Not every team is going to be happy come the end of the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, that is just the nature of sports. The goal though is to take the positives learned from the season and try to expand on those going into the next campaign.
For the Philadelphia Union, they showed plenty of growth despite their playoff exit on Wednesday night against NYCFC. Jim Curtin’s team eclipsed 50 points in the regular season, the most in club history. They advanced to their third U.S. Open Cup final, despite falling to Houston back in September. Midfielder Borek Dockal led MLS in assists with 18 while centerback Auston Trusty was one of four field players to play every minute this season.
Now with the season over, the goal for the Union will be to take that next step in 2019. Roster moves are bound to happen as is with every team in professional soccer. Curtin’s future is undecided as he is not under contract for next season, but the veteran head coach remains proud of his team for their success.
“I still cannot be prouder of my team for the season that we’ve had,” Curtin said. “We had a lot of younger guys in the squad who have grown throughout the season so tonight will only make them better. As difficult as the end of the season is, there is only going to be one team smiling at the end of it.”
“We aren’t going to be that team this season, we fell short,” Curtin continued. “I’m still happy of what we did achieve but tonight we were a little naïve against a good NYCFC side. We were a little young and they were able to punish us but that is the reality of things. The club has an identity of good young, American players and veteran players who can play with anyone in this league, home or away. A group that isn’t scared of anybody and it may not look great on the scoreboard but still a lot of positives to take away from tonight.”
Sporting Director Ernst Tanner will head into his first full season with the Union after taking over for the departed Earnie Stewart. Whether or not Tanner sticks with Curtin remains to be seen, but the former Red Bull Salzburg and Hoffenheim academy coach has a lot of exciting players remaining on the squad.
U.S. youth internationals Mark McKenzie and Trusty headlined a backline that finished tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference for goals conceded. Jamaican international Andre Blake kept 10 clean sheets, while also winning some matches with his heroic efforts in goal. International teammate Cory Burke led the team with 11 goals in his first full professional season, while Fafa Picault chipped in 10 on the wing.
Dockal, who sparingly received playing with Chinese outfit Henan Jianye, joined on loan and was one of the top midfielders in MLS. Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin were the vocal leaders of the midfield, being not only teachers for the young players but vital to the team’s successes. Despite the disappointment of their playoff exit, the future looks bright for the Eastern Conference club.
“Tonight was a learning experience, but I’m proud of the guys for what we’ve done,” Bedoya said. “Defensively a lot of young guys earned playing time this season and gained valuable experience for the future. The last few weeks have been important to this season and this is just another thing to take in.”
“I wish we could’ve had a better end to the season,” Bedoya continued. “Wish we could’ve brought home an Open Cup final, but I stick with this club. When you take a step back and look into perspective, there is a lot of bright spots for this team. I think the club is going into the right direction.”