Jay Simpson, C.J. Sapong help Union fight to draw against Toronto FC in home opener

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Jay Simpson, C.J. Sapong help Union fight to draw against Toronto FC in home opener

(UPDATED: 8:24 p.m.)


CHESTER, Pa. -- The field may have been frozen but the goalscorers weren't.

C.J. Sapong and Jay Simpson scored but Jozy Altidore and Justin Morrow countered, as the Union tied Toronto FC, 2-2, on a frigid Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

"It's a game that had a little bit of everything," said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club is 0-0-2 on the year. "I thought the first 45 minutes was some of the best soccer we've played in a while, maybe ever."

The pinnacle of that impressive first half happened in the 10th minute when Simpson opened the scoring. Haris Medunjanin's right-footed cross into the box was centered off of the head of Chris Pontius and toward the top of the crease. From there, Simpson cleaned up the loose ball with a low header that trickled just inside the left post for the 1-0 Union lead.

The gritty effort was Simpson's first MLS goal and the Union's first goal of the 2017 season. But the celebration wouldn’t last for Simpson, who left the game in the 28th minute with a rib injury and trouble breathing. He was replaced by Sapong.

"It's tough to have your home debut come with a goal and then also be in the hospital right now," Curtin said. "But the feedback we're getting is positive in terms of the injury."

The match nearly turned for the Union in the 32nd minute, when Medunjanin launched a ball in the direction of streaking Fabian Herbers, who managed to split the defense. In attempting to keep him from the ball, Nick Hagglund twisted Herbers to the ground for the penalty kick.

However, Alejandro Bedoya's healthy attempt from the spot beat Clint Irwin but rang hard off the crossbar.

"It's not the first or last penalty missed," Bedoya said. "But I apologized to the team. I think at 2-0, we had them. The way we were playing, it could have been a totally different game."

That miss would haunt the Union at the half. Oguchi Onyewu collided with Sebastian Giovinco to earn a foul call, and on the ensuing free kick, Derrick Jones was nabbed for tripping up Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore in the box, sparking the Toronto FC the penalty kick. 

"I thought it was just a makeup call for them," Bedoya said.

Unlike his U.S. Men's National Team teammate Bedoya, Altidore buried his attempt down the middle to tie the game at the half, 1-1. Giovinco was subbed at halftime for Tosaint Ricketts.

"He's OK," said Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney. "He's sore. It was a contusion on the IT band around the side of the leg."

Toronto FC, now 0-0-2, gained the 2-1 lead in the 71st minute on a Justin Morrow goal, but the Union countered. Just two minutes after Morrow's goal, Sapong split the TFC defensive line with a pass from Herbers and deked Irwin before placing it in the empty net.

"I just wanted to make sure I was on onside and wanted to keep the defenders guessing," Sapong said. "We had a lot of options going forward, I just tried to make the defenders make a move."

Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

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Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

CHESTER, Pa. — When Saturday’s game ended, Union midfielder Borek Dockal told head coach Jim Curtin two things: that his body felt fine and that he knows he can play a lot better.

That’s probably just about all Union fans need to hear.

Sure, it was a mostly uneventful and somewhat disappointing MLS debut for the team’s new Designated Player in a scoreless draw with Columbus Crew SC (see observations). But it’s also a long season and Dockal is still trying to mesh with his teammates and get his fitness up after dealing with a preseason ankle injury.

“I think he had some good moments,” Curtin said. “I think you can see his quality and how comfortable he is on the ball. He can pass and he looks forward. … [But] it’s been a week where he’s really trained with the group, so you see a ball played behind when he’s looking to play through. It’s going to take a little bit of time. But overall [I’m] happy with the amount of minutes he was able to push.”

Dockal, signed only three days before the start of the 2018 season, was a tougher critic on himself after sometimes struggling to connect passes and move to the right spot in his 77 minutes of action. But the Czech playmaker also acknowledged that he needs more time to adapt to MLS and learn his teammates’ tendencies.

“For me, it was the first game so it was a little bit about how to find my space on the field, to see how my teammates are moving, which kind of positions should I be in the most to help them,” said Dockal, who sat out the Union’s first game — a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution. “So I just have to learn from this first game and be better the next game.”

Expectations will certainly be raised when the Union play their next game, in two weeks, on the road against the Colorado Rapids. But expectations are already high for Dockal, who has experience in the Champions League and with the Czech Republic national team.

Along with fellow newcomer David Accam — who he said the team needs to find more on the wing — Dockal is filling in what was a major position of need last year and should provide a major offensive punch in the midfield, playing in front of veterans Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin.

It just hasn’t happened yet.

“My performance definitely can be better,” Dockal said. “But I have to start at some point so it would actually be a miracle if I played an excellent game today.”

“Overall, it’s a first step and nothing replicates these games,” Curtin said. “We didn’t put him on the ball as much as we would have liked. ... But he's an incredibly talented guy."

Union lifeless in draw with Crew

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Union lifeless in draw with Crew

CHESTER, Pa. — In a matchup of two teams with perfect records, it ended up being a stalemate.

On Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union and Columbus Crew SC fought to a scoreless draw as goalkeepers Andre Blake and Zack Steffen finished with three saves apiece.

The Union move to 1-0-1 on the season while the Crew, who entered the day in first place in the Eastern Conference, sit at 2-0-1.

• With the Union coming off a weird early bye week, the game lacked fluidity for much of the first half as both teams only put one shot on target before halftime. 

• Borek Dockal, the Union’s new Designated Player, made his MLS debut after sitting out the opener. The Czech playmaker looked tentative early in the match and had some giveaways in the second half before coming out in the 77th minute. It’s too early, of course, to make any judgements but that probably wasn’t the kind of debut head coach Jim Curtin hoped to see.

• David Accam, the team’s other prized newcomer, enjoyed good start to the second half and was active throughout in his second game in Philly. It shouldn’t be long before he opens his account for the Union.

• Steffen came through with a couple of big saves early in the second half for Columbus. It might be hard for some Philly fans to see the Downingtown native and former Union academy player on the visiting side, even if they do get to cheer for a star ’keeper of their own in Blake.

• CJ Sapong, fresh off signing a new contract, couldn’t get on the ball much or even get any shots off. The Union striker had three goals and three assists in seven previous meetings against the Crew.

• On the other end of the field, Gyasi Zardes was held in check after scoring three goals in his first two games for Columbus following a trade from the LA Galaxy. That’s a good sign for the progress of Philly’s young center backs, Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty.

• Ray Gaddis entered the game as a halftime sub for Fabinho, who left with a leg injury. Fabinho and Gaddis are both two of the club’s longest-tenured players, and Gaddis being able to play as both a left back and right back is a nice luxury to have off the bench.

• Despite an announced attendance of 15,323, the crowd at Talen Energy Stadium looked smaller than usual — and with less energy. A lot of that probably has to do with the on-field play but in general, the Union seem to have a better home-field advantage during night games, when the atmosphere is more electric.

• A shoutout to the Sons of Ben, though, for unveiling some cool Philly tifo before kickoff — a “cheesesteak shark” preying on a boat of Crew rowers underneath the word “Jawns.” 

• The Union — who are 4-1-1 in their last six meetings with the Crew — are off again next weekend before before facing Colorado on March 31 in their first road game of 2018.