Union

C.J. Sapong's natural hat trick helps Union end long winless drought

C.J. Sapong's natural hat trick helps Union end long winless drought

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union can finally breathe.

With a three-goal burst in the second-half, C.J. Sapong and the Union stunned the New York Red Bulls, 3-0, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium, snapping the Union’s nine-match winless streak in 2017 and 16-game winless run dating back to Aug. 2016.

“You can’t put it into words,” said Sapong, whose club is now 1-4-4 on the season. “It’s been a long, hard working road for us to get this win. It’s a beautiful thing. We’re going to let this marinate, but then we still have a lot of climbing to do.” 

The hat trick was the first of Sapong’s career as he moved into a tie with Houston Dynamo’s Cubo Torres for the lead league with seven goals. Andre Blake earned the four-save shutout to claim back-to-back clean sheets. The Red Bulls move to 5-5-1.

“I’ve been adamant about keeping shutouts, being better defensively and giving us a chance to win games toward the end,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “Credit to the whole team. All 11 players, even guys who came in subs, playing together, sliding, shifting, doing all the hard work. C.J. does a lot up there and pays himself back with a hat trick.”

Despite holding 57.8 percent of the possession and playing generally well in the opening half, it was a vanilla stanza for both clubs. The Union, with Oguchi Onyewu in for the ill Richie Marquez and Ray Gaddis in for Keegan Rosenberry at right back, the hosts outshot the Red Bulls, 2-1 but couldn’t generate much else.

“I thought the first half was even the better half for us,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I thought we actually played great soccer with the ball, passed and made them run a little bit with the passes out of the back from the outside back to the opposite center back and made them work a lot.” 

But that changed in the 63rd minute, when Curtin made two tough substitutions, subbing Rosenberry, making his first appearance in three games, for injured Gaddis, while Derrick Jones also replaced hobbled Roland Alberg at the same time.

The moves began a momentum shift for the Union that came to a head in the 74th minute. On a fast break with Alejandro Bedoya, Sapong put the game on his shoulders and fired off a shot that deflected off the leg of Aaron Long and through Luis Robles for the 1-0 Union lead.

“The defender was doing well blocking off Ale,” Sapong said. “I knew I wouldn’t have too much space to get too far wide so I figured to just take a quick touch and shoot. I’ve been a little inconsistent sometimes, I’ll get four shots one game and no shots the next day. I just tried to keep it on goal, it’s a beautiful thing.” 

Sapong wasn’t finished. The forward put an exclamation point on the match in the 81st, when a ball placed across the box was headed down by Pontius and to Sapong at the top of the crease, where he easily placed it in. Sapong completed the hat trick in an 85th, capitalizing on a penalty kick to take the victory.

“I want to thank our fans, the ones that stuck with us now through this tough time,” Curtin said. “It’s difficult. Now you can see when a team has confidence, it’s pretty fun to watch. The building was loud. It was electric. And for the fans that have bailed on us, we understand and we will work hard to win you back. This is a good first step.”

“Relief,” Bedoya said. “It’s a big sigh of relief. Joy is finally back in here. It’s a good solid win against a rival. Red Bull is a good team. I think I can speak for everybody here: it’s a big weight off our shoulders. And smiles everywhere, which is good.”

Union reward Andre Blake with multi-year extension

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Union reward Andre Blake with multi-year extension

Updated 4:52 p.m.

Andre Blake will backstop the Union into the future.

The 27-year-old goalkeeper inked a multi-year extension Wednesday. The deal is expected to make Blake one of the highest paid goalkeepers in MLS and was completed using Targeted Allocation Money. 

Further details were not released.

“I am ready to lead,” Blake said. “I’ll definitely try to lead by my performance on the field and the way I carry myself off the field.”

While the extension was a no-brainer for the Union’s on-field success, the move was also an important one off the field. Historically, the club is known for its roster turnover and lack of continuity. Keeping Blake on the books for years to come gives the Union a well-respected face of the franchise that fans can appreciate. 

“It is a priority for us to build and secure the foundation of the Philadelphia Union, and Andre is as big a part of that foundation as any player,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said. “Ensuring he will be here for years to come is an important step for our club. We’re delighted to sign him to a new multi-year contract and would like to thank him for his dedication and hard work.”

Blake, a former first-overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft and 2016 MLS All-Star, earned the 2016 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honor and claimed the runner-up spot for the award in 2017. He has proven himself to be one of the most exciting and productive goalkeepers in MLS, with 220 saves and 17 shutouts over 65 career matches.

Because of that success, and his heroics, while captaining the Jamaican National Team, Blake is viewed as someone who could transition to a European club. But despite the prospects and rumors, the Union claim there has never been a serious offer for the goalkeeper, making this extension a possibility.

“Right now my main focus is Philadelphia,” said Blake, who has never shied away from his interest in a European move. “I’m not worried about the future. I’m gonna live in the now and continue to work hard and make my performance speak for itself.”

Union's schedule sets team up for hot start

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Union's schedule sets team up for hot start

The Union’s 2018 season schedule was officially released Thursday and it revealed an advantageous start for the club.

After opening their season against the New England Revolution on March 3, the Union will have a week off before hosting the Columbus Crew on March 17. The club then visits the Colorado Rapids on March 31 but returns home to face the San Jose Earthquakes and Orlando City on April 7 and 13.

Five of the Union’s first seven games will be at Talen Energy Stadium, setting them up for important early success, as the team was an impressive 10-4-3 at home last season but went just 1-10-6 on the road.

But the Union’s early fortune quickly turns with five of their next seven games on the road. The team kicks off that crucial run with a three-game road trip starting on May 4 against the reigning MLS champion Toronto FC, and finishing against the Crew and Montreal Impact. That five-in-seven road set also includes the New York Red Bulls and a visit to the irreplicable home confines of Atlanta United.

Notable matches for the Union include the first-ever clash with expansion side LAFC at the freshly built Banc of California Stadium on June 30 and the Union’s first visit to D.C. United’s brand-new Audi Field (expected to open in June). The Union face the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday, Sept. 19 at CenturyLink Field. Minnesota United (2017 expansion team) will make its first-ever visit to Philadelphia on Oct. 6.

As far as national exposure, the Union will be shown on ESPN twice, April 14 vs. Orlando City and Sept. 23 vs. Sporting Kansas City, and on Unimas once on April 28 against D.C. United.