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February 18, 2015 at 6:00 AM

MLS Countdown, No. 17: Philadelphia Union

We’re counting down the days until the Major League Soccer opener — Chicago at Los Angeles on March 6 — by marching backward through Matt Pentz’s projected league standings for upcoming season.

Today, we catch up with a Philadelphia Union team that looks very similar to last year’s version.

A refresher: Philadelphia had a thrilling run through last year’s U.S. Open Cup bracket, overcoming FC Dallas on penalties in the semis and pushing the Sounders to extra time in a heart-racing final at PPL Park. If a few stoppage time bounces would’ve went differently, 2014 would’ve been remembered fondly by the Sons of Ben as the year of the club’s first major trophy.

Instead, last season is more likely to inspire mutterings and might-have-beens tossed with a few expletives. The Union won just one and lost three of its final seven regular-season matches to free-fall out of the playoff places. Philly missed the postseason for the fourth time in its five MLS seasons courtesy of some stretch run bloopers and some headline-making goalkeeping gaffes.

The pessimist’s take: The Union didn’t get much worse this offseason, but nor did it get much better.

Despite representing the nation’s fourth-largest television market, Philadelphia often behaves as a small-market club within the confines of Major League Soccer. Re-signing Maurice Edu to a designated player deal was an exception, but again, all it did was keep the status quo intact.

Stagnation often means a team is going backward, especially when contenders around them are all taking proactive steps to improve.

The optimist’s take: Cue up a replay of the U.S. Open Cup final, and you’ll see a resilient team unwilling to cede an inch to the favored visitors. That Union was confident itself and its game plan, a 120-minute picture of the blue-collar ethos that coach Jim Curtin talks about wanting to instill.

Curtin still carried the interim prefix to his title that night in September, shedding it a few months later. He’s a Philly guy himself, and hopes the city will respond to a team that mirrors its espoused virtues. Such a team might learn to grind out enough wins to vastly outperform this ranking, too.

Check back tomorrow, as the countdown continues with the No. 16 Colorado Rapids … 

| More in MLS, MLS Countdown

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