Union

Josh Yaro's mistake costs Union in draw with Atlanta United

Josh Yaro's mistake costs Union in draw with Atlanta United

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- Another Josh Yaro mistake, another draw for the Union.

One week after delivering an unnecessary stoppage time foul that gave the San Jose Earthquakes a game-tying penalty kick over the Union, Yaro made another crucial mistake on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium.

“He’s young,” captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “That’s a little bit of inexperience and a touch of luck. He’ll learn from his mistakes.”

Early in the second half of the 2-2 draw with Atlanta United, the young Union defender let Josef Martinez slip by him on a breakaway in the 52nd minute. It forced Yaro into hauling him down from behind, earning the defender a red-card ejection.

“He’s such a fast guy, strong, he didn’t need to foul him there,” veteran Haris Medunjanin said. “He knows that he’s the last guy so when you foul him you need to get the ball, otherwise you will get the red and that’s what we got.”

After a valiant defensive effort, the Union eventually cracked in stoppage time, when Atlanta’s Tyrone Mears cleaned up a clear by floating a header goal over a committed Andre Blake to lock the final score at two.

“I’m gutted for them because you don’t prepare for Tyrone Mears to score a flukey head ball from almost outside the box,” manager Jim Curtin said. “It was a strange goal and very difficult for the guys.” 

It was a brutal stretch for the Union, now 8-12-7 and three points above the Eastern Conference basement, who watched two leads slip away in the course of one week.

“Devastated for the guys in that locker room,” Curtin said. “It’s not about the playoff race, results that went our way tonight or different things like that, it’s about a group of guys, in this case 10 guys, that finished the game to close it out and win. They put so much into it.”

But despite the late tension, the Union owned the early going. Roland Alberg opened scoring for the Union in the 18th minute, when he fooled the Atlanta back line and accepted a lofted through pass from Giliano Wijnaldum. The potent Dutch scorer took the pass neatly off his chest and poked it past Brad Guzan for the 1-0 Union lead. 

It was Alberg’s sixth of the season.

Union made it 2-0 in impressive fashion in the 24th minute with Bedoya’s first of the season. From the left side, Alberg played a corner kick into the box that was deflected by Jack Elliott and in the air toward the far post. From there, Bedoya connected on an overhead kick to double the Union’s lead.

“It was good to see it go in,” Elliott said. “It was fortunate for me to get a toe in. It doesn’t always work but that one did.” 

But Atlanta would battle back just two minutes later when Martinez played a diving header to the left side for a wide open Yamil Asad to cut the Union’s lead in half, 2-1.

After one of his most impactful games of the season, Bedoya will be suspended for the Union’s next game. Just ten minutes into the contest, the captain clipped Jeff Larentowicz to earn a yellow card. It was his fifth of the season, earning the automatic suspension against Minnesota United on Sept. 9.

“It feels like crap,” Bedoya said. “It’s so frustrating. Sometimes you just need a little bit of luck your way. That’s what this game is about sometimes. Right now, we’re not getting any breaks.” 

Alejandro Bedoya, CJ Sapong, Warren Creavalle called upon for international duty

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Alejandro Bedoya, CJ Sapong, Warren Creavalle called upon for international duty

A trio of Union players are being called upon for international duty.

Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and forward CJ Sapong have been named to the final U.S. Men's National Team roster for an upcoming international friendly against Portugal on Nov. 14 in Leiria, Portugal. 

Bedoya has earned 65 international caps for the USMNT including four World Cup appearances. Conversely, Sapong has earned just two caps, both in friendlies. However, Sapong recorded 16 goals this season, setting a career-high and a new franchise record. His 16 goals were tops among American players in MLS, one more that USMNT mainstay Jozy Altidore.

Union midfielder Warren Creavalle has also been called up by Guyana in their friendly against Trinidad and Tobago. Creavalle has earned three international caps. He played in 13 matches for his club team, his second most in a season since joining the Union in 2015.

Too many familiar chords for Union's Stewart in end-of-season address

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Too many familiar chords for Union's Stewart in end-of-season address

CHESTER, Pa. — Earnie Stewart has a lot of qualities you’d want in a sports executive.

He’s patient. He’s even-keeled. He’s endlessly positive. He always has a plan in mind, and he’s always thinking about the future.

If the Union sporting director has a fault, it may be that he doesn’t seem to have a great read on Philly sports fans, many of whom might have, let’s call it, different personality traits than him. But if Union supporters are feeling negative and impatient these days, it’s certainly for good reason.

