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.