Sporting director Stewart still has faith in the Union

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Philadelphia Union sporting director Earnie Stewart.

While Union fans haven't been shy about voicing their displeasure over a disappointing beginning to this season, sporting director Earnie Stewart remains confident that things will turn around.

In a wide-ranging interview after practice Wednesday, Stewart said this season is salvageable for the only Major League Soccer team that hasn't won a game.

Despite a late-season swoon, the Union were the sixth and final Eastern Conference playoff qualifier last season. It was the second time they made the postseason in their first seven years.

But this year began the way last year ended, continuing a winless streak that has extended to 15 games (0-9-6). The Union are 0-4-4 this year.

Coach Jim Curtin has received the brunt of the criticism. Still, Stewart, the former U.S. national team star, has held his ground and said he won't be swayed by a vocal group of fans who want to see a new coach.

"You can pretty much know if you have a good coach or a bad coach," Stewart said.

"I have been in situations where changes have been made for change's sake. However you want to view it, some were successful. Some were not successful. It is not something I just believe in."

Stewart insisted he was not inflexible.

"I am not saying nothing will ever change because that is not the case," he said. "You see names change and everything, but the philosophy and thought we have won't change just because we are losing. It wouldn't change me if we would win a couple of games in a row."

This year's disappointing start has been due to two factors:

The new players, with the exception of midfielder Haris Medunjanin, haven't made the impact that was expected when Stewart thought he was two-deep at most positions.

Most players from last year haven't improved, and many have regressed.

One example is second-year defender Keegan Rosenberry, who was benched the last two games. A year ago, he played every regular-season minute and was an MLS all-star. He was invited to the U.S national team camp in January.

In referring to Rosenberry, Stewart said, "I think it is normal for young players that they have a dip in their career. Unfortunately, we have a couple of dips going together."

With a 34-game MLS schedule, there is plenty of time to make up ground. The Union were 4-3-1 in their first eight games last season.

"I still at this moment don't feel the differences are that great, apart from the results compared to last season," Stewart said.

Winning the one-goal games is the difference between being a playoff participant and a spectator. The Union were 2-2 in one-goal matches in their first eight games last season. This year, they are 0-2 in similar games.

While many of the key players returned for the Union, they haven't made up for the loss of midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta, who decided to return to Switzerland. He played the No. 10 spot, the attacking midfielder and offensive orchestrator. His absence has been glaring.

The Union entered Wednesday seven points out of tying for a playoff spot. But when asked if the playoffs are realistic despite this difficult start, Stewart didn't hesitate.

"Yes," he said.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard