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C.J. Sapong, Union topple Revolution with dominant shutout win

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C.J. Sapong, Union topple Revolution with dominant shutout win

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- C.J. Sapong and the Union took two minutes to claim the lead and didn’t look back, punishing the shorthanded New England Revolution, 3-0, Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium.

“All 11 players and substitutes that came on, they all contributed to the three points,” Union center back Oguchi Onyewu said. “It’s a testament to our growing as a team and our toughness in terms of playing against us. I don’t think that any team can say we’re an easy team to beat or play against.” 

Before fans settled into their seats, the Union took the advantage. Breaking down the left side of the Revs' box, Sapong’s attempted cross hit the extended left arm of Benjamin Angoua on the line. Without hesitation, referee Chris Penso pointed to the spot for the fortunate Union penalty kick.

Lining up, Sapong stutter-stepped before pounding a rocket high and down the center past Cody Cropper to make it 1-0. It was Sapong’s team-leading and career-high ninth of the season, along with his first in four games.

“I’m seeing my battling throughout the game is paying dividends for myself and my teammates around me,” Sapong said. “So I just want to keep doing that.”

Still, the visitors pressed. 

With the Revs controlling play throughout the first half, Union goalkeeper Andre Blake was called upon once again to play the savior. In the 12th minute, off a midfield turnover, the Revs gained the Union box and on a two-on-one, Teal Bunbury slid the ball over to Kei Kamara for a right-footed shot which Blake bodied away. 

“It was a turnover and I just tried to get a read on it,” Blake said. “I saw he was gonna pass to him so I knew I just had to get out and make myself big and to hopefully see if I can get a piece of it. That’s what happened.”

Blake finished with the three-save shutout. It was his seventh clean sheet of the season.

“I think there was a few instances where they got in behind us,” Onyewu said. “But that’s why we have a world-class goalie like Andre to do his job and do what he’s paid for.” 

The save loomed large, as three minutes into the second half the Union doubled their lead and put a chokehold on the match. Pushing down the right side on a fast break, Fafa Picault stopped and flipped a pass to the streaking Ilsinho, who split defenders and took a shot off the bounce that found the top of the net. 

“Haris found Fafa for a through pass, and Fafa found me and I took a good shot,” Ilsinho said. “Thank God, I scored my second goal of the season.

“When I was running, I read it so fast and I didn’t see anyone inside the box. I tried to shoot and score or the keeper saves it and someone else takes the rebound.”

The dismantling of the Revs continued in the 78th minute, when Roland Alberg, moments after entering the game for Ilsinho, ripped a rocket from around 30 yards out that beat Cropper and into the top right corner for the 3-0 win.

“To score the goal that Roland did, how quickly he releases that shot is world class,” Union manager Jim Curtin said.

Without midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who is away with the U.S. Men’s National Team for Gold Cup duty, the Union have registered back-to-back wins to move their record to 6-7-4. Meanwhile, the Revolution entered Sunday’s match without leading scorer Juan Agudelo and key midfielder Kelyn Rowe, who are both working the Gold Cup with Bedoya. The Revs, who are now 5-8-5, were also down suspended Diego Fagundez for the match.

“We’re not perfect and we’re not going to win the rest of our games, but at the midway point now, we’ve put ourselves in a spot with a couple games in hand on a lot of teams,” Curtin said. “We have to take care of business with those games in hand.”

Union midfielder Brian Carroll to retire after 15 MLS seasons

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Union midfielder Brian Carroll to retire after 15 MLS seasons

CHESTER, Pa. — Brian Carroll didn’t play a single minute in his first year in Major League Soccer.

That was in 2003.

Fourteen years later, he’s set to retire as one of the longest-tenured and accomplished players in league history.

Carroll, a mainstay of MLS and the Philadelphia Union, announced his well-deserved retirement Thursday ahead of the Union’s 2017 finale vs. Orlando City SC on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium (4 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia +)

If he plays in Sunday’s game, it will be his first minutes of the season as age and injuries have started to creep up to the 36-year-old defensive midfielder who’s been battling for a time in a crowded position.

But as recently as last season, Carroll was still a key player for the Union, who he spent seven of his 15 MLS seasons with, wearing the captain’s armband at times and being a consummate pro in an ever-changing locker room.

In all for the Union, Carroll has played 13,818 minutes, the most in franchise history, and 165 games, second only to Sebastien Le Toux.

Throughout his MLS career, the savvy midfielder known for his tremendous work rate played a total of 370 games (tied for fourth in league history) and 30,776 minutes (sixth all-time), winning championships with his two previous teams — D.C. United in 2004 and the Columbus Crew in 2008. He also won the Supporters’ Shield four straight years, with D.C. in 2006 and 2007 and with Columbus in 2008 and 2009.

