Union

Hometown kid John McCarthy relishing time in spotlight for Union

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Hometown kid John McCarthy relishing time in spotlight for Union

CHESTER, Pa. — Before every Jamaica game in the Gold Cup, backup Union goalkeeper John McCarthy would send Andre Blake a text: “Good luck, my son.

Blake — the Union’s first-string goalie who had been with Jamaica on international duty for most of July — was quick to respond, just as he was quick to offer McCarthy luck before Union games. And he’d have no choice but to call McCarthy his “father,” as part of a very important deal they have.

“When we play ping pong, if you lose, you have to call the other person ‘father,’” McCarthy said with a laugh after Union practice Wednesday. “It’s good banter. It’s stuff like that that goes a long way. But we know we have each other’s backs.”

McCarthy may have the edge over his fellow ’keeper in ping pong of late but even he’d admit there’s no one better in goal than Blake.

That makes it more palatable for McCarthy to be the Union's backup, and it makes him hungry to try to live up to the team’s high goalkeeping standards when Blake’s away — which he mostly has over the last five games.

“Everyone wants to play,” McCarthy said. “Being a backup at any level is not fun. But I think I’m in a great situation, if not one of the best. I’m backing up the best goalkeeper in the league, and I get to train with him every day. And I try to take advantage of my opportunities when they do come.”

Although the results haven’t been there, with the team going 1-3-1 in the last five games with McCarthy starting, the Philly native certainly has made the most of his chance, making a handful of the kind of highlight-reel saves that fans are accustomed to seeing from Blake.

McCarthy — who may get his sixth straight start Saturday vs. FC Dallas if a hand injury Blake suffered in the Gold Cup final is not yet healed — said he felt like “overall it’s been a really good run,” pointing to his six-save effort in Kansas City on July 6 as “a special game” for him. 

And Union head coach Jim Curtin has been pleased to see McCarthy putting in strong performances — all while Blake emerged as one of the best players at the Gold Cup.

“Andre’s talent speaks for itself,” Curtin said. “He’s coming off an incredible Gold Cup performance. John’s done a really good job stepping up his game in a tough spot. It’s always hard to play behind someone, especially at the goalkeeper position because there’s always the waiting-your-turn aspect of it. For him to have the success he’s had speaks to all the hard work he’s put in and peaks to (goalkeeper coach) Oka Nikolov and the great work he’s done with all our goalkeepers. You’re happy for Johnny. He’s stepped up in a big way and has done a good job in the games he’s gotten.”

At one point during McCarthy’s run of games, Curtin even said the goalkeeper out of La Salle University had shown him that he can be a full-time starter in this league. And considering Blake is probably good enough to soon play in a top league in Europe, that means the Union may have their next (star?) goalie waiting patiently in the wings.

“That means a lot,” McCarthy said. “They see that I’m growing as a player. It definitely helps with the confidence when a coach gives you praise like that. At any level, that’s huge. I’m happy to hear that and I’m hoping I can keep making the coaching staff happy.”

Given Blake’s impending return to the lineup, McCarthy knows he may not get many more opportunities in games this season. But that doesn’t mean the 25-year-old can’t continue to showcase his growth and technique in practice, where he and Blake consistently offer each other friendly advice.

“Training with Andre every day is a great opportunity for me,” McCarthy said. “He was the best goalkeeper in the league last year and he might be the best goalkeeper in the league this year. … And we have no problem critiquing each other at any point in time. Even as he walks off the field, I’ll say something to him before anyone else does. It’s not like he takes it like, ‘Oh, he’s being a mean dude.’ No, we appreciate each other. It’s good because we have such a good relationship on the field.”

The two goalkeepers have such a good relationship, in fact, that when Blake returned from the Gold Cup, following his devastating injury exit from Jamaica’s title-game loss to the U.S., McCarthy “went right up to him and gave him a hug and said, ‘Dude, you deserved everything in that tournament, you were the best goalkeeper by far, man.’”

And McCarthy knows that Blake will be right there cheering him on if he gets the start vs. FC Dallas — along with many of his family members, old friends from Northeast Philly, and former teammates from La Salle. 

Just like they always do.

“It’s cool to see them all texting me, coming out to the games and really having my back, whether I’m playing or not,” McCarthy said. “Even though I’m the No. 2, I’m home.”

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?

Union blow another lead, beaten by Fire

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Union blow another lead, beaten by Fire

BOX SCORE

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Nemanja Nikolic scored two of his three goals in the second half, increasing his league-leading total to 24, and the Chicago Fire rallied for a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Union on Sunday.

The Fire (16-10-7) moved into third in the Eastern Conference, which would be good for a home game in the playoffs. Nikolic is four goals clear of his pursuers for the Golden Boot with one game to play.

Nikolic opened the scoring in the third minute, getting to a long feed from Brandon Vincent and aided by a bad angle by defender Jack Elliot before beating Andre Blake. Nikolic's penalty kick in the 64th tied it at 2 after David Accam was taken down in the penalty area. Nikolic completed his first career hat trick with an easy finish from the middle of the box on a feed from Brandon Vincent for the game winner in the 78th.

Chicago defender Johnan Kappelhof's own goal put the Union in a 1-1 tie at the six-minute mark and a feed from Haris Medunjanin to Alejandro Bedoya for a chip shot was good for the lead from the 13th minute.

Philadelphia (10-14-9) finished 1-10-6 on the road this season.