Clinched: Six-Straight Union Playoff Appearances is an Achievement That Can't Be Overstated
This Philadelphia Union season has been the soccer version of that Greek guy Sisyphus, who rolls the boulder up the hill, almost reaches the top, and then watches the boulder roll all the way back down.
It started in May, when Jim Curtin’s team went all the way to the Champions League semifinal before LAFC thrashed them 3-0 in the second leg. Then they rolled the boulder back up the hill, only to get thrashed in another semifinal, this time coming up pitifully short against Lionel Messi in a Leagues Cup home game.
They’re in the process of rolling the boulder up the hill for a third time now, losing just once in all competitions since defeat at the hands of Inter Miami. They first dispatched Monterrey’s backups to claim a spot in next year’s Champions Cup, then they clobbered DC, lost a stinker in Toronto, hammered New York, and earned a pair of draws to clinch a playoff spot with six games left to play:
Never a doubt.
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) September 21, 2023
It might not seem like much, since clinching early is now expected for this team, but we’re talking about the same Philadelphia Union that didn’t win a single fucking playoff game until their 10th season of existence. Since getting over that hump in 2019, they’ve gone on trips to the Eastern Conference Final and MLS Cup, which they should have won last year. No doubt, this is a grizzled team with playoff experience and there are a half-dozen remaining fixtures to improve their seeding, which currently is fourth in the east with a game in hand on all three teams currently above them.
The thing that sucks is that the Union are now the Eagles. They’re good, and they’re expected to win, so when they don’t, we get fidgety. We lament losses like Miami and LA because we know those were imposter performances. That wasn’t the same Union squad that scored twice on the road to eliminate Atlas from the CCL. That wasn’t the same Union squad that came back from a goal down in the Eastern Conference Final to beat New York. They can be, and typically are, so much better than what we saw in those 2023 semifinal games.
But the high expectations, while justified, shouldn’t overshadow achievements that are worth lauding. Making the playoffs six times in a row is impressive, and it’s not like they’re sneaking in as the last team here. They’ve been a top-three seed four seasons in a row and will likely be a top-five seed unless shit hits the fan coming down the stretch.
If we go by current playoff streaks, it’s:
- Eagles: made it 5 of the last 6 seasons
- Union: six straight appearances
- Phillies: broke a 10-year drought last season
- Flyers: three-years, no playoffs
- Sixers: six straight appearances
And yeah, it’s much harder to make the playoffs in MLB, for example, but the U have outperformed the Sixers and Flyers quite easily over this stretch while holding the same lofty expectations as the Eagles and Phils. Jim Curtin always does more with less, and has taken a blue collar group of overachievers to the postseason every year now since 2018.
Most Philly teams would have let the boulder roll down the hill and remained completely flattened, but the Union dust themselves off, regroup, and keep pushing the stupid rock up the incline. That’s commendable, because lesser squads would have folded twice already this season.