What a week it was for the Union -- and not in the good sense.
Just three days after losing their second straight U.S. Open Cup final at home and one day after firing embattled CEO Nick Sakiewicz, the Union were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention with a 3-1 loss in Toronto on Saturday.
In this week's Inside Doop, we'll take a look back at the disappointing ending to a crazy week, while also peering ahead to the last two games of another playoff-less season and into 2016.
Three thoughts about Saturday's game
1. Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin admitted after the contest that it was always going to be a challenge "rallying the troops" after a grueling and devastating shootout loss to Sporting Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup final on Wednesday. Making it even harder was the fact that he didn't start his captain (Maurice Edu) and arguably the four best players from that Open Cup game (Vincent Nogueira, Sebastien Le Toux, Tranquillo Barnetta and Fabinho). Not surprisingly, then, Toronto FC took advantage of the Union's depleted starting lineup and tired legs, cruising to a win while dominating most of the statistical categories, especially the possession. And while the Union looked pretty good in spurts, it also didn't look like their heads were in it for the entire game. And, honestly, who can really blame them?
2. One of the few bright spots from the game was Toronto native Steven Vitoria scoring his first MLS goal in front of many family and friends. Curtin was also pleased with how his center back was able to win balls in the air and, for the most, part do a nice job on Toronto's star-studded attack that features three of the league's top players in Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco. But looking beyond the next couple of weeks, it appears unlikely Vitoria will return to the Union after his one-year loan expires. Just like forward Fernando Aristeguieta, he's a good guy in the locker room and a pretty good player -- just probably not good enough for the kind of money that will be required to keep him (and Aristeguieta, for that matter) beyond his loan deal. We'll know more soon, though.
3. Aside from Vitoria's performance, there was a lot for Curtin to consider as he looked at his backline. Andrew Wenger, in the midst of a lost season after a very promising end to the 2014 campaign as a winger, got the start at left back and probably did enough for that to be a possibility for him moving into next season. Richie Marquez had a tough break with an own goal but his emergence as a starting center back remains one of the best things to happen this season for the Union. And Ray Gaddis had another rough game as Toronto's first goal deflected off him and the second goal came after Altidore muscled him off the ball. Gaddis will still likely remain the team's starting right back heading into next season but it wouldn't be surprising if Curtin puts some pressure on him with some outside back acquisitions this offseason.
Three questions for the week(s) ahead
1. The Union are now off for two weeks with their next game not coming until Oct. 18 at Red Bull Arena. All of that time off will certainly be a good thing to clear everyone's head after all the craziness of the past few days. But that doesn't mean they'll be taking it easy for their match vs. the Red Bulls and then their finale vs. Orlando City on Oct. 25. If last season is a good indication, Curtin will still likely play most of his starters and not just throw in his deepest reserves despite being out of the playoff race. But there will be some questions surrounding his lineups to see whether he might give extended time to youngsters like Zach Pfeffer and Eric Ayuk and use the games as possible auditions for on-loan players like Aristeguieta and Vitoria. Heck, it could even be an audition for Curtin himself with a new sporting director coming in soon to evaluate not only the roster but also the coaching.
2. One spot on the field Curtin probably won't tinker with is the goalkeeping spot. Although subbing in John McCarthy for the Open Cup final shootout provided more drama at a position that's had way too much of it here, it seems likely that Andre Blake will remain the starter for the final two games of 2015 and into 2016. The former top overall draft pick is super athletic and has made some tremendous saves over the past couple of weeks. But as someone who's still played very few professional games, there will naturally be some questions as to how he'll handle the starting role for the long-term if, in fact, that's what Curtin decides to do.
3. Will we see Edu any more this season? The Union captain has been hobbled for much of the past two months and didn't look like at his best during the Open Cup final. With the team out of playoff contention, it seems unnecessary to play Edu, especially with three other capable center backs on the roster. Speaking of which, the question of where Edu is better suited -- in the midfield or at center back -- likely will continue next year and his place in the 2016 lineup could very well depend on which new players the club brings on board in the offseason.
Stat of the week
With an assist Saturday, Cristian Maidana tied Giovinco for the league lead with 15, one ahead of Sporting Kansas City's Benny Feilhaber. No Union player has ever finished the season atop the MLS leaderboard for goals or assists.
Quote of the week
"When the weather starts to turn, games tend to have more meaning. Unfortunately for us, being out of the playoffs, that's not going to be the case." -- Union head coach Jim Curtin
Player of the week
Tranquillo Barnetta had what Curtin called a "special night" in the Open Cup final and the Swiss midfielder had a little bit left in his tank for 30 good minutes in Toronto. With each passing game, the summer signing is starting to get more comfortable and he could turn into an MLS star next year with a full preseason to gel with his teammates.