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's schedule sets team up for hot start

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Union's schedule sets team up for hot start

The Union’s 2018 season schedule was officially released Thursday and it revealed an advantageous start for the club.

After opening their season against the New England Revolution on March 3, the Union will have a week off before hosting the Columbus Crew on March 17. The club then visits the Colorado Rapids on March 31 but returns home to face the San Jose Earthquakes and Orlando City on April 7 and 13.

Five of the Union’s first seven games will be at Talen Energy Stadium, setting them up for important early success, as the team was an impressive 10-4-3 at home last season but went just 1-10-6 on the road.

But the Union’s early fortune quickly turns with five of their next seven games on the road. The team kicks off that crucial run with a three-game road trip starting on May 4 against the reigning MLS champion Toronto FC, and finishing against the Crew and Montreal Impact. That five-in-seven road set also includes the New York Red Bulls and a visit to the irreplicable home confines of Atlanta United.

Notable matches for the Union include the first-ever clash with expansion side LAFC at the freshly built Banc of California Stadium on June 30 and the Union’s first visit to D.C. United’s brand-new Audi Field (expected to open in June). The Union face the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday, Sept. 19 at CenturyLink Field. Minnesota United (2017 expansion team) will make its first-ever visit to Philadelphia on Oct. 6.

As far as national exposure, the Union will be shown on ESPN twice, April 14 vs. Orlando City and Sept. 23 vs. Sporting Kansas City, and on Unimas once on April 28 against D.C. United.

Union sign Jamaican national team mainstay

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Union sign Jamaican national team mainstay

The Union signed forward Cory Burke Thursday.

Burke, who is a mainstay on the Jamaican national team, spent the last two seasons with the Union's United Soccer League affiliate, the Bethlehem Steel. Burke, 25, ranked second on the team with 9 goals last season. The forward will occupy an international roster slot.

“We are pleased to sign Cory to our First Team and reward his excellent performance with Bethlehem Steel FC,” said Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart. “Cory’s success is a testament to the importance of Bethlehem in developing players within our organization. Under Brendan Burke and his staff, Cory has been playing in our system for two years now. We anticipate a successful transition to the Union, and we are looking forward to see Cory take the next step in his career.”

Burke will likely start the season behind CJ Sapong and Jay Simpson on the forward depth chart. Burke will assume the hole that Charlie Davies' departure left on the roster.