Inside Doop: Although winless streak continues, Union get a positive result

Inside Doop: Although winless streak continues, Union get a positive result

If there's such a thing as a good way to extend a winless streak to 16 games, the Union managed to find a way to accomplish it.

Here's a closer look at their scoreless draw with the L.A. Galaxy on Saturday night and what lies ahead as they continue their quest for their first victory since last August:

Three thoughts about Saturday's game
1. Just like their season opener, the Union flew out early for a game on the West Coast, executed a cautious but effective game plan and walked away with a hard-earned point. Sure, there's nothing sexy about a scoreless draw — the same score as the Union's opener vs. Vancouver in their 2017 debut — but grinding out those kinds of points on the opposite coast are actually quite valuable. Of course, it means less if you don't take care of business at home — which the Union have decidedly not done through the first two months of the season.

2. A week after allowing three unanswered goals in a disheartening 3-3 home draw with the Montreal Impact, the Union's backline stayed mostly organized in their first shutout since the opener. The Union did luck out when the Galaxy's Joao Pedro struck both posts on a shot, but the Galaxy finished with only three shots on target despite controlling more than 60 percent of the possession. It was an important performance, particularly from rookie Jack Elliott and Ray Gaddis, both new to the starting lineup in recent weeks. But this team still needs Keegan Rosenberry (who's been benched for the last two weeks) and Josh Yaro (who's been injured) in there for those two guys to turn what feels like a patchwork backline into a potentially good one for this year and beyond.

3. As much as head coach Jim Curtin likes to say the Union are a great team, it's clear to most people that Philly doesn't have the same kind of talent as other teams, particularly with Yaro and Maurice Edu injured. But there are a few spots on the field where they do have an advantage: at goalkeeper with Andre Blake and in the defensive midfield with Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya. Against the Galaxy, Blake did his part with a couple of nice saves to earn the shutout while Medunjanin looked sharp with his passing and confident with some nice runs and shots from distance. If the Union want to get out of their rut, they'll need the closest things they have to stars to keep making plays like those.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The Union will be happy to return home this weekend — but that happiness might not last for long. If they don't put forth a good effort on Saturday against the New York Red Bulls (7 p.m., TCN) after an 0-2-2 start at Talen Energy Stadium, things could get ugly in the crowd, especially when you consider the Red Bulls are the team Philly fans hate most. Will the Union be able to rise to the occasion and knock off their fiercest rival for their first win of 2017? Or will the weight of the winless streak continue to mess with their heads?

2. When Curtin benched Rosenberry against the Impact and spoke of how Rosenberry needed a spark, it seemed like it would be a short-term thing. But now that Rosenberry was benched for a second straight game over the weekend and the Union earned a shutout without him, could it last longer? Gaddis had a decent game against the Galaxy but did get beat by Emmanuel Boateng on at least one play that could have resulted in a goal. And if Rosenberry — who was one of the team's top players as a rookie last year — sits out for longer, is it possible the lineup move ends up being counterproductive in terms of his own confidence?

3. Another lineup move Curtin made over the weekend was inserting Fafa Picault on the wing in place of Ilsinho. That spot has been in flux this year with Herbers starting the first three games before giving way to Ilsinho, whose dynamic one-on-one skills failed to yield any goals or assists in four starts. All bring different skill sets with Picault best suited to use his speed to get behind fullbacks. It might become a situation where Curtin creates some sort of platoon, leading to the question: Who starts on the wing opposite Chris Pontius against the Red Bulls?

Stat of the week
The Union's 16 straight games without a win is tied for the third-longest streak in MLS history. The longest is 18 — held by the Colorado Rapids (July 30, 2014 to April 4, 2015) and Real Salt Lake (Aug. 10, 2005 to May 6, 2006).

Quote of the week
"We still haven't won, but the last two games we haven't lost. So there are still positives, and we've just got to keep going. Once we can start stopping teams from scoring goals against us, we're going to get our chances and we're going to get our wins."  

Union goalkeeper Andre Blake

Player of the week
In just his third career start, rookie center Jack Elliott did a fine job neutralizing the Galaxy's star-studded play and made a great defensive play in the final minute to clear away danger and preserve the shutout.

