Inside Doop: Union start crucial road trip with frustrating loss

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Inside Doop: Union start crucial road trip with frustrating loss

The Union started a three-game road trip on the other side of the country against the defending champions in one of the toughest stadiums to play in … and played pretty well.

Just not quite well enough to win.

Here’s a look back at the Union's 2-1 loss to the Portland Timbers on Saturday and what they need to do to get points as two more daunting road games approach and the regular season nears its conclusion.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. Lack of finishing killed the visitors is this one as the Union put a very respectable eight shots on target but were robbed a couple of times by Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. C.J. Sapong also hit the post after an incredible setup by Tranquillo Barnetta, continuing the run of bad luck from the Union striker. Over his last six games — all starts — Sapong hasn’t scored and has only put two shots on frame. And he’s only scored two total goals since mid-May — a troubling statistic for a player that was counted on for a lot coming into the season. It almost goes without saying that Sapong needs to turn it on over the next couple of months or the Union could be facing a short stay in the playoffs, if they get there at all. (But it should be noted that thanks to some other results in the East, they still remain in very good position to get there.)

2. Keegan Rosenberry has been touted for MLS Rookie of the Year by many Union teammates and fans throughout the season. And he probably deserves it, even if the award is likely to go to Sounders striker Jordan Morris. But for one of the only times this season, Rosenberry looked like, well, a rookie, as he struggled to deal with the speed of Darren Mattocks, who assisted on both Portland goals. And his fellow first-round pick from Georgetown, Joshua Yaro, also had a tough night, getting shown two yellow cards. Before he was ejected, Yaro actually made a couple of very nice defensive plays, including a goal-line clearance, so his presence will be missed next week when he serves his one-game red card suspension.

3. Chris Pontius proved once again that when the Union need a goal, he’s the player to turn to. Continuing his remarkable comeback season after an injury-riddled stint in D.C., Pontius upped his team-high goal total to 11 — one off his career high. And he probably could have had another if not for a great kick save from Gleeson. Like Sapong, Pontius is going to be counted on for a lot of offense in the home stretch. And he looks like he’s poised to deliver.

Three question for the week ahead
1. With Saturday’s loss, the Union’s road record dipped to 3-8-4. And two of those three wins came against Columbus Crew SC, who are tied for the second fewest points in MLS. That probably doesn’t inspire much hope in Philly fans as the Union prepare to hit the road to face Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls, the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. But getting at least one or two points during that stretch could be vital so the Union can avoid going back on the road in the playoffs. If they can remain in fourth place or higher, they’ll host an opening-round game. If they fall to fifth or sixth, they could make a trip to, say, Montreal where their chances of moving on to the Eastern Conference semifinals drop precipitously. 

2. Could it be time to give Sapong a day off? Sometimes that’s the perfect remedy for a slumping player and the Union do now have a solid option to replace him in the seasoned Charlie Davies, who head coach Jim Curtin likes to say heats up when the weather gets cooler. The Union could also give rookie Fabian Herbers time up top and return Ilsinho to his starting role on the right wing now that he’s healthy. Or perhaps Curtin will keep riding Sapong, who to be fair does do a lot of little things well even when he’s not scoring. 

3. With Yaro suspended, Curtin will almost certainly turn to Ken Tribbett, who’s been platooning with Yaro for much of the season anyway. The big question is how Tribbett will fare against arguably the league’s best attack that features reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco and U.S. national team standout Jozy Altidore. It didn’t work out so well the last time when Tribbett was repeatedly burned by Giovinco and pulled from a 3-1 loss on Aug. 20 at halftime. Perhaps he learned something from the experience. Or perhaps it will help him to have a defensive specialist like Brian Carroll shielding the backline — or, dare we say it, Maurice Edu, who’s now made three rehab appearances with Bethlehem Steel FC as he looks to finally make his season debut.

Stat of the week
After missing the previous six games with plantar fasciitis, Brian Carroll made his 366th career appearance Saturday. That moved the midfielder ahead of Jeff Cunningham and into fourth all-time for field players in MLS history, behind Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis and Steve Ralston.

Quote of the week
“It’s tough on the road in this league. I think the data shows it’s the toughest league in the world actually, percentage-wise, to win on the road.” — Union head coach Jim Curtin

Player of the week
On top of his goal and other near-goals, Chris Pontius also had a couple of nice setups and was unlucky not to get at least one assist. Andre Blake made another superhuman save but Pontius was the man of the match for Philly. 

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


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.