Union-Crew 5 things: Curtin expects reinforcements for crucial match

Union-Crew 5 things: Curtin expects reinforcements for crucial match

Union (6-9-5) vs. Columbus Crew (10-10-1)
7:30 p.m. on TCN

Feeling the sting of a punchless effort and defeat last Saturday, the hobbled Union return home Wednesday with revenge on their mind as they face the Columbus Crew at Talen Energy Stadium in the second half of a crucial Eastern Conference home-and-home series. 

Here are five things to know.

1. Quick recovery
After a season of relative health and fortune, the Union’s roster has taken a hit. The club lost Chris Pontius and Andre Blake to international duty, and spent Saturday without suspended Roland Alberg and injured Fafa Picault and C.J. Sapong.

The result? One goal and back-to-back losses. 

“At the midway point we had hoped to have everyone in the group back and clicking on all cylinders,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “For a variety of reasons we weren’t really together. Whether it was suspensions, injuries, the birth of a child, international call-ups, we had some tough variables to overcome and we didn’t pass the test on the road.”

Overall, the defense hasn’t been an issue for the Union, as they only allowed three goals over the last two games on the road. It’s the attack that is limping, a fact highlighted by the shot-less performance in their 1-0 loss to the Crew over the weekend. 

“Columbus did defend well but at the same time to not have a shot on goal is inexcusable,” Curtin, who expects to have Sapong back with Alberg in the attack, said. “It’s not a good indication of us. We are missing our front four in the game and it looked that way. We need to step up as a group and recognize we weren’t decisive enough, not good enough on attack and didn’t create enough chances.”

As a way to re-charge that offense Wednesday, the Union, who have scored 17 of their 26 goals this season at Talen Energy Stadium, will try to utilize that home field advantage. 

“The good news is we get to regroup quickly and I'm very confident in our group that we’ll have a good response on our home field against a Crew team we’re very familiar with,” Curtin said. “It’s a chance to get things right in our home building with our fans behind us.” 

2. Sold on McCarthy
While there hasn’t been much to celebrate for the Union over the last two games, there has been a lone bright spot that Curtin can look to.

“As disappointed as we are as a club over the last two games, the one thing we really learned is John McCarthy, across the board, has raised the bar in terms of where we view him,” the manager said. “He’s been excellent.” 

The third year backup goalkeeper has made 13 saves in his last three matches and is set to make his fourth start of the season Wednesday. Firmly planted behind starter Andre Blake, who has established himself as the star of the Gold Cup while captaining Jamaica, McCarthy kept the listless Union in games they otherwise shouldn’t have been.

“He’s shown he can start in this league,” Curtin said. “He makes you feel comfortable, he's done a great job and that’s something that maybe gets lost. We are still doing good defensive work, need to get a little sharper on offense but Johnny has really turned the head of the coaching staff in the last three games.” 

Thanks to Blake’s success, McCarthy will get another chance to impress Wednesday.

“[The Crew] is a team we’re real familiar with,” the goalkeeper said. “We have to get points at home, we need a big win here and take care of business.”

3. Stingy Crew
Coming off back-to-back shutout wins, including one of the Union, manager Gregg Berhalter, and the Crew are feeling confident entering Wednesday’s rematch.

“It gave us confidence,” he said. “It was a total team performance and it gives us confidence that we can break through and keep going. It was more about team defending than individuals, it was a really good compact unit and I thought we made it very difficult for them.”

Curtin didn’t disagree. With playmaker Federico Higuain likely out again for the Crew with a knee sprain, Berhalter could return to the efficient 3-4-3 formation that dominated the Union on Saturday.

“We didn’t do a good job against their three center backs, we really made it easy for them,” Curtin said. “They had a comfortable day and they basically stayed in the width of the center circle, we never pulled them out and made it uncomfortable for them.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Roland Alberg: After serving a one game suspension, Alberg will return to the Union on Wednesday. Expected at the No. 10 spot, the goal scorer will be the host’s desperately-needed offensive catalyst. “This will be an opportunity for Roland tomorrow to play another 90 minutes,” Curtin said.

Justin Meram: The midfielder leads the Crew in goals with nine and assists with six. If the Union want to keep a clean sheet at home, they’ll have to stop Meram.

5. This and that
• Union right back Ray Gaddis was a late arrival to the MLS injury report, listed as questionable with a hamstring strain. If Gaddis can’t play, Keegan Rosenberry would make his first start since April 14. 

• Along with Gaddis, Picault, who missed the match Saturday because of a hamstring strain, is questionable again for Wednesday. Forward Jay Simpson has a lower-body injury but is off the injury report. “Jay has the injury from the tackle, he might be able to go,” Curtin said. “Fafa did stuff on the side, he said it feels a lot better today.”

• The Union are 7-11-1 against the Crew all time and 5-4-0 at home.

Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

USA Today Images

Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

CHESTER, Pa. — It’s almost too fitting that Brian Carroll has decided to become a financial planner in Indianapolis.

For the retiring Union midfielder (see story), it’s a perfectly unassuming job for a perfectly unassuming guy. Someone who, without shin guards and cleats, always looked more like a business manager than a pro athlete anyway. An underappreciated, underrated, never-flashy player who was damn good at soccer and leaves the sport as a “pioneer for the game in this country,” according to Union head coach Jim Curtin.

