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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Eastern accordion: The standings change again for the Union

It seems that every week, the perception of MLS’ Eastern Conference changes. One week, Kansas City is up and Houston is down. The next week, the Impact are left scrambling, the Red Bulls are flying high and the Revolution’s upward trajectory is slowed. The Union know it well: From title contenders by beating Vancouver in Canada to falling behind thanks to a visit from Chicago.

The collision of Kei Kamara, left, and
Sporting Kansas City with Roy Miller's Red Bulls
Saturday provided more confusion than clarity
in a crowded Eastern Conference. (Associated Press)

Nothing stays stable in the conference, and this week seemed pretty tumultuous, just another disorienting flex of the Eastern Conference accordion, where teams seem to come together and separate at random.

Take the matchup of the top two teams, New York and Kansas City. The Red Bulls, who I’m still not fully convinced are as good as their point total indicates, get a rare contribution from Lloyd Sam to take it to SKC, 3-2. That puts the Red Bulls at the summit with 38 points, two points ahead of KC.

That early result left the door open for Montreal and the Union, sitting third and fourth, respectively. But the Union squandered a chance to get at least a point, and the Impact went into D.C. United in front of barely 12,000 people and got waxed, 3-1, by a team with 10 points from its previous 21 games. That’s the same D.C. United team, which got goals from three players (Luis Silva, Conor Doyle and Jared Jeffrey) that weren’t with the club last time Union beat them, which comes to Philly next week.

If you want to look at the bright side, at least the Eastern Conference race has whittled itself down to seven teams for five spots – assuming Columbus’ loss to Houston Saturday indicates that they’re fully dead in the water. But those seven teams are all within 10 points of the conference pace-setters.

But that’s about the only good news for the Union. Montreal, a point ahead of them, has two matches in hand. As does Houston a point behind, and New England, which saw a likely three points vanish to none thanks to Toronto’s shocking 1-0 win at Foxboro Sunday. And fast-charging Chicago is just seven points in arrears of the Union.

That four-point grasp on a playoff spot the Union enjoyed has held for another week, improbably thanks to Toronto. It leaves this reality: The Union have 11 matches remaining, 10 against Eastern Conference opposition. Two games remain against Kansas City, Montreal and D.C. (the latter two, absolute must-wins). Beyond at trip to San Jose, they venture to New York, New England and host Houston and Toronto.

The Union – in the dying seconds against Salt Lake, Dallas, Seattle and late in Saturday’s second half – have had the chance to make the stretch run a formality. Instead, they’ll have to earn it the old-fashioned way.

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