Instead of embracing the opportunity with two hands, the Union dropped the ball at Mapfre Stadium and fell to a 2-0 defeat.
Although the loss was disappointing, Union manager Jim Curtin believes his team will respond on decision day at home versus New York City FC.
“This team won’t be defined by one loss,” Curtin said. “We’ve had a great season, we’ve deserved to be where are in the table going into the game in second place, tied with Atlanta.
“It’s an opportunity missed, but at the same time, I know this group and I know they will respond well in our final game at home against New York City FC.”
Finishing the regular season well is imperative for the Union, with the No. 2 seed still up for grabs. A win combined with an Atlanta United draw or loss against the New England Revolution would give Philadelphia the potential of hosting two postseason games.
The Union received help from the Revs, who clinched the seventh playoff spot in the East with a win over NYCFC Sunday, but Philadelphia could not take advantage. Bruce Arena’s New England team could jump Toronto FC into sixth with a decision day win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
No matter what happens in the standings, the Union must create some confidence and momentum heading into the two-week layoff before the first round of the postseason Oct. 19 and 20.
A year ago, the Union lost back-to-back games to the New York Red Bulls and NYCFC before faltering in the first round at Yankee Stadium.
In 2016, the Union pulled two points from their final seven contests before dropping an opening playoff match to Toronto FC.
And in 2011, Philadelphia won one of its last four matches before losing a two-game playoff series to the Houston Dynamo.
But there is reason to believe the this team will enter the playoffs with a victory for the first time in club history. Since the start of July, the Union have taken 14 points from six home contests, including a four-point stretch versus Atlanta United and Los Angeles FC.
“It was a tough loss today,” defender Kai Wagner said. “We can all be frustrated about the game today, but it’s still a very good season for us. Just keep our heads up and have a good game next week against NYCFC and keep pushing in the playoffs.”
The Union have earned points in all but one of their games following losses in 2019. The lone exception was two straight defeats to begin the season.
In the matches immediately following their past five losses, the Union have picked up 15 points. The Union know how to bounce back, something they did to earn a road win in San Jose last Wednesday. They need the same form to return this Sunday in order to have a shot at the No. 2 seed.
“The last time we lost a game, we all pushed ourselves in training, and we know that next week is a big game for us,” Wagner said. “We can still get second place. We have to keep pushing and don’t think about playoffs right now, just think about winning against NYCFC and see how the playoffs works out for us.”