Streaking Union dominate Dynamo at home in 3rd straight shutout win

Streaking Union dominate Dynamo at home in 3rd straight shutout win


CHESTER, Pa. — They did it again. 

With a two-goal burst in the first half and a four-save Andre Blake shutout, the Union rattled off their third consecutive win with a 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

"It's not like a no-hitter where we're not talking about it," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "We're talking about it a lot and the guys are really taking pride in it."

After going winless in their first eight games of the season, the rejuvenated Union had outscored their opponents 7-0 in the last three matches prior to Wednesday. And that dominance continued over the Dynamo.

"We weren't an 0-4-4 team," Union veteran Chris Pontius said. "I've been on a bad team. I know what a bad team feels like. This wasn't a bad team, so I knew we weren't an 0-4-4 team. We just kept plugging away. We didn't change much. We showed up to work, rolled up our sleeves and got the job done. Credit to the guys for keeping their head on straight and getting the job done."

In the 17th minute, the host's newfound confidence translated into a goal spawning from a beautiful combination between Ilsinho, Pontius and Fafa Picault. With the ball at the key, Ilsinho laced a right-flank pass to a wide open Pontius, who immediately lofted a high ball to the left for Picault. From there, the diminutive speedster lifted himself over the Dynamo defense to head the ball off the crossbar and in for the 1-0 Union lead.

"It was a good cross by Chris," Picault said. "I can jump, so I just jumped and knocked it in."

The goal was Picault's second of the season.

"We kind of put them in a situation that they weren't comfortable with and that was crucial for us," Pontius said. 

With ease, the Union struck again in the 38th minute, when C.J. Sapong pushed the ball right to Pontius in possession. Tying a career high with his sixth assist of the year, the veteran found Ilsinho with a centering pass that allowed the Brazilian to easily hit a seam and the goal, doubling the Union lead.

"The move starts with Chris and three guys inside the box," Ilsinho said. "I'm behind C.J. and just said, 'Leave, leave, leave.' And he left it for me."

It was Ilsinho's first of the season.

"Ilsinho is a great player," Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. "I think he's the real No. 10. He can hold the ball. He can move between the lines. Like you saw the first half, when we have the ball and we know how to play, he's such an important player for us. He makes the run, he sees the ball, he knows where he needs to play."

Entering the second half, the league's leading scorer Cubo Torres and the 6-4-1 Dynamo weren't able to crack the Union defense, which has posted four straight shutouts. Curtin, whose club is now a respectable 3-4-4, tapped Jack Elliott and Oguchi Onyewu in the middle with Ray Gaddis and Fabinho on the flanks of his back line.

"That's a testament to the quality we do have on the back line," Gaddis said. "I feel like the whole team did well collectively at defending tonight. That's what it's going to take."

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.

With new deal signed, CJ Sapong hungry to 'eat' for Union

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With new deal signed, CJ Sapong hungry to 'eat' for Union

CHESTER, Pa. — When the Union first traded for CJ Sapong ahead of the 2015 season, they knew they were getting a promising young attacking player.

What may have been less expected was Sapong developing into one of the top American strikers, a member of the U.S national team rotation and a foundational player that makes the Union’s entire system go.

So with Sapong’s contract set to expire at the end of the 2018 campaign, the Union knew they had to make sure to lock him up — which they did just one game into the season, signing him Wednesday to a new deal that runs through 2019 with a club option for 2020.

“I hope he continues to progress as a center forward,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart told reporters from the club’s training complex Wednesday. “I think CJ is a person that, [with] the way he takes care of his body and the professional that he is, has a long future in soccer. And he’s still growing as a soccer player.”

At 29, Sapong might not be considered young anymore. But it’s easy to make the case that his best soccer is still in front of him, considering he’s coming off a breakout 16-goal season — the first time in his career he eclipsed double digits — and is set up for even more success this year with the offseason additions of playmakers Borek Dockal and David Accam.

The combination of Dockal’s vision behind him with the speed of Accam and Fafa Picault on either side of him has Sapong as excited as inking a new deal.

“That gives me space to just chill in the box and eat when I can,” he said. “I find it hard to believe we’ll be kept off the scoresheet too many games this year.”

After opening his account in Philly’s season-opening 2-0 win over the Revolution on March 3, Sapong will look to find the back of the net again when the Union return to the field Saturday vs. Columbus at Talen Energy Stadium.

And putting all contract negotiations behind him should only provide further motivation to a player who can now rest easy that Philadelphia will be his home for years to come.

“He’s a guy who’s done everything for the badge, and it’s been a pleasure to work with him and watch him grow and take his game to another level,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I’m looking forward to working with him for the next few years.”

Currently in his eighth MLS season, Sapong said he hopes to, at the least, hit double-digits in goals every year while continuing to do the dirty work and hold-up play that Curtin loves — and has endeared him to Philly fans.

“I owe a lot to Philadelphia,” Sapong said, “and how it’s transformed me as a person and a player.”