The Philadelphia Union find themselves atop the MLS Eastern Conference standings thanks to a combination of both on and off the field changes.
It’s been a while since Philly’s seen a winning team. With the Flyers being knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, there isn’t much hope for a championship team in Philly this year – or at least there wasn’t before the unlikeliest of teams found their place at the top of the Eastern Conference.
In one year, the Philadelphia Union have gone from worst to first in the Eastern Confrence with a 4-3 record. As of now they sit 1 point behind Didier Drogba and the Montreal Impact (13 points) who also have a game up on the Union. And what seems to be the reason for this turn around season? It seems that all it took was a staff change and little bit of trust in a system built by the new Sporting Director, Earnie Stewart.
The biggest change in coaching strategy is how high the Union have been pressing defensively. The forwards are constantly adding pressure to the opposing back line which have turned into many turnovers for thee opposing teams. As Stewart is a bit of hero off the field, let’s see who have been the heroes on it.
C.J. Sapong (F):
Sapong vowed this was going to be his breakthrough season as he set his season goal of scoring 20 goals. Sapong only netted nine goals last year which was a career high for him but hopes to keep his hot streak going as he has scored four goals so far this season in a third of the time.
Illsinho is new to Philadelphia this year as he came here during the offseason via free transfer. The Brazillian attacking midfielder has UEFA Champions league experience with Shakhtar Donetsk where he also won the league title multiple times. Illsinho is yet to tally a goal or an assist but has stunned the league with his experienced ball handling skills and fancy footwork to get out of difficult situations and create chances.
Chris Pontius (M):
There were many who doubted that Chris Pontius would be able to stay healthy for much of the season but the 28-year-old midfielder/forward has proven his worth so far for the Union as he has already netted 3 goals in 7 games – just as many goals as his season with D.C. last year where he played 17 games. It seems like Coach Jim Curtin knew what he was doing when he traded for Pontius during the winter.
Tranquillo Barnetta (M):
Despite having an early season injury which plagued him getting on the field during the first 3 games of the season, Barnetta has proven once again that he is the man for the number 10 role in the center midfield. Barnetta’s experience in Europe and in the German Bundesliga is on display every time he touches the ball. His conscious awareness of the play and leadership with the team shows in every match. Tranquillo is responsible for the game winning free kick against Orlando City FC in the 90th minute that led Philadelphia to the win and kept them undefeated at home.
Keegan Rosenberry (D):
Rosenberry was selected No. 3 overall in the MLS SuperDraft this past year and seemed to have proved himself in training as he has started every game this season. Coach Curtin made it clear that he wanted to build his defense so that they were capable of carrying the ball out of trouble and Rosenberry has been doing this continuously. Whether its him making the play down the line, or finding the strategic pass in the center of the field, Rosenberry gets the job done making him an early candidate for rookie of the year.
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Andre Blake (G):
Blake has been the savior of this team for some time now. His effort and athleticism between the posts has been fantastic and is continuously proving that he is the man for the job. Blake made some remarkable saves at the end of last season which saved the Union from a lot of trouble and it seems as those saves just keep coming from Blake.
There’s no one player which is carrying this team right now but it is the mix of good coaching, teamwork, and a positive morale which is pushing the “Boys in Blue” to victory after victory. The Union play at home Saturday against a challenging Western Conference matchup with the San Jose Earthquakes. Be sure to check back in for all things Philadelphia Union.