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

Friday, September 27, 2013

History says Union stretch drive could be rough

I don’t think it would shock anyone to reveal that a fair amount of eyebrows were raised Wednesday when Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth stopped short of categorizing Friday’s trip to Sporting Kansas City as a must-win.

Here are Hackworth’s words when posed the question:

“I think you can get into a little bit of a tough situation if players think that every week, it’s got to happen this week,” he said. “The reality is if you look at the last five games, and you’ve got Kansas City twice in that last five, going away to Kansas City certainly is going to be a huge, difficult game for us. But I don’t think it’s one that people are going to say, ‘Philly’s got to win this one to put themselves back in the race.’ You look at the home games in the rest of the schedule and think there’s better games to do that. My answer to you is that we’re probably learning as we go, but we have to keep things in check so we don’t let that pressure get to us.”

The rather arbitrary number set by Hackworth for the Union’s final five games is 10 points, i.e. three wins and a draw. That total would bring the Union (10-10-9, 39 points) to 49 points, which guarantees nothing in terms of the playoff race. We’ve seen that in the past, 52 has seemed a decent benchmark, but then things haven’t exactly gone to form in the Eastern Conference this season.

To use history as a guide, then, here’s a question that I posed in Friday’s paper: How many times in the Union’s four-year history have they managed some combination of results over five MLS games to earn 10 or more points (so at a minimum, three wins and one draw in five games)? The answer is eight (points in parentheses):
May 18-June 23, 2013 (10): Beat Chicago, lost to Montreal, drew Toronto, beat Columbus, beat New York.

July 12-Aug. 10, 2013 (10): Beat Chivas, drew Portland, beat Vancouver, lost to Chicago, beat D.C. United.

June 23-July 14, 2012 (12): Beat Sporting Kansas City, lost to Houston, beat Los Angeles, beat Toronto, beat Montreal.

July 4-July 29, 2012 (12): Beat Los Angeles, beat Toronto, beat Montreal, lost to New York, beat New England.

March 19-April 16, 2011 (10): Beat Houston, beat Vancouver, Lost to Los Angeles, beat New York, drew with Seattle.

March 26-April 30, 2011 (10): Beat Vancouver, Lost to Los Angeles, beat New York, drew with Seattle, beat San Jose.

Sept. 17-Oct. 8, 2011 (11): Beat Columbus, drew Sporting Kansas City, beat D.C. United, drew Chivas, beat Seattle.

Aug. 28-Sept 25, 2010 (10): Beat New England, drew Sporting Kansas City, beat Chicago, lost to San Jose, beat Chivas.

A few quick points:

- First, the total is inflated by the overlaps in two of those streaks. Take that for what you will.

- Second, the cynical view says that the Union have had eight such stretches in four seasons, including two already this year and have therefore met their quota. The optimistic view says that the only time the Union had three such stretches in a season, they made the postseason.

- Finally, and most important to the Union’s current predicament, only one of those eight stretches featured three road games, the run from Sept. 17-Oct. 8, 2011. That stretch also included three teams in the top five of their respective conferences, as the current gamut will have (Sporting KC home and away, at Montreal).

So the program that Hackworth has set before the Union is tricky, to say the least. What, though, to make of his assertion that Friday isn’t a must-win? Where do the Union stand as far as stretches where they’ve taken 10 points from a possible 12?

Simple: They’ve never done it. Ever.

The Union have one three-game winning streak in history, in July of 2012. They have four stretches where they’ve won three out of four games in MLS, two of them built around that three-game winning streak, which was bookended by losses. They’ve had unbeaten streaks up to eight late in the 2011 season. But never have they gotten 10 points from 12 available.

The ramifications then, should be clear: If the Union truly believe that the 10-point mark will get them to the playoffs, they had better start toward it Friday.

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