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

Monday, June 20, 2016

Home for the summer: Why the next seven games could be the Union's most important of the season

Jim Curtin doesn't have to look too far down the road to understand
how vital a series of upcoming home games are to his team. (AP)
The MLS schedule is a bizarre thing to study, for its unusual topology and inexplicable oddities. In careful dosages, though, it’s useful to examine.

Jim Curtin introduced the schedule dynamics to the conversation Monday at his weekly press conference ahead of Wednesday’s visit from the Chicago Fire. The Union embark on a stretch of five out of six games at home, including the fifth-round U.S. Open Cup clash. Between now and the end of July, the Union leave Talen Energy Stadium twice (three times if they advance to the Open Cup quarterfinals).

In addition to Chicago, the Union welcome in Vancouver Saturday, D.C. United July 9, New York Red Bulls July 17 and Real Salt Lake July 31.

That’s five home games in six weeks. After that, the Union have just five home games the rest of the season, through August, September and October.

It may seem early to look ahead, but with the Union near the halfway point of a long season, it’s prime time for the team to start preparing tough stretches ahead.

If you parse the season into smaller segments as the coaching staff does, the eight-game run that started with Saturday’s loss to New York City FC is a logical subdivision. Their other road tests in there are a winnable trip to sweltering Houston July 2 and to Montreal July 23.

It appears to be a stretch of the season where the Union can really assert themselves as a top team in the East and go a long way toward accumulating the points needed to achieve their primary goal, ending a four-year playoff drought. But juxtaposing this run against the challenges that follow imbues it with even more importance.

August provides a stretch of four road games at Eastern opposition in six games – at DC Aug. 6, New England Aug. 13, Columbus Aug. 24 and Chicago Sept. 3. Their two home dates are Toronto Aug. 20 and Sporting KC Aug. 27, sandwiched around the Columbus trip.

The final six-game run starts with Montreal in Chester Sept. 10, and it ends with home dates against Orlando City and Red Bulls in the final two weeks. But there’s a stretch of 36 days where the Union don’t play at home, voyaging to Portland, Toronto and Red Bull Arena, with the international break in the middle.

That schedule means the Union won’t be in a position to make up ground late in the season. With a 5-0-2 mark at home and a solid track record of getting results in their building, the Union need to bank points now, especially against five teams with a combined seven road wins this season.

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