Crushing loss to Impact stunts Union's playoff hopes

Crushing loss to Impact stunts Union's playoff hopes

CHESTER, Pa. -- Sitting two points ahead of the Montreal Impact entering Saturday’s match, the Union had a prime opportunity to propel themselves up the Eastern Conference standings and keep pace for the final postseason spot.

Three Impact goals later, that opportunity was squashed.

“We're very disappointed,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “Definitely a missed opportunity for our playoff hopes. We just have to keep pushing and try to get some results away, like we haven’t been able to get the whole season. We just have to keep working hard. This is the end of the season and we have to put our heads down to do everything we can and pick up points.”

Now tied with the New England Revolution with 29 points with 10 games remaining, the dejected Union have fallen six points behind the sixth and final playoff spot while drifting to 10th in the East. The Revs have a game in hand.

“We weren’t good enough in what was a big game,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Now we have to chase, we no longer control our own destiny and we need help and we’re going to need to do things on the road that we haven’t done this year. Are we capable of that? Yes. But did we just make it more difficult on ourselves? Absolutely.”

Curtin wasn’t joking. Starting next weekend, the Union will be tasked with conquering a two-game road trip that starts against the San Jose Earthquakes and ends against Toronto FC. The two clubs have a combined home record of 16-1-7.

But that’s just the beginning. Over these final 10 games, the Union, who are a paltry 1-7-3 on the road this season, must also travel to face the Chicago Fire, Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls, which have a combined 2017 home record of 23-4-4.

“We need to win games on the road,” Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. “We’ve won just one game this season away. If we want to play in the playoffs you need to win games on the road.”

The Union's final stretch would have been a tough road prior to Saturday. But now that the club must find points at places like BMO Field, Avaya Stadium, Toyota Park and Red Bull Arena, that end-of-season gauntlet is even more grueling.

“We all knew the importance of the game,” Union center back Josh Yaro said. “We all knew what we had to do. I think we know what is at stake and from now on. Sometimes good enough is not good enough and I think this is one of those nights.”

With new deal signed, CJ Sapong hungry to 'eat' for Union

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With new deal signed, CJ Sapong hungry to 'eat' for Union

CHESTER, Pa. — When the Union first traded for CJ Sapong ahead of the 2015 season, they knew they were getting a promising young attacking player.

What may have been less expected was Sapong developing into one of the top American strikers, a member of the U.S national team rotation and a foundational player that makes the Union’s entire system go.

So with Sapong’s contract set to expire at the end of the 2018 campaign, the Union knew they had to make sure to lock him up — which they did just one game into the season, signing him Wednesday to a new deal that runs through 2019 with a club option for 2020.

“I hope he continues to progress as a center forward,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart told reporters from the club’s training complex Wednesday. “I think CJ is a person that, [with] the way he takes care of his body and the professional that he is, has a long future in soccer. And he’s still growing as a soccer player.”

At 29, Sapong might not be considered young anymore. But it’s easy to make the case that his best soccer is still in front of him, considering he’s coming off a breakout 16-goal season — the first time in his career he eclipsed double digits — and is set up for even more success this year with the offseason additions of playmakers Borek Dockal and David Accam.

The combination of Dockal’s vision behind him with the speed of Accam and Fafa Picault on either side of him has Sapong as excited as inking a new deal.

“That gives me space to just chill in the box and eat when I can,” he said. “I find it hard to believe we’ll be kept off the scoresheet too many games this year.”

After opening his account in Philly’s season-opening 2-0 win over the Revolution on March 3, Sapong will look to find the back of the net again when the Union return to the field Saturday vs. Columbus at Talen Energy Stadium.

And putting all contract negotiations behind him should only provide further motivation to a player who can now rest easy that Philadelphia will be his home for years to come.

“He’s a guy who’s done everything for the badge, and it’s been a pleasure to work with him and watch him grow and take his game to another level,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I’m looking forward to working with him for the next few years.”

Currently in his eighth MLS season, Sapong said he hopes to, at the least, hit double-digits in goals every year while continuing to do the dirty work and hold-up play that Curtin loves — and has endeared him to Philly fans.

“I owe a lot to Philadelphia,” Sapong said, “and how it’s transformed me as a person and a player.”

The kids are finally all right for Union in season-opening win

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The kids are finally all right for Union in season-opening win


CHESTER, Pa. — For years, the Union have yelled from the rooftops about their youth-first mentality and plan to win through player development.

On Saturday night, that plan finally came to fruition.

"It's a big step for us," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "The fact that some homegrowns weren't just on the field but left huge impacts on the game, it's special."

Anthony Fontana, 18, Auston Trusty, 19, and Derrick Jones, 21, all put their stamp on the Union's 2-0 season-opening win over the Revolution.

Fontana, hailing from Newark, Delaware, and who played 66 minutes at attacking midfield, opened up his MLS account in the 43rd minute when he gathered a tipped ball from C.J. Sapong and placed a confident shot past Matt Turner. 

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play here at this club,” Fontana said. “To be able to actually help the team today feels good.”

His teammates also couldn’t be happier. That includes Union and former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Alejandro Bedoya, who took Fontana under his wing throughout the preseason.

“I’m so happy for him,” Bedoya said. “He’s a good player so I hope he takes a good step this season. Not a bad way to start his debut, to score a goal. It’s just the beginning for him, he’s got a bright future.”

For Trusty, it was all about the clean sheet. Pairing with Jack Elliott on the left side of the Union defensive line, Trusty had the unenviable job of shutting down the Revs’ most potent option, Juan Agudelo. 

“It means a lot, but it’s also the challenge,” Trusty said. “The coach put me up to it and our organization put me up to it and they believe I can do it. I just set out to fulfill my role, do my task and keep the clean sheet and just play my role on the team.”

At one point in the first half, Agudelo beat Trusty and moved in on a breakaway, only for the rookie to catch up and steal the ball back.

“He made a couple key tackles in the box, won a lot of aerial duels in the box, did a lot of the things that don’t show up in the stat sheet for center backs,” Curtin said. “But the thing that makes me most proud is there was a zero at the end of the day. That’s what is most important. That means Auston did the job.” 

And while the win was a productive introduction for the Union’s crop of talented prospects, it was also an unforgettable experience for the local kids.

“It’s amazing,” Trusty said. “Imagine growing up in the Philadelphia area, being a little kid and coming to see these guys play, to be on the same field. I remember buying a ticket and coming to see these guys play and always dreamed of playing for the Union. For it to actually happen is amazing. It’s very humbling. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”