Another packed crowd (18,524) at PPL Park Saturday night, another promising start (a first-half goal by striker Jack McInerney for a 1-0 lead) ... and yet another tie for the Philadelphia Union, this time 1-1 against the Houston Dynamo. They're at 9 draws now through 22 matches, after just 8 in 30 games last season. 

The storyline is familiar, and fans are starting to wonder if this team's early season stay atop the Eastern Conference was just a mirage.  Oh, don't get me wrong ... this second-year version of the Union certainly is miles better of last year's debut team and will definitely make the MLS playoffs.

Yet, there's this nagging feeling that as we enter the home stretch, the Union just may be grasping at straws. A lot of that has to do with the here yesterday/gone today saga of striker Carlos Ruiz. For better or worse, "El Pescadito" made quite an impact in his short time with the Union.

But I'm sure if you asked his fellow strikers Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga, their metaphorical applause for Ruiz would be muted. Le Toux, despite an unquestioned workrate, looks nothing like the player that took MLS by storm last season, while Mwanga has flattered to deceive.

I still can't help but wonder what the ultimate role for young midfielder Roger Torres is on this team. After impressing all observers during the recent friendlies against Everton and Real Madrid, the dynamic Torres has been given a run out from the start in a few league games.

But the plug was pulled on his night at halftime against the Dynamo, despite a first half that saw Torres make his usual darting runs and wreak havoc on the opposing defense. Yes, I get it ... the 140-pound teenager isn't the strongest on the defensive side of things, but that's not what he's out there for.

I've really grown to like Union color analyst Taylor Twellman, who also does work during ESPN broadcasts. As a pesky striker for the New England Revolution, he was very similar to the Phillies' Lenny Dykstra in the 1993 season ... if he was on your team, you loved him. Otherwise, he was a pain in the you-know-where.

Twellman calls it like he sees it from the broadcast booth, and he provides a breath of fresh air to the banalities of JP Dellacamera, who seems to be mailing it in these days after a stellar run himself at ESPN. But while Twellman seems to have his finger on what ails the Union at times, his criticism of Torres seems misplaced.

During the first half Saturday night, Twellman was spot on with his analysis. He said that while Torres attacks well and can always beat the first man, sometimes the second ball "needs to be square," and that just retaining possession is OK. That's a solid interpretation of what's going on, as Torres tends to push the issue sometimes.

But when Torres was substituted at halftime, Twellman was turning cartwheels at the fact Union midfielder Brian Carroll would be "more comfortable" with another player next to him in the second 45 minutes. I'm sorry, but is Carroll's comfort level the key to this team's fortunes? If so, that's setting the bar pretty low.

To continue my Phillies analogy, that's like worrying whether former third baseman Pedro Feliz could handle his place in the batting order at the expense of the Ryan Howards and Jimmy Rollineses of the world. It's the same as some Union fans who can't let go the fact that left back Jordan Harvey was traded to Vancouver recently.

Is Harvey a nice player? Absolutely, but there are slightly bigger fish to fry here. Despite their recent slump in form, the Union's fast start to the season and the fact that the Eastern Conference is extremely mediocre means a place in MLS Cup against a team such as the Los Angeles Galaxy still is within reach.

I've even included a video clip of the Union's win over the New York Red Bulls a few months back to serve as a reminder. Eyes on the prize, boys. Hopefully, Union manager Peter Nowak, assistant John Hackworth and the front office can get the team back on track before the fall weather sets in ,,, and the games really matter.



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