Union dealing with all sorts of frustration after another home loss

USA Today Images

Union dealing with all sorts of frustration after another home loss


CHESTER, Pa. — With four of their first five matches at home, the Union had an opportunity to get their season off to a positive start. But with a 1-2-2 record, capped off by a 2-0 loss to Orlando City on Friday night at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union are wondering what went wrong (see observations).

“I didn’t get the job done,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I take responsibility for the group. I know we have a really strong team. We’ve played good soccer at home, we just need to bury those chances.”

The poor results haven’t come from a lack of effort. The Union have outshot opponents, 87-48, this season, and are currently fifth in MLS in possession at 54.3 percent. But like Curtin said, it’s been about the finish. They’ve been outscored, 6-3, this season and are averaging just over a half goal per game.    

“The ball is not bouncing our way right now, it’s not going in the net,” Curtin said. “And with that, confidence drops. I understand the frustration from the fans. The players are frustrated, I’m frustrated and it’s difficult. We need to stick together in the hardest moments.“

According to midfielder Haris Medunjanin, the Union are pressing too hard to score. He said on Friday after the loss that the team was off in every facet, and that the lack of offense isn’t bad luck, but a patience issue.

“We need to keep the ball more,” he said of the midfielders. “We want to attack every attack and that’s not possible. You can’t attack every attack. That was our problem today. We were not patient, we attacked too quick. I think we need to learn from that and play as a team.” 

His frustration was palpable. 

“It’s about scoring goals,” he said. “If you have just one chance and you score a goal and it’s 1-0, it’s enough. It’s about winning games. It’s not about how many chances you create, it’s about scoring goals.”

Between David Accam, Borek Dockal, Fafa Picault and C.J. Sapong, the Union should have enough firepower to find the net. And though it’s not connecting right now, Curtin is confident his team will find that scoring groove. It just has to relax.

“We have quality attackers and they all want to contribute and help,” Curtin said. “Maybe sometimes they press and try to do too much. We have to find the balance. When our team is at its best, it’s Haris and (Alejandro) Bedoya controlling the tempo of the game. Right now, it isn’t clicking. At the same time, I know we have the possibility to break out.” 

Union lose to Orlando City as offense continues to flounder

USA Today Images

Union lose to Orlando City as offense continues to flounder


CHESTER, Pa. — Unfazed by the Union’s opening salvo, Orlando City held strong and punched back. Dom Dwyer and Chris Mueller scored first-half goals for the visitors, as they easily took down the floundering Union, 2-0, on Friday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

Joe Bendik claimed the six-save shutout.

With the loss, the Union fall to a paltry 1-2-2 on the season and a concerning 1-1-2 at home. Orlando City moves to 3-2-1. 

• It wasn’t all bad for the Union. During the first 20 minutes, the hosts fired off four corners, 10 total crosses and seven shots. But as usual, it didn’t amount to much. 

• David Accam nearly broke through in the 27th minute, when he torched his defender and broke in on a partial breakaway. However, his short-side shot hit the side of the net. Impressive work but Andrew Wenger-like finish. That’s a trend this season.

• That lack of finish would haunt the Union in the 38th minute, as Dwyer, kept onside by Matt Real, escaped coverage and accepted a pass from Sacha Kljestan for the easy dish past Andre Blake for the 1-0 lead. It deflated the Union.

• Orlando continued punishment delivery in the 45th, when Mueller claimed a loose ball in the box and walked in net for the 2-0 lead. It was miscommunication and fumble by Jack Elliott and Matt Real that caused the turnover. 

• And if you thought it couldn’t get worse for the Union, it did. Out of the gate in the second half, center back Elliott, arguably the Union’s best player this season, went down injured with what the team called a “right leg injury” and was replaced by rookie Homegrown Mark McKenzie.

• McKenzie, who made the roster over Josh Yaro, joined Real and Auston Trusty on the back line. It gave the Union three Homegrown players on defense alone. With 22-year-old Elliott, the club had the youngest defensive line in MLS history. Add in 19-year-old McKenzie, and the Union set another record. 

• Looking for anything to give his team life, Union manager Jim Curtin pulled Fafa Picault for Ilsinho in the 60th minute. It didn’t work. Picault finished with three shots.

• While the season is still young for the Union, losing at home is a concerning trend. With four of their first five matches at home, this was supposed to be a lucrative stretch. Instead, the club is stumbling into phase two, which features four of five on the road — including FC Dallas, Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Columbus Crew. Next up for the Union: FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium.