The last few weeks the Union have faced several teams that most would consider elite in Major League Soccer. On April 16th, the Union went to Seattle to play the Sounders. On May 11th, the Union welcomed the LA Galaxy. Three days later, the Union went to Montreal to play Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti. Last week, the Union went down to play Kaka and Orlando City at the Citrus Bowl and the Colorado Rapids, the league leaders, in Denver.
The Union lost their game against Seattle 2-1, and then tied against LA, Montreal, Orlando and Colorado, 2-2, 1-1, 2-2, and 1-1 respectively. The Union appeared to be the better team in each of those games at least for a half if not the whole game. But to be elite, the Union can’t afford to drop eleven points in those five games.
Don’t get me wrong, the Union are a very good team. Behind a new and extremely young defensive line, the Union are tied for 3rd in goals against with 13. The team is tied for 10th in goals for with 17. That is an average 1.42 goals per game. But in general, the team needs to be averaging about 2 goals a game to consistently win. The offense, led by CJ Sapong, Chris Pontius and Tranquillo Barnetta, seems to tear down the sidelines on breakaways and have fantastic opportunities but they sit just 11th in the league in shots and shots on goal. The Union need to do more with those chances, especially against the top teams to be truly elite.
While one could say the defense is playing fantastic and offense is doing just enough to win games, the Union need to maintain focus for a full 90 minutes. Against each of the aforementioned teams, the Union had one or two slipups that led to goals in an otherwise great defensive game.
Between not marking top players on set pieces or Fabinho getting burnt down the left side, the Union have consistently relied on Blake to bail them out. He does so consistently, being nominated for Save of the Week six times in 12 weeks, but if you don’t maintain focus on defense, Blake can’t save them all.
While you may say neither of the Orlando goals last Wednesday should not have counted, (which is true), the Union did put themselves in a position that the goals were a possibility.
In addition, some boneheaded tackles need to be reduced. The Creavalle red card against Chicago and the Alberg red card against Seattle both led to losses for the Union.
So in order for the Union to be considered elite, they cannot drop points in games they are dominating in. The team prides itself on its seven game win streak but when five out of seven of those games are draws, the Union do little to separate themselves at the top of the conference. That is the difference between elite teams and good teams. The ability to take to take control of a game on both sides of the ball and to walk away with three points from both home and away games. The Union have a shot to go into the international break with a game tonight against the struggling Columbus Crew. The Union should win against the 9th place team in the Eastern Conference but a draw or loss could potentially see the Union get hopped over by NYCFC if they win tomorrow. This game becomes a must win for the Union if they are to continue on the path to being an elite team.