Union

Inside Doop: Union tumble from 4th to 6th in the East

Inside Doop: Union tumble from 4th to 6th in the East

Things just got a lot dicier for the Union in their quest to make the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. And a postseason home game may be slipping away too.

In this week’s Inside Doop, we’ll look back at the Union’s detrimental 3-2 loss to the New York Red Bulls — which, coupled with D.C. United and Montreal wins over the weekend, sent them tumbling from fourth to sixth place in the East. And we’ll look ahead to what now may be two must-win games to close the regular season.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game

1. It certainly was an exciting, playoff-like contest at Red Bull Arena as two rivals traded goals, leads and big plays from their biggest players. But for the Union, it also proved to be frustrating and scary as two starters — center back Joshua Yaro and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya — had to leave early with injuries. The Yaro one was especially bad as the rookie, who was coming off a concussion, got sandwiched between two players on a jump ball and fell to the ground motionless before getting stretchered off the field. He later tweeted he was feeling better but with a head injury like that, you have to wonder if he’s done for the year (more on that later). More immediately, his 31st-minute exit seemed to shake the team up as they lost their early lead and struggled defensively the rest of the way.

2. The good news for the Union is that All-Star goalie Andre Blake made a couple more Superman saves in a season that’s been full of them. The bad news is that even with Blake bailing them out, they still allowed three goals due in large part to some shoddy marking in the box on set pieces. The game-winning goal from Dax McCarty was particularly glaring as the diminutive Red Bulls captain got a free header after losing C.J. Sapong (who continues to be stuck in a nasty slump). Ken Tribbett, who came in for Yaro, also let the speedy Bradley Wright-Phillips get behind him for a goal earlier in the second half, but it’s naturally unfair to blame him entirely for the shift of momentum that resulted from the center back switch.

3. Despite the loss, the Union enjoyed some standout performances on the offensive end with Fabinho logging a pair of assists, rookie Fabian Herbers scoring a goal after getting assists in three straight games, and above all else, Chris Pontius matching a career high with his 12th goal of the season. Pontius also had an assist with a clever pass on Herbers’ goal and nearly scored what would have been an incredible game-tying goal on a bicycle kick but was denied by a great save from Red Bulls goalie Luis Robles. Pontius, who scored just six total goals between 2013 and 2015, has to be a leading contender for the MLS Comeback Player of the Year award.

Three questions for the week(s) ahead

1. While the Union dropped two spots over the weekend, the Eastern Conference playoff picture did become clearer. The two New York teams and Toronto will fight for the top two spots and the accompanying first-round bye, while Montreal, D.C., Philly and seventh-place New England will occupy three of the final four spots. The Union are still in good shape to hold off New England and make the playoffs but they’ve lost control of their own destiny to finish in the top four, which would give them a first-round home game. Meanwhile, their next opponent — ninth-place Orlando City SC — was eliminated from contention over the weekend, which makes for an interesting dynamic. Will Orlando be lifeless at the end of such a disappointing season? Or will they relish the role of spoiler? And how will the Union prepare them with an extra week since the game is not until Oct. 16 due to an international break?

2. It remains to be seen if Yaro will be able to return but you can be sure Curtin and the Union coaching staff and training staff will not be hasty and put his career first. Curtin has shown he’s comfortable with Tribbett as a starter but Tribbett has had some rough moments against some of the league’s top strikers — which they’ll naturally see in the playoffs. Captain Maurice Edu, meanwhile, is healthy and should be able to return for at least some action over the final two games of the regular season and the playoffs. But the Union have been comfortable with either Warren Creavalle or Brian Carroll in his defensive midfield role and have seemed wary of putting Edu in to disrupt the chemistry. It’s been asked before and mostly brushed off but it probably bears repeating at this point: should Edu finish the season as a center back, where he’s played well for most of his Union tenure? Or, put another way: if your option is Tribbett or (a possibly rusty) Edu for an elimination game, who do you go with?

3. Bedoya’s injury appeared to be a minor one as he left early in the second half with rib soreness. He initially was called up to the U.S. national team for their game against Cuba on Friday but had his name withdrawn because of the injury. An extra week between games should help him recover, as should remaining in Philly instead of traveling with the USMNT. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on heading into the Orlando game — and what kind of ripple effects his possible absence or perhaps more limited role could create.

Stat of the week
Fabinho’s six assists this season are the second most for a Union defender in club history. Sheanon Williams had eight in 2013.

