CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union stumbled into the postseason yet again.
Sunday’s 2-1 loss to New York City FC means they will enter the playoffs with one victory in their last five games.
The poor run of form follows an infamous trend of struggling ahead of playoff games. A year ago, the Union won one of their last four, and in 2016 they took one point from the final five.
“The only difference (between 2018 and 2019) is we play at home (in the playoffs) because last year we played away,” Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. “What is bothering me is we have a good season and then we finish like this. For me, the thing is you should enjoy playing against a first-place team. You should be pressing them, be all over them. They came here the first 30 minutes like they were on vacation and could do whatever they want.”
The main difference between 2019 and previous seasons is Jim Curtin’s side will host a playoff game. On Oct. 19 or 20, the New York Red Bulls will visit Talen Energy Stadium.
During Sunday’s regular-season finale, visiting NYCFC took the lead seven minutes in by way of a Ronald Matarrita shot from the left side of the box. The Costa Rican was not supposed to be in the starting lineup. He was a last-minute replacement for Héber, who injured his calf during pregame warmups.
Philadelphia also had to made a late change to its lineup, with Kacper Przybylko suffering a left foot injury during warmups. The Union were also without Alejandro Bedoya due to a quad strain.
Oct 6, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York City FC midfielder Ismael Tajouri (29) shoots and scores as Philadelphia Union defender Mark McKenzie (4) defends in the first half at Talen Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
Without their leading scorer, Przybylko, the Union put five of their 14 shots on goal, most of which occurred after Domenec Torrent’s New York side took a two-goal lead.
Ismael Tajouri-Shradi was credited with NYC’s second goal, but the ball took a wicked deflection off Philadelphia’s Jamiro Monteiro on its way past goalkeeper Andre Blake.
“When you don’t play disciplined against a good team, then they will tear you apart,” Medunjanin said. “We should enjoy to play. We are already in the playoffs. We are playing like we are fighting for the playoffs.”
The Union created some positive moves forward through Brenden Aaronson and Haris Medunjanin, but NYCFC’s lead never felt threatened.
Marco Fabian scored the lone Union goal in the 87th minute from the penalty spot. A handball on NYCFC warranted the call and the Mexican buried the shot into the top-right corner.
“In the second half, I think we came out stronger and with more intensity and fought harder, but we need to start fighting from the beginning,” Union defender Mark McKenzie said.
The result kept the Union in third place in the Eastern Conference. They had a chance to beat out Atlanta United for the No. 2 seed with a win and a Five Stripes loss or draw, but Frank De Boer’s side beat New England 3-1.
Due to Seattle’s win, Philadelphia dropped to fifth in the Supporters’ Shield standings. That means they can’t qualify for the Concacaf Champions League if LAFC, NYCFC or Atlanta United win MLS Cup.
“I would say it’s a new year, so we start the year with a clean slate,” McKenzie said. “I don’t think we carry anything from last year to this year. We’re pissed off now, and we have to really look at what we did wrong in this game and sharpen up and we have a Red Bull team who we just played a couple of weeks ago, we weren’t able to get points at their place, and now they come to our place and we’ve got to be able to get the win in front of our fans and fight for the next-round spot.”