Inside Doop: Andre Blake's huge game spoiled in Union's 2nd straight loss

Inside Doop: Andre Blake's huge game spoiled in Union's 2nd straight loss

It looks like the Union’s big turnaround has been put on hold.

After starting the season on an eight-game winless streak and then following that with a club-record four-game winning streak, the Union lost their second game in a row over the weekend.

What went wrong in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to New York City FC? And how can the Union regroup during the league’s international break? Here’s a look in this week’s Inside Doop.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. Almost two months ago, David Villa embarrassed Union goalie Andre Blake with a goal from practically midfield. This time around, Blake showed Villa — who Union head coach Jim Curtin called the best player to ever play in MLS — that he’s got some magic in him too, making a handful of incredible saves and visibly frustrating the Spanish legend. Blake’s heroics even caught the eye of New York City FC coach Patrick Vieira, who said the Union goalie was “fantastic.” So the fact that it wasn’t enough for the Union to squeak out a road point must have been hard for them to swallow.

2. A couple of old problems from seasons past came back to haunt the Union in this one as they allowed two late goals to blow a lead, both of which were offset pieces. The Union had been much more organized in this regard in recent weeks but were forced to switch their center back duo because of injuries with Richie Marquez coming in for Oguchi Onyewu and Joshua Yaro coming in for Warren Creavalle with Jack Elliot then shifting to the midfield. It’s hard to pin too much blame on Marquez and Yaro since coming off the bench is never easy (especially in Yaro’s case since it was his season debut). But it’s certainly fair to think that the result would have been different if Onyewu and Elliott had been able to remain in their spots all game.

3. As far as storylines go, Fafa Picault scoring the Union’s only goal was a pretty cool one. Born in Manhattan to Haitian parents, Picault said that this was the first time playing a professional match in his home city and that it was the first time that his grandfather — who once played for the Haitian national team — got to see him play live. The fact that his family then saw him score shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise though. Picault has now scored in three of his last five games — which could be even better if he wasn’t robbed last week. If you look at the way Picault has been playing, along with fellow newcomers Onyewu and Haris Medunjanin, suddenly sporting director Earnie Stewart’s offseason looks a lot better than it did a few weeks ago.

Three questions for the week(s) ahead
1. The Union have been dealing with all sorts of international call-ups of late with Alejandro Bedoya missing Saturday’s game to be with the U.S. national team and Medunjanin, wearing the captain’s armband in Bedoya’s place, leaving afterward to meet up with his Bosnia teammates before a World Cup qualifier. Then there are youngsters Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty who will be returning to the team after the U.S. Under-20’s World Cup run ended with a loss to Venezuela in the quarterfinals Sunday. And finally, we also learned Sunday that striker C.J. Sapong and winger Chris Pontius will be joining Bedoya on Bruce Arena’s preliminary Gold Cup roster for a USMNT training camp later this month. These are all good things but it certainly makes Curtin’s day-to-day duties a little more challenging this time of year.

2. Because of the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, the Union are off until their U.S. Open Cup opener against the Harrisburg City Islanders on June 14, followed by a nationally televised home showdown vs. the rival New York Red Bulls on June 18. Getting four days in between those two games rather than three is a big deal and could mean Curtin won’t be afraid to have a lot of guys go the full 90 minutes in both, especially since he values the Open Cup. Or will Curtin instead opt to throw all his eggs into the Red Bull basket and hope some of the younger backups can prove their mettle against the lower-division City Islanders?

3. Will Curtin and the coaching staff also take this opportunity to reevaluate the backline? It had seemed likely, even with the current group playing so well, that Marquez, Yaro and Keegan Rosenberry would eventually regain their starting spots. But after Saturday’s game, is it fair to say that Onyewu and Elliott are simply better than Marquez and Yaro at this point? And will Rosenberry ever be able to take back his job with Ray Gaddis playing mistake-free soccer? It would be understandable if Curtin sticks with what’s working but it’s also understandable to ask what then happens to Marquez, Yaro and Rosenberry? Will they simply turn into three more once-hyped Union prospects who saw their development stalled and career trajectories altered?

Quote of the week
“Overall, a good performance that gets wasted without any points.” — Union head coach Jim Curtin

Stat of the week
The 14 saves Blake has made in the past two games matches his highest total in any two straight games with the Union.

Player of the week
Blake has had a lot of terrific games for the Union but Saturday’s performance at Yankee Stadium may have been one of his best.

Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

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Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

CHESTER, Pa. — When Saturday’s game ended, Union midfielder Borek Dockal told head coach Jim Curtin two things: that his body felt fine and that he knows he can play a lot better.

That’s probably just about all Union fans need to hear.

Sure, it was a mostly uneventful and somewhat disappointing MLS debut for the team’s new Designated Player in a scoreless draw with Columbus Crew SC (see observations). But it’s also a long season and Dockal is still trying to mesh with his teammates and get his fitness up after dealing with a preseason ankle injury.

“I think he had some good moments,” Curtin said. “I think you can see his quality and how comfortable he is on the ball. He can pass and he looks forward. … [But] it’s been a week where he’s really trained with the group, so you see a ball played behind when he’s looking to play through. It’s going to take a little bit of time. But overall [I’m] happy with the amount of minutes he was able to push.”

Dockal, signed only three days before the start of the 2018 season, was a tougher critic on himself after sometimes struggling to connect passes and move to the right spot in his 77 minutes of action. But the Czech playmaker also acknowledged that he needs more time to adapt to MLS and learn his teammates’ tendencies.

“For me, it was the first game so it was a little bit about how to find my space on the field, to see how my teammates are moving, which kind of positions should I be in the most to help them,” said Dockal, who sat out the Union’s first game — a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution. “So I just have to learn from this first game and be better the next game.”

Expectations will certainly be raised when the Union play their next game, in two weeks, on the road against the Colorado Rapids. But expectations are already high for Dockal, who has experience in the Champions League and with the Czech Republic national team.

Along with fellow newcomer David Accam — who he said the team needs to find more on the wing — Dockal is filling in what was a major position of need last year and should provide a major offensive punch in the midfield, playing in front of veterans Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin.

It just hasn’t happened yet.

“My performance definitely can be better,” Dockal said. “But I have to start at some point so it would actually be a miracle if I played an excellent game today.”

“Overall, it’s a first step and nothing replicates these games,” Curtin said. “We didn’t put him on the ball as much as we would have liked. ... But he's an incredibly talented guy."

Union lifeless in draw with Crew

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Union lifeless in draw with Crew

CHESTER, Pa. — In a matchup of two teams with perfect records, it ended up being a stalemate.

On Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union and Columbus Crew SC fought to a scoreless draw as goalkeepers Andre Blake and Zack Steffen finished with three saves apiece.

The Union move to 1-0-1 on the season while the Crew, who entered the day in first place in the Eastern Conference, sit at 2-0-1.

• With the Union coming off a weird early bye week, the game lacked fluidity for much of the first half as both teams only put one shot on target before halftime. 

• Borek Dockal, the Union’s new Designated Player, made his MLS debut after sitting out the opener. The Czech playmaker looked tentative early in the match and had some giveaways in the second half before coming out in the 77th minute. It’s too early, of course, to make any judgements but that probably wasn’t the kind of debut head coach Jim Curtin hoped to see.

• David Accam, the team’s other prized newcomer, enjoyed good start to the second half and was active throughout in his second game in Philly. It shouldn’t be long before he opens his account for the Union.

• Steffen came through with a couple of big saves early in the second half for Columbus. It might be hard for some Philly fans to see the Downingtown native and former Union academy player on the visiting side, even if they do get to cheer for a star ’keeper of their own in Blake.

• CJ Sapong, fresh off signing a new contract, couldn’t get on the ball much or even get any shots off. The Union striker had three goals and three assists in seven previous meetings against the Crew.

• On the other end of the field, Gyasi Zardes was held in check after scoring three goals in his first two games for Columbus following a trade from the LA Galaxy. That’s a good sign for the progress of Philly’s young center backs, Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty.

• Ray Gaddis entered the game as a halftime sub for Fabinho, who left with a leg injury. Fabinho and Gaddis are both two of the club’s longest-tenured players, and Gaddis being able to play as both a left back and right back is a nice luxury to have off the bench.

• Despite an announced attendance of 15,323, the crowd at Talen Energy Stadium looked smaller than usual — and with less energy. A lot of that probably has to do with the on-field play but in general, the Union seem to have a better home-field advantage during night games, when the atmosphere is more electric.

• A shoutout to the Sons of Ben, though, for unveiling some cool Philly tifo before kickoff — a “cheesesteak shark” preying on a boat of Crew rowers underneath the word “Jawns.” 

• The Union — who are 4-1-1 in their last six meetings with the Crew — are off again next weekend before before facing Colorado on March 31 in their first road game of 2018.