Quote of the week
“I think we gave away too many soft goals, two goals on set pieces, and that is inexcusable. We’ve got to do better.”

Alejandro Bedoya, Union midfielder

Player of the week
Despite Blake’s heroics and Herbers staying hot, Pontius is an easy choice here. With his 12th goal, he moved into a tie for second place on the Union’s all-time single-season scoring list with Jack McInerney (2013) and Sebastien Le Toux (2014). Le Toux holds the record with 14 goals in the Union’s expansion season in 2010.

Union notes, quotes and tidbits: Brian Carroll's 'very special' farewell tour ends perfectly

usa-brian-carroll.jpg
USA Today Images

Union notes, quotes and tidbits: Brian Carroll's 'very special' farewell tour ends perfectly

CHESTER, Pa. — Union midfielder Brian Carroll accepted his framed jersey and watched a tribute video from the field at Talen Energy Stadium, prior to Sunday’s 6-1 win against Orlando City SC. 

Playing in his final MLS game, the veteran took it all in.

“Tonight was special,” said Carroll, who wrapped up his 15th season after announcing his retirement earlier in the week. “Especially the win, but really just the whole week and the handshakes and the hugs and the pictures and the little interviews. It all made for a very special week. And to top it off this way was really icing on the cake.”

Carroll entered the match for Fafa Picault at halftime and played a flawless 45 minutes.

“I felt OK,” he said. “I just needed five minutes to catch my breath. Then I was all right. The game was pretty settled at that point so I could just sit in and try to help the guys around me so it was fun.”

Then, with the same class and grace that he carried throughout his career, Carroll rode off into the sunset after one final professional match in front of the fans.

“It was really special and I’ll never forget it, said Carroll, who is moving to Indianapolis and beginning a career as a financial planner. “I love this club and I will always do anything I can to support it and be there for the club. I thank you for all the kind words and support and I’ll miss you guys.”

On the hot seat
Finishing the season outside of the playoffs with an 11-14-9 record, Union manager Jim Curtin’s future has become a topic of conversation. And although it’s unlikely he goes anywhere this offseason, the coach was asked if he thinks about his future.

“You might as well just ask me if I’m a human being,” Curtin said. “Of course you think about things like that. When you guys ask, “Do you hear the boos?” Do you think I have ears? These are silly questions.”

From the sound of it, Curtin believes his job is safe. 

“I have a decent understanding of where I stand in the organization,” he said, “and I’ll continue to work to try to get it better and I know it’s not good enough right now, but I’ll continue to work as hard as I possibly can.”

Looking to the future
Despite the overall disappointing season, the Union used the finale Sunday to put on a show.

“There was something in the air,” said Union forward C.J. Sapong, who scored a pair of goals in the 6-1 rout. “It definitely felt like it was our day and it’s a good way to close the season. What can we take from this to implement for next season to do better.”

While the victory might feel like a deodorant that covers up the stink of another lost season, it did something interesting: It gave the Union the same record and point total as 2016 when they made the playoffs to only be dispatched by Toronto FC. 

“I think it just depends on which way you look at it,” Sapong said. “For me personally, given the talent we have in this locker room, I feel like we should be playing in the playoffs, playing for hardware. Give credit to my teammates, staff and fans for dealing with a very up and down year, but now it’s behind us. We put our heads down and look forward.” 

As Sapong said, the Union’s focus is on next season.

“We have offseason now to prepare,” Curtin said. “We’re not satisfied, but at the same time, the effort of the players, they gave everything. We asked them to bring a knife to a gunfight and they don’t complain. We recognized it wasn’t enough but there are still good things happening at the club.” 

Ilsinho's status
Ilsinho may not have a spot on the Union next season, but he played like he wanted one. The Brazilian playmaker buried two goals and had a key assist in Sunday’s season finale in an inspired performance.

‘I love it here,” he said. “I’m so happy here. All season I tried to help, I tried to do my best. Sometimes yeah, sometimes no, but it’s soccer you know. I love everything here, I like it here, I hope to be back.” 

But despite the output, it still wasn’t a productive season from Ilsinho, who has a team option on his contract for 2018. With six goals and five assists in 27 games, he was better than his two goals, two assist line in 2016, but still uninspiring. 

Still, the club liked what it got from Ilsinho at the No. 10 spot down the stretch.

