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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Home sweet home: Time is now for Union to capitalize at Talen

Talen Energy Stadium has been anything but a happy hunting ground
for Chris Pontius and the Union this season.
(Digital First Media/Mike Reeves)
Laid before the Philadelphia Union this week is a notable opportunity. Twice, Western Conference foes will arrive in Chester. Both present compelling cases why the Union could glean three points from their respective encounters. Both are positioned as golden chances for a hot Union side to perpetuate its recent run of strong form in a place where wins are (supposedly) easier to come by.

For a team that has been close to broken this season, this week hardly qualifies as a make-or-break stretch. But history would suggest a huge burden for the Union to recoup a significant return of points against Houston Wednesday, then Colorado Saturday, to prove their recent four-game unbeaten streak isn't a flash in MLS's parity pan.

(I fully realize the ludicrousness of what I'm about to propose. To pillory the Union for months on end and see them endure 252 winless days, then assert that they can win four times in 15 days seems even to me the height of optimism bordering on insanity. But little makes sense in MLS, so why let that stop us?)

When this week ends, the Union will have played seven of their scheduled 17 games at Talen Energy Stadium in 2017. Currently, the Union stand 1-2-2 in five home contests, a yield of five points from a possible 15. That's suboptimal, but to what degree?

The Union have claimed only 33.3 percent of the home points available this season. Unsurprisingly, that paltry return doesn’t correlate well with playoff aspirations.
Here's a more concrete benchmark to aim for: In the last four seasons, only five of 34 MLS playoff qualifiers have netted fewer than 30 points at home (that's a 58.8 percent capitalization on available home points). Perhaps it’s not surprising that among them is the 2016 Union, which accumulated just 28 of 51 available home points (54.9 percent).

The only team in the last four seasons to accrue half or less of its points at home was Sporting Kansas City in 2014, a team that won eight of 17 road games to notch 25 road points to 24 at home. (The other three sub-30 home-point talliers: The 2016 Montreal Impact at 26, Vancouver in 2015 at 29 and New England in 2013 at 28).

Winning at home isn’t the be all and end all – see the 2016 Portland Timbers, who augmented 38 home points, the third-most in the league, with an 0-11-6 road record that earned the reigning MLS Cup holders dates on the golf course by the first of November.

But if 30 points is as indicative a threshold as seems evident, the Union have ground to make up. They have 36 remaining home points available. Getting to the 30-point home mark would require obtaining 25 of the 36 left on the board, a return of 69.4 percent. That’s a record of either 7-1-4 or 8-3-1.

It’s a reductive, perhaps bleak way to atomize what remains of the season. But it illustrates a notion widely acknowledged by the Union: The team has to perform better at home. With momentum off a resounding road victory, a relatively healthy squad and the wind at their backs, what better time to make headway on a problem that isn't going anywhere?

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