Union

Union-Atlanta United thoughts: Facing a 'darn hard' road match

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CSN

Union-Atlanta United thoughts: Facing a 'darn hard' road match

Union (9-12-9) at Atlanta United (14-8-7)
7 p.m. on TCN

While the Union may have tied the Atlanta United, 2-2, in a messy but hard-fought battle back on Aug. 26 at Talen Energy Stadium, Wednesday’s match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be a different kind of animal. 

One of the worst road teams in MLS, the Union have the unadmirable task of taking on a scorching United team of the league’s most potent home-field advantage.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

• To say the United have built a fortress at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is correct. It also might be an understatement. The expansion club, which opened the venue on Sept. 10, is 4-0-1 in its last five matches (all at home) and has stunned the league by outscoring the opposition, 19-3 while registering four shutouts in those five games. The United are 10-2-2 at home.

“That’s our task,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “It’s a darn hard one.”

• Despite the challenge of facing a dominant team that is averaging over 40,000 fans per game, the masochistic Union are almost excited to absorb the punishment. Union leading scorer C.J. Sapong said last Saturday that it’s a moment to “cherish,” playing in front of a big crowd, while Curtin said players “crave” making large crowds go silent.

But that aggressive road mentality hasn’t paid off in wins for the Union. Although it has experienced back-to-back road draws, the club is a paltry 1-8-6 away from Talen Energy Stadium this season.

• In the second half Saturday, Sapong tapped in a Fafa Picault cross at the goal line for his 14th goal of the season. The score was a historic one as it tied Sebastien Le Toux for the franchise record for goals scored in a single season set in 2010. 

“He’s done everything we could have asked and more,” Curtin said. “We don’t want him to press but we want him to break that record. He’s had an exceptional season.” 

Scoring .48 goals per game, Sapong has a strong chance of claiming the title for his own in the final four matches, beginning Wednesday.

• Snapping a ridiculous goalless streak that dated back to Oct. 2, 2016, Chris Pontius buried a pair against the Fire. He needs only 10 more to tie last season’s total.

• Luckily for the Union, midfielder Miguel Almiron will miss Wednesday’s match with a hamstring injury. The pacesetter of the United offense has nine goals and 13 assists in 29 games. Also, hit in the hamstring is fullback Greg Garza, who is questionable.

Unluckily for the Union, however, Josef Martinez will play. He has 17 goals in 16 matches, including eight of those in his last five matches.

• Of the Union’s five players questionable for Wednesday, only two missing pieces could change the lineup. Oft-injured defender Josh Yaro is set to miss his third game with a knee injury and Ilsinho continues to fight Achilles tendinitis for the second game. 

If Yaro can’t go, Richie Marquez could get his third consecutive start next to Jack Elliott. While Marquez has been solid on the back line, Curtin said Saturday he thought Marquez made too many risky mistakes against the Fire, saying “there’s always room for improvement.”

• Warren Creavalle is heading home. The athletic Union midfielder was born and raised in Acworth, Georgia, about a half hour north of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

It could be an eventful homecoming for Creavalle. On Saturday, Curtin axed the No. 10 position from his lineup and played Creavalle instead as a No. 6, allowing Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya to move more freely up the field. The more defensive set could be something Curtin goes back to in Atlanta.

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

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USA Today Images

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.

Union-Orlando City thoughts: Aiming to end season, Brian Carroll's career with a win

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Union-Orlando City thoughts: Aiming to end season, Brian Carroll's career with a win

Orlando City (10-13-9) at Union (15-10-7)
4:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia+

After 33 games, the 2017 season finale is here as the Union return to Talen Energy Stadium for the last time on Sunday to host Orlando City. And although the match is relatively pointless for the two woeful clubs, both teams want to end with a win.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

•At this point, it’s all about pride. Coming off a horrendous regular season that includes just one road victory, a nine-game losing run to begin the campaign and no All-Stars, the Union want to bury their awful season with a win.

“It was a disappointing season,” said Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. “The aim right now is to finish the season on a high note at home. We want to give the fans something to cheer for.”

•With a win, the Union can finish the season with 42 points. That would match last year’s output, which was good enough for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Union are eight points out of the postseason prior to Sunday’s match.

•Brian Carroll will say goodbye to the Union and professional soccer on Sunday after announcing his retirement. The 15-year veteran, who played seven of those with the Union, will get on the field against Orlando City for one final run. Next up for the Virginia native? He’s moving to Indianapolis to begin a new career as a financial planner (see story). 

“There’s always a job here with the Philadelphia Union if he wants one,” Jim Curtin said.

•The quiet Carroll, who, at 36, hasn’t played a minute of MLS action this season, ends his career (not including Sunday’s match) fourth all-time in MLS with 370 appearances and sixth all-time in minutes played at 30,778. He’s won two MLS titles and four Supporters’ Shields.

He’s second on the Union’s franchise list for games played at 165, behind only Sebastien Le Toux. But Carroll owns the minutes played title at 13,818. Although it may not have shown through his quiet demeanor, he’s been a really good player for a long time.

•Though it’s the Union’s final match of the season, the club won’t dip into the youth pool. Curtin’s belief is that players who contributed minutes with the Steel throughout 2017 deserved to dress for the USL club’s first playoff game on the road against the Louisville City FC on Friday night.

If Curtin would have known the Steel would have been crushed, 4-0, things might have changed. Adam Najem, Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty made the start.

•One player who didn’t suit up for Steel but also won’t dress for the Union on Sunday is right back Keegan Rosenberry. Coming off a year in which he played every minute of the regular season and earned Rookie of the Year runner-up honors, Rosenberry was suspended by the Union for using social media to gripe about playing time.

The real issue was the timing. A subtle post, in which Rosenberry asked fans to caption an image of him on the bench with a disgusted look, came just hours prior to the Union’s match against the Chicago Fire last weekend. Curtin called it, “unprofessional” and “inappropriate.” Rosenberry ends his season with just 14 games played.

•Curtin and the Union can’t take much from the first time they saw Orlando City, a 2-1 loss on March 18. Cyle Larin, who probably won’t play for his team on Sunday, scored twice for Orlando, sandwiching a lone C.J. Sapong score. 

“That feels like forever ago,” said Curtin, whose club is 2-2-2 against Orlando City all time. “Both of our seasons have shifted, there’s been highs and lows.”

•As usual, Fabian Herbers, Maurice Edu, Josh Yaro and Ken Tribbett are out for Sunday. Right-winger Chris Pontius is questionable with an abdominal injury, which could open space for rookie Marcus Epps to earn significant playing time.

•If Orlando wants to take down the Union, it’ll have to do it without Kaka. It was announced by Orlando City that the legend, who isn’t renewing his contract, would not travel for the finale. So, if you wanted to see Kaka, you’ll have to go to Europe. 

•It may be meaningless for the Union and Orlando, but Sunday marks Decision Day around MLS, in which all 11 games are played at 4:00 p.m. In the Eastern Conference, four teams (New York City FC, Atlanta United, Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew) are eying a Knockout Round bye.