Union

Inside Doop: Don't look now but the Union are suddenly surging

Inside Doop: Don't look now but the Union are suddenly surging

Wait, who are these guys?

For the second straight game, the suddenly resurgent Union obliterated a rival, rolling to a 4-0 road rout of D.C. United a week after walloping the New York Red Bulls, 3-0.

Before that, you might recall, the Union were winless in a whopping 15 straight games dating back to last season. So what changed? And can the Union continue to streak in this direction? Let’s take a look in this week’s Inside Doop.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. The only thing more unlikely than the Union's winning 4-0 was four different players scoring their first goals of the season — and three of them scoring the first goals of their MLS careers. But it may not have been surprising to sporting director Earnie Stewart and head coach Jim Curtin, who have insisted there is quality depth up and down the roster. Perhaps they have a point. Fafa Picault and Fabian Herbers, two wingers who have battled for minutes, scored terrific goals; Oguchi Onyewu, who had lost his place in the starting lineup as recently as two weeks ago, scored his first goal of any kind since 2014; and Haris Medunjanin, a deep-lying midfielder who specializes in passing, opened his own MLS account with a rocket from distance. If the Union can continue to get this kind of offensive production from wingers, defenders and defensive midfielders to help out top scorer C.J. Sapong and others, they’ll continue their charge up the Eastern Conference table.

2. Speaking of Onyewu, it was quite the way to ring in his 35th birthday as his nice header that found the back of the net helped the Union begin to run away from 10-man D.C. United. Perhaps more importantly, he had another good game anchoring a backline that also features rookie Jack Elliott and fullbacks Ray Gaddis and Fabinho as the Union picked up their third straight shutout, matching a club record. Considering Richie Marquez and Keegan Rosenberry — their two top defenders last season and probably two of the most important pieces for the club’s future — were on the bench, the shutout streak is a surprising one. But even if Marquez and Rosenberry — and another potential rising star in Joshua Yaro — eventually make their way back into the lineup, veterans Gaddis and Onyewu deserve a lot of credit for steadying a leaking ship and Elliott for not playing anything like a rookie.

3. As good a night as Onyewu had, no one was better than Medunjanin, who shredded through D.C. United even before they went down a man and added two assists on top of his goal. The Bosnian World Cup veteran had shown glimpses of potential before but had yet to put together a complete game like this since arriving in Philly in the offseason. And while the Union will still have questions behind him and in front of him, the partnership of Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya in the defensive midfield may yet turn out to be one of the league’s best.

Three questions about the week ahead
1. Don’t look now but the Union, once on the verge of a historic winless streak, can finish the week with a not-too-shabby 4-4-4 record, which would put them right back in the thick of a playoff race. More than anything else, that shows the parity that exists in MLS, as well as the fact that too many teams probably make the postseason. Regardless, if the Union can win two straight home games — against surging Houston on Wednesday and struggling Colorado on Saturday — all the talk of Curtin’s job security will go out the window and the club will suddenly be one of the hottest in the league.

2. Playing three games in eight days is never easy, of course, and all eyes will be on Curtin to see what kind of moves he’ll make to keep guys fresh. He probably won’t want to change the backline considering they’re coming off a shutout, nor will he want to mess with the Bedoya-Medunjanin midfield combo. That leaves the attack, where reserves like Herbers and Jay Simpson could make a claim to start one of the two games. And then there’s the question about who starts as the attacking midfielder, which we’ll get to below ...

3. With Roland Alberg out injured last week, Curtin made the somewhat surprising decision to start Ilsinho at the No. 10. attacking midfield spot. And the crafty Brazilian, to his credit, was on the ball a lot and made some nice plays to kickstart the attack. Considering the Union are looking strong on the wing with Herbers, Picault and Chris Pontius, could Ilsinho remain in a more central role, perhaps in a platoon with Roland Alberg? Or will Curtin use this week as an opportunity to throw rookie Adam Najem, who he called a “true No. 10” last week, into the fire? The third option of signing a big-name No. 10 this summer may be the best one, but let’s not rain on the Union’s parade too much right now.

Stat of the week
Saturday marked the first time the Union have had three players score their first MLS goal in the same game.

Quote of the week
“When I saw it go in the back of the net, just emotions took over me. At first I think I was calm, and then it just hit me. And I was like, ‘Alright, let me just run around like a little boy, like I was back to being 23.’” — Union defender Oguchi Onyewu

Player of the week
A lot of guys played well but Medunjanin, whom Curtin called “the best passer” he’s ever been around, is still an easy choice.

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.