CHESTER, Pa. --In the end, no matter how optimistic Philadelphia Union fans were or how much we crunched the numbers, ultimately we knew it would come down to this.
After last Saturday afternoon's 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo at PPL Park here and, combined with other MLS results, the Union (7-13-7) are officially out of the playoff hunt.
There's no doubt the Union played better against Houston than in the 4-1 debacle against the Colorado Rapids on the road the previous Wednesday night (although young Philly striker and fan favorite Jack McInerney did have a nice goal in that one.)
But after goalkeeper Brad Knighton punched a ball back toward a Houston attacker that most people in the stadium felt he should have held, all the old feelings of "coulda-woulda-shoulda been" that have plagued the Union all season came flooding back.
Like Chris Seitz before him, Knighton's erratic play wasted a great effort at the other end of the pitch, as Sebastien Le Toux scored his team-leading 13th goal of the season off a nice assist from Roger Torres. Le Toux's finish was top class, and with 10 assists to his name he's got to be in the reckoning for league MVP.
However, it was another case of the Union being the better team on their own patch of grass but not coming away with the three points. Club captain Danny Califf didn't play in central defense, and striker Alejandro Moreno filled in by taking the armband.
The Union did a nice job of containing Houston striker Brian Ching (who was serenaded, a bit harshly, I think, with chants of "U.S. reject" by the home fans). But the goalkeeping issue won't go away. I still think Seitz has a tremendous upside, but manager Peter Nowak has to address this in the offseason.
What's left are two high-profile home matches at PPL Park (against the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls), and the season finale against the Columbus Crew. The Galaxy, with stars Landon Donovan and David Beckham in tow, touch down for a Thursday night game this week (8 p.m., ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes.)
Make sure to check back with the blog for a recap of that match. The atmosphere at PPL Park should be phenomenal, and the noise and good wishes may be just enough to lift the Union to an upset victory. We shall see.