“Ilsinho raised his game toward the end of the year,” Curtin said. “We’re happy for him. But again, the challenge is always to do it for 90 minutes, do it on the road. He shows he has incredible talent and he’s raised his level.” 

Record-breaking Sapong
With his 15th and 16th goals Sunday, Sapong finally snapped the Union franchise mark for goals in a season set by Sebastien Le Toux in 2010. While Sapong has brushed away talk of individual accolades throughout the year, the forward was able to appreciate the honor after the season finale. 

“Obviously, to have my name somewhere for hopefully a very long time, it feels good,” he said. “I still feel like we could’ve done better. We’re not playing for anything meaningful, but it’s good to get those individual accolades. At the end of the season, I feel like I impacted my team in a positive way and that’s all I try to do.” 

And to break the record in Carroll’s last game made it even sweeter. When Sapong was subbed out in the final minutes of the match to an ovation, he hugged Carroll. 

“I told him I loved him and it was a pleasure to play with him,” Carroll said. “I told him this week, too, that I remember in his days on an opposing team, I would have to mark him on set pieces. It seemed really unfair, so I’m really thankful that he’s on my team and I don’t have to mark him anymore.”

Union-Orlando City observations: Breaking records in season-ending rout

Union-Orlando City observations: Breaking records in season-ending rout

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. —  In less than three minutes Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium, the match was effectively over. Ilsinho and the Union began their scoring assault in the third minute and didn’t stop until team records and Orlando City were thoroughly broken. The Union easily won the season finale, 6-1.

It was an impressive finish to an unimpressive season for the Union, as the club completed 2017 with an 11-9-14 record and 42 points — a mirror image of 2016. On the other side, equally disappointing Orlando City finished at 10-9-15 and more questions than answers.

• Before fans got settled into their seats, Ilsinho and the Union took the 1-0 lead. In the third minute, Alejandro Bedoya, off the rush, sent a trailing pass from the right side of the box that found a seam and Ilsinho, who easily placed the open shot past Earl Edwards Jr.

• Stunning Orlando City, the onslaught continued three minutes later. Breaking down the right side of the box, Ilsinho’s centering pass found Fafa Picault, who beat his man for a header that went bar-down and in for his sixth goal of the season.

• With the quick goal and assist Sunday, Ilsinho was playing out of his mind. And while it may not make a difference regarding his future with the club, the second-year Union player treated Sunday’s match like a guy facing a team option on his contract at the end of the season.

• Continuing to dominate Orlando City, C.J Sapong produced in the 26th minute, when he buried a cross-box feed from Picault. The goal made it 3-0 Union, but more importantly, gave Sapong 15 goals on the season, setting the Union franchise record for goals in a single season.

• But he wasn't done. Sapong netted his second of the game in the 74th minute, cleaning up a Haris Medunjanin shot and rebound. Totaling 16 goals on the season, Sapong snapped his career high by seven. He was pulled in the 86th minute for the curtain call and ovation.

• Even with the three-goal lead, Picault showed no mercy to Orlando City. The speedster broke free in the 30th minute and fired a shot through the legs of Edwards, who didn’t stand a chance. Picault left the match at halftime with what was suspected to be a concussion.

• While that goal was Picault’s second of the game and fourth for the Union, it also set a record for most goals scored in a single half by a Union team.

• Like a U.S. Open Cup match against an amateur team, the Union made it 5-0 in the 63rd minute. Medunjanin captured his team-leading 12th assist on the season by sending Ilsinho on a clean breakaway for the goal. Sapong made it 6-1, a little over 10 minutes later.

• Orlando City’s goal in the 72nd minute, scored by Dom Dwyer, broke Andre Blake’s shutout and kept the goalkeeper’s 2017 total at nine for the season. That’s three above his career high earned last season when he won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. Blake was outstanding Sunday, making four stops.

• Chris Pontius, who came off the bench in the second half, found himself on a breakaway with minutes remaining in the match. His shot hit the post to perfectly sum up his forgettable season.

• Playing his final game in MLS, Brian Carroll, who announced his retirement from professional soccer earlier in the week, received a pre-game name chant and ceremony. Playing his final minutes of the season, the veteran of 371 MLS games, took the captain’s armband and entered the match at halftime

• With the win Sunday, the Union pushed their record at Talen Energy Stadium to 10-4-3 — the best home record in team history. But with a putrid road record of 1-10-6, it’s easy to see why the club struggled in the Eastern Conference.