“Having the opportunity to coach him here in Philadelphia, being around him, to work with him, it’s been a real honor for me,” Curtin said Thursday. “Once you reflect back on his career, the trophies that he’s won, the caps he’s received for the U.S. national team — he’s a true professional, a guy who always played the game with a smile on his face but also was kind of a quiet killer on the field.”

Carroll’s pedigree certainly is impressive. Two-time MLS Cup champion. Four straight Supporters’ Shields. Nine straight playoff appearances. Fourth-most MLS appearances in league history. Sixth-most minutes.

But when you stack him up against some other guys on the all-time leaderboard of games played (Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis, Steve Ralston, even his brother-in-law Chad Marshall), it’s fair to say he doesn’t get the same kind of national recognition. What gives?

“Because he goes about his business in such a quiet way, he isn’t a guy who is loud on the field or loud in the locker room, he’s just a lead-by-example kind of guy, and often those guys don’t get a whole lot of credit,” Curtin said. “[But] he’s a guy who anybody speaks about him in the game has nothing but positive things to say. Everybody has a Brian Carroll story, and they’re all positive. There are not a lot of guys that end their career with that — with not one person that you would ever meet that would say a negative thing about them. He’s been a guy who’s gone about his business the right way — an example of so many young players to learn from in our country.”

Even if he might not always get league-wide attention, anyone who ever played with Carroll certainly knows what he’s all about. Five years ago, then-Union teammate Danny Califf said he was “one of the most underrated guys in the league, and he has been for a long time,” before adding: “He’s happy to sit back and be in the playoffs and win championships — and let everyone else talk about the other guys that don’t.” Two years later, when Carroll was the team’s captain, Amobi Okugo revealed that everyone called him “The Iron Man.” 

But for Carroll, always a picture of humility, none of that stuff ever really mattered. And if he did fly under the radar, that's just fine with him, too.

“I think I have some athletic ability, thank goodness, but I’m not the fastest, the tallest or the strongest,” said Carroll, who remarkably was never shown a red card in any of the 370 games he played. “What I brought was consistency, work ethic and fulfilling my role to the best of my ability and me doing that enabled other guys to fulfill their roles and succeed at their roles. I’m happy and thankful that I was able to lead my team to some trophies, whether it be Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup.”

It’s a testament to his work ethic that the 36-year-old defensive midfielder continued to play at a high level as recently as last season. And although his playing time completely dried up this year, he holds no ill will toward the Union about that. If anything, he’s enjoyed the chance to step into a new role that’s involved coaching up his younger teammates at practice.

“I knew coming in these past couple of years my role was gonna change and be more supportive, still helping to lead,” he said. “One thing leads to another last year and I was a little bit more involved than what was planned. Then this year, it just kind of went according to plan — supporting the guys and helping them out in any way I can.”

Because of how he filled that role, many people speculated that he would transition directly into coaching or into a front office job. But while Carroll said he explored that path, he said the best thing for him to do with his family right now is to move to Indianapolis, where his wife is from.  

Of course, that could always change.

“There’s always a job here with the Philadelphia Union if he wants one,” Curtin said. “I know he’s moving into the financial world. I’m hoping he’s not sitting in a cubicle but if he is sitting in a cubicle, the door’s always open to come back here on the field to be a coach because he has so much more to give.”

He still has a little more to give as a player, too. Although he hasn’t played all season, Curtin said Carroll will likely play in Sunday’s 2017 finale vs. Orlando City SC — for his 371st and final MLS appearance.

“I think it’s important for him to get on the field, so we will find a way to make that happen,” Curtin said. “I kind of half-joked about starting him and seeing how long he could possibly last being out a lot this year. But he’s been sharp in training the past couple of weeks, so it’s great. 

“He’s an experienced guy, so no matter where you put him on the field, he deserves for our fans to give him a proper send-off. And I know they will.”

Union suspend Keegan Rosenberry for 'inappropriate' tweet

USA Today Images

Union suspend Keegan Rosenberry for 'inappropriate' tweet

Keegan Rosenberry’s nightmare season has come to an end. 

The second-year right back, who has floated in and out of favor with Union manager Jim Curtin throughout the 2017 campaign, has been suspended for the final game of the regular season on Sunday against Orlando City, for what Curtin deemed “unprofessional” behavior on social media.

“His activity on social media prior to kickoff was inappropriate,” Curtin said. “It’s something that won’t be tolerated. It's a decision that he made, one that he’ll be held accountable for. It’s unprofessional and disrespectful to the guys in the locker room.” 

Shortly before the Union’s 3-2 loss to the Chicago Fire last Sunday, in which he wasn’t tapped to start, Rosenberry tweeted a photo of himself on the bench with an unhappy look on his face and the headline, “(Need some caption help)”. The image, which also included defender Richie Marquez, was viewed as a veiled comment on his lack of playing time. 

It’s since been deleted.

“He’s a great young player that I think will learn from this,” Curtin continued. “But as professionals, we are held to a standard. To do that right before kickoff is not something [Union sporting director Earnie Stewart] and I will tolerate.”

It’s been a rough year for Rosenberry, who, after playing every minute of the regular season in 2016, was benched in favor of a more defensively stout Ray Gaddis after the Union’s first six games. The 23-year-old 2016 Rookie of the Year runner-up only managed five more starts and eight appearances following his early-season struggles. 

Although he made a five-game comeback through August and September, an ankle injury knocked him back out. He finished the season with one assist and four shots.

Now, he’ll miss the finale.