that the Union came out flat, or tired, but there really weren't many truly lopsided showings.

"I would agree with that," said Keegan Rosenberry, in regard to the Union playing well on the road. "I think if you look at, just the way we approach games, and what we try to do, that's what Jim has been preaching all year; that we play the same at home as we do away. I would say (that's the case), with maybe the exception of the Dallas game, you know, the first game of the year where we looked a little tentative and we didn't press as a group and we weren't quite used to each other. Other than that, I think we've been pretty consistent with how we pressure teams and keep the ball. There's a little bit of variation but I would agree that throughout the year we've been pretty good with that."

The Union will leave early for this trip, just like the road trip to Seattle.

A Thursday flight gives the club an extra day to adjust to the time change while allowing for more training minutes on the Timbers' turf field. Portland is returning from a mid-week trip to Costa Rica, where a number of starters played in a 4-2 loss to Saprissa in the CONCACAF Champion's League.

The last trip to Cascadia featured a strong opening half that was ultimately marred by a sending-off.

"We're not afraid to go to another stadium," said midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta. "I think we showed this year that we can beat everyone, at home or away. We had some tough games on the road, where we had tough losses, but in the end, there were really only one or two games, like Montreal, where we had no chance. You have to accept that one time, but the other games we had our opportunities, so I'm confident we can have a good performance on the road."

Do the Union pass the eye test away from home? Let's take a look :

March 6th: Dallas 2, Union 0

A grand total of zero people expected the new-look Union to win this game, or even steal a point.

Dallas was a preseason favorite for the Supporter's Shield and methodically dismantled Philly's young defense in a comfortable shutout win.

March 12th: Union 2, Columbus 1

It's funny to think about this game, which now defines the 2016 season.

Philly came into this one as a huge underdog against the defending Eastern Conference champions. Union fans were already distressed about the possibility of another poor season and didn't want to start with two straight road losses.

But the Union came out, punched above their weight, and got all three points on the road, even with a defensive-minded double pivot of Warren Creavalle and Brian Carroll in the starting eleven.

April 2nd: Chicago 1, Union 0

A second-half Creavalle red card really crippled the Union, who out-shot Chicago in their own building.

Even in horrendous, snowy conditions, Curtin's team carved out chances while down a man and showed a resilience that hadn't been seen in a long time.

April 16th: Seattle 2, Union 1

Same story as above.

This time, it was a Roland Alberg red card that harmed Union chances.

Philly started on the front foot and really bossed possession in the first 20 minutes. After Alberg's sending-off, the Union even scraped a goal against the run of play and had chances to steal a point on the road.

May 14th: Union 1, Montreal 1

This was a great result for the Union, who had played an exhausting 2-2 draw with Los Angeles just four days prior.

They started poorly and conceded a set piece goal within the first five minutes, but eventually found their feet, carved out an equalizer, and held on for a deserved point.

May 25th: Union 2, Orlando 2

They probably should have taken all three points from this game.

Andre Blake came up with a big penalty save in the first half, then the Union took the lead through a Barnetta volley after an innocuous long ball and cross-box header.

Orlando benefited from questionable calls on both goals, as Blake was cleaned out by Cyle Larin on the equalizer, followed by a Kaka push-off and attempted goal-line clearance on the second.

Ken Tribbett later scored to make it 2-2, and both teams settled for a point.

May 28th: Union 1, Colorado 1

From humidity to altitude, the Union hit a wall in Commerce City.

After conceding late, Brian Carroll somehow equalized in the second minute of stoppage time. A combative and defensive game finished 1-1, with both holding midfielders scoring in the final ten minutes of play.

June 18th: New York City 3, Union 2

This was the first game after the Copa America break and the Union came out flat.

NYC took a 3-0 lead by the 55th minute, and a late surge wasn't enough to salvage a draw.

This was one of the few poor road performances of the season, and it foreshadowed the defensive struggles that Philly would endure through late June and into July.

July 2nd: Houston 1, Union 0

The Union offense seemed addled in the Texas heat, but the defense held a clean sheet for 94 minutes.

Former Zolo Cristian Maidana ended up being the difference maker, with a 95th-minute game-winning free kick goal.

This was a dropped point.

July 23rd: Montreal 5, Union 1

The only true blowout that the Union suffered this season.

I wouldn't put too much stock into this result. Philly was coming off 120 minutes in the U.S. Open Cup on a Wednesday night (on turf), then stayed in New England and traveled directly to Montreal without coming back to Pennsylvania.

The Union looked tired physically and mentally and just never really found their way into the game.

For what it's worth, the elimination from the U.S.O.C. probably cleared up a bit of the schedule and helped the team focus on solely on the regular season.

August 6th: Union 2, D.C. 2

A slow start followed by a nice recovery.

Philly looked to be on their way to a season-sweep of D.C. United, only to drop two points with a stoppage time Steve Birnbaum equalizer.

This one should have been a win.

August 13th: Union 4, New England 0

A total throttling, the Union looked more like Manchester United in their first road win since March.

August 24th: Union 2, Columbus 1

Two straight road victories for Philly, who won for the second time in Columbus.

The Union rebounded nicely from a bad home loss to Toronto, traveling to Ohio on short rest and claiming all three points.

September 3rd: Chicago 3, Union 0

You can call it a "trap game" if you want, but MLS parity is what it is.

Roland Alberg scored an unfortunate own-goal, then Chicago bagged a second goal with another unlucky bounce after an initial save from John McCarthy.

The Union played without Blake and Alejandro Bedoya, who were busy on international duty.