There’s a point in every season for the Union where fans start to measure the success of the current team against the success of a team from the past. If the barometer for success to Union fans is making the playoffs, it’s easy to narrow that comparison down to one – the 2011 team.
As the only Union team in franchise history to reach the playoffs, the 2011 team started the season off fast to a 4-2-1 start (13 points) through the first seven matches. They allowed just three goals in that timespan, while netting five for a plus-2 goal differential.
Through seven matches for the current Union team, the team is out to a surprising 4-3-0 start (12 points), giving them sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference. They’ve allowed seven goals, while netting 10 for a plus-3 goal differential at the moment.
“It’s a good start to the year,” manager Jim Curtin said. “We knew it was important to have a good start. We’ve had a lot of positive changes in the organization and now you’re seeing the results justify and give a belief to the players. They’ve really bought in and they deserve a lot of the credit.”
The comparisons to the 2011 team are clear. Out of the gates, a strong defensive unit has anchored an offense that is beginning to find its stride. C.J. Sapong, who has netted two goals in the past three matches, now ranks 10th in the MLS in scoring with four goals and has been deemed by manager Jim Curtin to have come from “Planet Lovetron” after his most recent performance.
Sapong doesn’t have to look far for advice when it comes to staying consistent in the scoring department. Teammate Sebastien Le Toux led the 2011 team in scoring with 11 goals and continues to be a factor in the team’s success in 2016.
“As a center back you do not want to play against C.J.,” Curtin said. “He’s a pain in the butt to play against, he holds the ball very well and he is in a good spot right now. But, I do think there’s something to the fact that we were happy with him, and we think he can be the guy who gets the 15 goals, the 20, whatever it is.”
In this past Saturday’s 2-0 shutout of NYCFC (1-3-4), Curtin became the all-time winningest coach (26 wins) in Union history, but he’s not about the accolades. He’s happier to see the growth of this team and how far they’ve come. He’s dialed in for Saturday’s match against the San Jose Earthquakes (4-2-2), led by MLS leading scorer Chris Wondolowski (7 goals).
“[Wondolowski’s] as good as anyone at arriving in the box,” Curtin said. “[He] runs as hard as anyone and will sacrifice his body. [He’s a] great player, he’s had a great career, he’s a great professional, and a really good person, too. I can’t say enough about him, he’ll be a handful for our guys, another tough task that he’s not just a one-person assignment, everybody has to be aware of him because his movement is so good in the box.”
A win would bring the Union their best start in franchise history. But the mindset of the team is that of its coach, accolades aren’t as important as growth. Growth will take this team to the next level.
Saturday’s match will be played at Talen Energy Stadium and will air at 4 p.m. on ABC.