The franchise has been floundering near the bottom of MLS since its inaugural season in 2010, while watching teams that entered the league around the same time (Toronto, Seattle, Portland) soar past it and more recent expansion clubs (New York City FC, Atlanta, Orlando) open their wallets for MVP-caliber players while drawing big crowds.

Stewart, meanwhile, has admitted the focus in Philly has been on building a foundation and committing to the franchise’s infrastructure through a new practice facility, a minor-league affiliate and an ever-improving youth academy. 

But even if the Union executes flawlessly in all of those aspects, it doesn’t necessarily give the team a competitive advantage over other MLS clubs, most of whom have the same things in place. Similarly, the rebuilding process won’t bear fruit in the way it does for teams in other leagues like the Sixers and Astros since the MLS draft isn’t a reliable mechanism to acquire foundational pieces.

Soon, the club’s youth academy, fueled by a partnership with Bethlehem Steel FC (where the top players can bypass college and get professional minutes) could very well lead to exciting things. But for a team that stresses development, developing young players has never been a particular strong suit — the regression of Keegan Rosenberry (along with the injuries to fellow 2016 standout rookies Josh Yaro and Fabian Herbers) serving as the latest, most glaring example.

Besides, focusing on development and infrastructure shouldn’t take away from building a team that can make the playoffs, which the Union failed to do in 2017 for the sixth time in the franchise’s eight-year history. Philly fans want a winner today, and seeing an expansion team like Atlanta roll into the playoffs behind star South American imports and record crowds has only made their frustration more pronounced.

Which brings us to Stewart’s end-of-season press conference Wednesday.

In his address with reporters, Stewart dove into many of the roster changes the team has made as it declined the options of several players. Still, it didn’t feel like very much will change at all.

For starters, he announced that Jim Curtin will be retained as head coach despite his 38-50-31 overall record. Second, he said that the team’s search for a new attacking midfielder would start in its “own backyard” and didn’t rule out bringing back Ilsinho, possibly in a reserve role, rather than wipe the slate clean after the 2016 season showed it’s the biggest position of need. And third, he hedged when asked if ownership would spend more money to keep up with other teams.

“We have those conversations and I have to say that our ownership group with [majority owner Jay Sugarman] leading that has been good,” Stewart said. “But we’ve also chosen a path that we have as a club, that we started at least since I’ve been here two years ago. That’s our pathway. That’s who we are, that’s who we want to be, and the most important part is we’ve got to come to grips with that.

“Can you spend like the Torontos? No, we can’t. It’s as simple as that. So we have to do it in a different way, and I think we’ve found that way. When you look around at what we have at the club and the facilities we have, we’re still building because a lot of times it’s only seen in player spending. But this is such a young club that there’s so much that needs to be built. You can bring in the best player you want but if you don’t have the infrastructure, it’s not going to work.”

The thing about this is no one is even asking them to spend like Toronto FC, who dishes out over $18 million a year to three star players: Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Clearly, it’s a strategy that works, as Toronto posted the best record in league history this season after advancing to the MLS Cup final a year ago. But at this point, Union fans would settle for bringing in just one difference-maker in the $2 million range (plus a transfer fee) — the kind of salary that lured star playmakers Miguel Almiron (Atlanta), Diego Valeri (Portland), Romain Allesandrini (LA Galaxy) and Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle) to MLS. 

Imagine one of those players behind striker CJ Sapong and in front of central midfielders Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. The Union could easily make the playoffs. Throw in a veteran defender and a quality winger and you could make the case they’re a title contender.

That’s the thing about MLS. There’s a lot talk about building a foundation and grooming young players but, in the end, your success boils down to how much you spend and whether or not you acquire the right players. 

Teams can literally scout anywhere in the world and the Union have had success mixing young Americans in with talented midfielders from France, Argentina and Bosnia, where Medunjanin — an excellent acquisition — hails. But Stewart has also had a lot of misses with his signings as Roland Alberg, Jay Simpson, Giliano Wijnaldum and others failed to make the kind of impact the club needed.

Stewart didn’t really accept much blame for any of those guys, saying Alberg actually had a “very good role” with the Union and that fellow Dutchman Wijnaldum was a “very talented kid” who simply struggled to adapt to a new country. He also didn’t appear to think the 2017 season was a particularly poor one, pointing to the fact that Union finished with same point total, with a better goal differential, as in 2016. Nor did he express any alarm over young players' development, noting that “every player developed this season, except the output wasn’t always the same on Saturday or Sunday.”

On it’s face, there’s nothing wrong with being this positive and Stewart very may well may have big things in store this offseason. But after hearing so much about progress for eight years without ever seeing very much of it, it’s easy to understand why Union fans might not share in his optimism.