His teams made the playoffs in his first nine years in the league, a streak that culminated with the Union’s first-ever postseason appearance in 2011 — his first season in Philly.

Carroll, a former star player at Wake Forest, also had success at the international level, earning eight caps with the U.S. national team and also playing for a couple of U.S. youth teams.

The father of three now plans to move to Indianapolis with his family and embark on a new career in financial planning.

Inside Doop: Lack of star power continues to doom Union

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Inside Doop: Lack of star power continues to doom Union

At long last, the Union’s season is coming to an end. Even better, they no longer have to play any games on the road this year.

In their final away match of a disappointing 2017 campaign, the Union let a lead slip away in a 3-2 loss to the Fire, finishing the year with a dismal 1-10-6 road record.

What went wrong? And what can we expect from next week’s regular-season finale at Talen Energy Stadium? Here’s a look in the final Inside Doop of 2017:

Three thoughts about Sunday’s game
1. The Union were once again reminded what star power can do for a team. On Sunday, the Fire’s Nemanja Nikolic put on a show with three goals — his 22nd, 23rd and 24th of the season — to all but wrap up a Golden Boot crown and put on his back a Fire team that was without fellow star Bastian Schweinsteiger. In Philly’s last road game, Atlanta also overcame the loss of star Miguel Almiron to ride Josef Martinez to a big win. That’s what happens when you spend a lot of money: you have a stable of difference-makers and their presence trickles down to the rest of the club. The Union, simply, don’t have anything close to that — one of the big reasons why they can’t play well for 90 minutes on the road and why they’ll be missing the playoffs for the sixth time in the franchise’s eight-year history.

2. The closest thing the Union do have to a true star, apart from goalie Andre Blake, is the midfield combo of Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. And both overcame their recent heartbreak of missing out on the World Cup (Bedoya with the U.S., Medunjnanin with Bosnia and Herzegovina) to put in strong shifts. Medunjanin’s pass to set up Bedoya’s second goal of the season was a thing of beauty — and marked his 11th assist of the season. Say what you want about the Union, but those two are consummate pros and locker room leaders who will do everything in their power to get this thing turned around in 2018.

3. Sadly for the Union, one of their best stories of the season — Jack Elliott — had a night to forget. The rookie center back, who went from fourth-round draft pick to Rookie of the Year contender, lost track of a long ball on the Fire’s first goal and then committed a penalty to set up Nikolic’s second goal. Elliott will still be an important piece heading into 2018, but it’s important to remember that he’s no sure thing, especially after seeing what happened to Keegan Rosenberry and Josh Yaro in their second seasons. Meanwhile, Richie Marquez continued his late-season revival with one of his better games of the year. Raise your hand if you have any kind of handle on the team’s center back situation right now.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. Home finales are usually special no matter how a season turns out but it’s hard to figure what kind of crowd and reception there will be when the Union take on Orlando next Sunday (4 p.m., 6ABC). This has been a trying season for Union fans who watched their team fail to build on any kind of momentum from last year’s playoff berth while lowly teams like Chicago or expansion teams like Atlanta (for the reasons listed above them) skyrocketed past them. At the same time, the Union have been mostly fun to watch at home, where they’ve set a franchise record with nine wins. The chance to go for a 10th victory and have C.J. Sapong break the single-season scoring record could be a couple reasons that people will flock to the stadium — that, and the realization that there will be no more soccer there until March.

2. Another big reason to come to Talen Energy Stadium is to see Kaka, the Brazilian legend who will play his last game in MLS. Who will play their last game for the Union? It’s hard to say for sure but Roland Alberg, Ilsinho, Chris Pontius and Brian Carroll are decent bets as an offseason potentially filled with turnover looms.

3. How will head coach Jim Curtin construct the lineup? He doesn’t like to switch things too much, but fans may be clamoring for young guys like Derrick Jones and Adam Najem while Curtin may want to give something of a send-off to Carroll or Charlie Davies, well-known veterans who have hardly played this year. And what about Maurice Edu? He hasn’t played in more than two years — but will a player who led the Union to back-to-back U.S. Open Cup finals in 2014 and 2015 get to say goodbye to fans in some way?

Stat of the week
Even after Bedoya’s goal Sunday, the Union’s four highest-paid players — Bedoya, Edu, Ilsinho and Jay Simpson — have combined for only seven goals this season.

Quote of the week
"It was definitely nostalgic to come back and play at Toyota Park. When I was younger in the U-16s and the U-18s, I played a lot here when I was with the academy. It was good to come back on the professional side and be able to play on the same field I play it on when I was younger." — Union rookie Marcus Epps

Player of the week
Bedoya scored a very nice goal, made a couple of perfectly timed tackles and generally looked sharp in his first game back from the USMNT’s World Cup qualifying failure. Maybe he should’ve played in Trinidad, huh?