Perception isn't always reality, but the two matched up rather well during the Union's 10-18-6 season in 2012.

As the record suggests, not much went right, and the Union weren't held in high esteem by Major League Soccer opponents.

This year is different. The Union are 7-5-4 heading into Saturday's 5:30 p.m. matchup at PPL Park against a dangerous FC Dallas team that is 8-3-5.

Somebody who had an outside perspective on the Union last year is defender Jeff Parke, who was acquired from Seattle in the offseason.

One of the reasons the perception of the Union has changed is the play of Parke, who has formed a solid central defender combination with Amobi Okugo.

Parke was candid when discussing how his former team and others looked at his current squad.

"From being in the West Coast, a lot of teams that played against Philly felt there were points you knew you were going to get," Parke said. "I realize it was a tough season for them and a time where they were going through some struggles."

Parke said that the Union in his mind were a good team a year ago, but that they just weren't getting the points.

"When you played them, you knew it was a chance to get at least a point," he said.

The Union will hit the midway part of the 34-game schedule with Saturday's game.

"It is a totally different year and a different team, and guys are playing different roles and stepping up," Parke said.

The Union are coming off consecutive 3-0 MLS wins over Columbus and the Red Bulls, both contenders for one of the five Eastern Conference playoff spots.

"I think the last couple of games have changed the feeling about this team from around the league," team manager John Hackworth said.

The Union owned a man advantage from the 28th minute against New York and the Red Bulls were missing three starters. Still, when the teams were at even strength, the Union clearly outplayed the Red Bulls, and one could argue it was their best performance of the season.

"Hopefully those last two games are a good sign for future games here at PPL," Hackworth said.

Last year the Union were just 7-8-2 at home. Now they are 4-2-2 and 3-0 in their last three games at PPL Park. Hackworth hopes they are getting back to their 2011 level. That was the lone season the Union made the playoffs, and they were 7-1-9 during the regular season at home.

Any team that protects its turf will tend to change perceptions.

"We're getting more respect, but with that comes a responsibility to live up to those expectations," Hackworth said.

Of course Parke mentioned that now isn't the time for the players to pat themselves on the back.

"I think we are doing well, but we are not quite where we want to be," Parke said. "As a competitor, I would love to be the top team and have teams chasing us."

The Union are tied for second in the East, four points behind Montreal, which has two games in hand. So this has been a true turnaround for the Union, and just like last year, the perception and reality to this point have been awfully close.

Contact Marc Narducci
Follow on Twitter @sjnard.