It was an unbelievable scene Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium as the Philadelphia Union all but guaranteed their first playoff berth in five years.
There were hugs and cheers and fireworks and pure jubilation and … and actually none of that happened at all.
In fact, it was the exact opposite as the Union played perhaps their worst game of the season in a 2-0 loss to Orlando City as some fans left early and booed, the only solace coming from the fact that the New England Revolution lost to the Chicago Fire at the same time — a result that, barring a near-impossible turn of events in next week’s regular-season finale, means Philly will still sneak into the playoffs, perhaps on a seven-game winless streak.
How Union, right?
First, it should be said that making the playoffs is still an accomplishment.
Yes, it’s a little silly that six out of 10 teams in the Eastern Conference get in. Yes, the Union will finish with a below-.500 record. Yes, falling from first to sixth in the East over the past few months has been frustrating, marked by an ugly slide to end the season that will ensure them a brutal first-round road game, probably against a star-studded team like Toronto or New York City FC.
But, let’s be honest, this team was never a true MLS Cup contender. They remain in a building process with a first-year sporting director, a first-year practice facility, a first-year minor league affiliate and a first-year star Designated Player in Alejandro Bedoya, who’s still getting his feet wet after coming to town this summer. Some of their top players are rookies who figure to only get better with time. And let’s not forget that their captain Maurice Edu hasn’t played all year.
So, yes, making the playoffs is not nothing, especially when you consider all the disappointments of the past few years. You could even go as far as calling it a good building block going into 2017, even if they get bounced in the first round as expected. And if they win a game while there, it would suddenly turn an average season into a, dare we say, successful one.
The problem, of course, is there’s now little buzz and excitement surrounding the team because of their recent run of form. Union head coach Jim Curtin said there’d be a different feeling if they were charging into the playoffs on a roll like D.C. United, and he’s right. But there’s something to be said at peaking at the right time like D.C. as opposed to a team that’s backing their way into the playoffs like Philly.
And considering that all the Union had to do was tie an already-eliminated Orlando team to officially clinch a playoff spot and instead gave up a horrendous goal while failing to score any of their own is, well, not a good October omen.
It also put Curtin in a weird position of wanting to sort of celebrate his team getting into the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history but, at the same time, not really knowing how to react.
Leave it to the Union to have something good happen and it STILL feels bad.