Aug 29, 2018; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid (24) gestures to the crowd after the game against the Philadelphia Union at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
WASHINGTON, D.C. — There’s a negative stigma that surrounds the Philadelphia Union, and up until the last month, it’s been proven true on the field.
Instead of faltering in the middle of the playoff race like past years, the Union reeled off five consecutive victories in all competitions in August to move one point beneath the Columbus Crew in the hunt for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
“We proved to people we don’t suck,” Union midfielder Fafa Picault said. “Everybody thought we sucked. It obvious we don’t. We’re moving up the table and we’re not focused on the teams we below us, we’re trying to get as high as we can.”
Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over D.C. United helped the Union tie their club record for wins in a season, extended their shutout streak to 296 minutes and moved their record against teams beneath them in the East to 8-3-0.
What’s changed from the start of the season is the Union are finding the back of the net more often, and they’re receiving more contributions in the scoring department.
“Even when we weren’t getting results in the beginning of the year, you look back at video and the way we were playing, we were still playing well,” Union captain and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “We just weren’t scoring and keeping clean sheets. We know we have a good team.”
Picault’s 61st-minute strike was his third in his last four starts, C.J. Sapong provided a goal and an assist from his newly-established wing position and before Wednesday Cory Burke scored in all but one of the seven matches he started.
“The more good players on the field, the more we can do,” Picault said. “(Sapong) brings another dynamic part because of his power, speed and technical ability. We have a lot of things we can do up top. We can create a lot and overpower teams offensively. I think it’s working. I think we have to keep it up and stay humble.”
Most importantly, the Union are achieving one of the main goals they set out for themselves at the start of the season.
Wednesday’s win over D.C. was the Union’s fifth on the road, and they’ve racked up more points on their travels because they’ve been able to replicate their high-pressing style from home games on the road.
“From last season to this season, we progressed in terms of, you see the way we play away from home and at home is the same style,” Bedoya said. “We try to build out of the back with our midfielders connecting a lot more. We have one of the better midfields in the league. We have to keep going. Consistency is key. We can’t have any let downs. We have to keep pushing and hope we can keep pushing.”
Both of the Union’s goals on Wednesday were produced out of the back and featured strong build-up through the midfield.
On Sapong’s opener in the 29th minute, Picault pulled down a pass on the left wing and sprung Burke and Sapong forward, where they wreaked havoc in the box before Sapong pounced on a rebound.
The tally notched by Picault featured a slick combination between Bedoya and Borek Dockal in the middle of the park that led to a feed to Sapong, who crossed the ball onto Picault’s feet.
“When I find that position in the middle, Borek is always going to be on either side of the No. 6 or wherever the other midfielder is,” Bedoya said. “I was able to play (Dockal) into space and those are the types of balls that break teams open.
“I played (Dockal) a great ball on the run, he was able to keep going and find C.J. out wide. C.J. picked his head up, and there were good runs into the box. It was a great team goal. That’s what we strive on, ball movement in the middle, and I think D.C. couldn’t get close to us.”
The Union don’t have much time to celebrate their latest triumph, as they visit Orlando City on Saturday in what should be another game affected by the heat.
“Everybody’s working hard for each other on the pitch,” Picault said. “So we just have to keep that up.”