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Inside Doop: Questions mount as Union's road woes deepen

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Inside Doop: Questions mount as Union's road woes deepen

The Union know, that to have any shot of sneaking into the playoffs, they’ll need to find a way to pick off points on the road, especially against some of the league’s lower-tier teams.

Consider Saturday a lost opportunity, then.

After earning a good 3-0 home win over Columbus on Wednesday, the Union couldn’t keep it going with a disappointing 3-0 setback in New England over the weekend.

Here’s a closer look at the past week and what lies ahead for the Union as their playoff hopes grow dimmer.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. The Union had dominated the Revolution of late, winning their last three matchups by a combined score of 11-0 heading into Saturday’s game, including a 3-0 home win earlier in the month. But the Union’s road struggles were too much to overcome in this one as they fell to 1-7-3 away from home this season. And it’s not just that the Union are losing on the road; they often look punchless in the attack and lacking any sort of ideas. It’s a far cry from how they play at home, where they’re a healthy 6-3-2 and have generated some fun and exciting moments along the way.

2. It was another eventful week for Roland Alberg, who got into an argument with C.J. Sapong over who would take a penalty kick in Wednesday’s win a week after expressing displeasure at Fafa Picault on the field and getting suspended for a dangerous tackle. And while the Union downplayed the whole scene afterward, many wondered what kind of teammate Alberg might be. There’s no way to know for sure about his status in the locker room, but it is fair to say that his chemistry on the field, particularly with Sapong, has been lacking. So has his production as Alberg failed to impose his will on Saturday’s game from the vital No. 10 spot — a position that continues to be the team’s most glaring need, either now or in the offseason.

3. The good news for the Union’s future is that two of their 2017 draft picks — Marcus Epps and Jack Elliott — enjoyed good weeks with Epps scoring his first career goal Wednesday and Elliott making a phenomenal goal-line clearance, among other great defensive plays, Saturday. Considering both were picked after the first round, that’s some good bang for the Union’s buck. Of course, it makes sense why Philly fans may temper their expectations here considering the standout trio from the 2016 draft class — Joshua Yaro, Keegan Rosenberry and Fabian Herbers — followed promising rookie campaigns by being benched (either because of injury or inconsistent play) for most of 2017.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. After a brutal four-game-in-11-days stretch, the Union finally get a full week to prepare for their next one. Even more good news is that they get to play at home. The bad news is that the opponent is FC Dallas, one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Is it too soon to classify it as a “must win?” Perhaps. But considering how poor they’ve been on the road and how difficult their remaining schedule is, they really can’t afford to lose or draw at Talen Energy Stadium at this point in the season.

2. Will Andre Blake return? The star goalkeeper has now missed five straight Union games due to the Gold Cup and a hand injury he suffered in the Gold Cup final. And while backup John McCarthy has played well in his absence, it’s probably not a coincidence the Union are 1-3-1 in that stretch, given Blake’s unique ability to win his team points. There’s no sense rushing him back if he’s not ready, but Blake returning to face an excellent FC Dallas attack in front of the Sons of Ben would provide a nice bolt of energy to a fan base that certainly needs one right now.

3. Remember Rosenberry? The reigning MLS Rookie of the Year runner-up was supplanted as the team’s starting right back in April after playing every minute in 2016. And even the Union playing four games in 11 days wasn’t enough for head coach Jim Curtin to give Rosenberry any minutes over the past two weeks. Considering the second-year right back also isn’t getting time for affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC, it’s fair to wonder how these past few months may or may not stall his development — and whether he still remains as big of a piece to the club’s future as he seemed to be last year.

Stat of the week
In four road games in July — three losses and a draw — the Union finished with a combined eight shots on target.

Quote of the week
“For me, I think he’s been the Rookie of the Year.”

— Union head coach Jim Curtin on Jack Elliott after Saturday’s game.

Player of the week
Although he was kept off the scoresheet in New England, Sapong’s performance Wednesday was one of the best of any Union player this season as he scored his record 10th goal and added two fantastic assists.

Union midfielder Brian Carroll to retire after 15 MLS seasons

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Union midfielder Brian Carroll to retire after 15 MLS seasons

CHESTER, Pa. — Brian Carroll didn’t play a single minute in his first year in Major League Soccer.

That was in 2003.

Fourteen years later, he’s set to retire as one of the longest-tenured and accomplished players in league history.

Carroll, a mainstay of MLS and the Philadelphia Union, announced his well-deserved retirement Thursday ahead of the Union’s 2017 finale vs. Orlando City SC on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium (4 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia+)

If he plays in Sunday’s game, it will be his first minutes of the season as age and injuries have started to creep up to the 36-year-old defensive midfielder who’s been battling for a time in a crowded position.

But as recently as last season, Carroll was still a key player for the Union, who he spent seven of his 15 MLS seasons with, wearing the captain’s armband at times and being a consummate pro in an ever-changing locker room.

In all for the Union, Carroll has played 13,818 minutes, the most in franchise history, and 165 games, second only to Sebastien Le Toux.

Throughout his MLS career, the savvy midfielder known for his tremendous work rate played a total of 370 games (tied for fourth in league history) and 30,776 minutes (sixth all-time), winning championships with his two previous teams — D.C. United in 2004 and the Columbus Crew in 2008. He also won the Supporters’ Shield four straight years, with D.C. in 2006 and 2007 and with Columbus in 2008 and 2009.

His teams made the playoffs in his first nine years in the league, a streak that culminated with the Union’s first-ever postseason appearance in 2011 — his first season in Philly.

Carroll, a former star player at Wake Forest, also had success at the international level, earning eight caps with the U.S. national team and also playing for a couple of U.S. youth teams.

The father of three now plans to move to Indianapolis with his family and embark on a new career in financial planning.

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?