They’re actually the hottest team in town, if you can believe it.

They’ve won five games in a row and are now pushing for a home playoff game while also getting a crack at the U.S. Open Cup trophy next month. They beat the brakes off D.C. United last night and are putting together passages of play where they look more like 2004 Arsenal and less like the perennial underachievers that have slogged through eight underwhelming MLS seasons.

The midweek road win put the Union 10 points clear of the playoff line and prompted this quote from goal scorer Fafa Picault:

I’m floored, seriously, because this team looked like total trash for the first three months of the season. They couldn’t score, the defense was okay, David Accam and C.J. Sapong looked like they forgot how to play soccer, and the Sporting Director left for greener pastures after bringing in zero players during the summer transfer window. Really the only positive thing happening in Chester was the usage of a bunch of academy kids, which connected the youth pipeline from YSC to Bethlehem Steel and on to Talen Energy Stadium.

The reality of the situation is that the Union are now one point behind Columbus for 4th place in the Eastern Conference, a seed that would see them host the 4/5 wild card game at Talen in October. Last night’s win was the 12th of the season, tying the 2013 squad for most wins in a single year. The five-game win streak (all competitions) sets a new franchise record and they also haven’t allowed a goal since August 11th.

They’re still working to erase their negative goal differential, but they’ve climbed comfortably into playoff position with 39 points and a 1.5 PPG number:

Hard to fathom, but the back-end schedule is not murderer’s row. They still need to go to Seattle and NYC FC, but home games against Montreal, KC, Minnesota, and Red Bull are winnable. The 9/29 road trip to Columbus will be the biggest six-pointer of the year.

I won’t go too deep into the weeds with video clips and whatever, but here’s why they’re winning:

  • Cory Burke is starting, scoring, and making intelligent runs in the final third.
  • C.J. Sapong was moved to the wing, where the goal scoring and hold-up play burden has been lifted from his shoulders. He no longer is getting clobbered by a pair of 6’2″ center backs while facing away from goal.
  • Jack Elliott came back into the lineup and is playing lights out at RCB. He is an excellent passer.
  • Andre Blake looks like 2016 Andre Blake
  • the midfield trio of Alejandro Bedoya, Borek Dockal, and Haris Medunjanin seems to have figured out their spacing and they are now humming
  • the fullbacks are excellent in possession and playing at a high level
  • Picault continues to find ways to be incisive on the left wing
  • Jim Curtin made the correct personnel decisions and continues to roll with what’s working

Seriously though, they’re scoring some nice goals. The second from last night featured a line-splitting Bedoya pass that parted the Red Sea for Dockal, who found Sapong after Picault drove a hard diagonal to move the left center back before peeling off to the penalty spot:

They really look like a totally different team. They’ve abandoned their conservative mindset and they now pass the ball with confidence. They know what they’re trying to do, they play assertive soccer on the road, and the midfield quality is the best its been since Vince Nogueira was slinging 50 yard diagonals back in 2015.

The Union completed 556 passes last night at 86% accuracy and out-shot D.C. 13 to 9 in their brand new stadium. They controlled possession 53% to 47%, which is wild for a team that won something like two road games in two years dating back to 2016.

Medunjanin himself completed what appears to 63 of his 73 passing attempts last night:

I still think that Medunjanin is a defensive liability, and I don’t think the Union are in the tier of top teams that includes Atlanta, NYC, and Dallas, among others. They still have some easily identifiable flaws.

But they’re playing at a high level right now, and more importantly, they’re fun to watch, which is all anybody has been asking of this team from its conception.

Enjoy the fun and free-flowing soccer from a team that apparently does not suck after all.