Union

Union-D.C. United 5 things: Looking to roll confidence over for win No. 2

Union-D.C. United 5 things: Looking to roll confidence over for win No. 2

Union at D.C. United
7 p.m. on TCN

With a rejuvenated spirit and first win of 2017 in the bag, red-hot C.J. Sapong and the Union (1-4-4) look to continue their Eastern Conference upswing when they travel to RFK Stadium to face Sebastien Le Toux and D.C. United (3-4-2) on Saturday.

Here are five things to know:

1. Victory spark
For the first time since summer 2016, the Union won a game. The struggling club, which is still hanging at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, used a second-half push to dismantle the New York Red Bulls, 3-0, last weekend.

"It was something to build on as we look forward to D.C.," said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club has a three-game point streak. "The result at home, as good as it was at 3-0, doesn't mean a heck of a lot if we don't follow it up with another good performance."

But that win was more than three points in the standings. As Curtin put it, the lopsided victory injected the Union with newfound confidence. 

"Confidence is everything, it goes a long way," he said. "You see a little extra bounce in their step, a little more smiling in the weight room. A victory gives confidence. We were able to stick together and you see a little momentum on our side. Guys are excited to get back on the field."

With a side of confidence, the Union also feel relieved. According to Sapong, the winless run was a storm they were stuck in. And that storm has passed. 

"We handled the adversity well and stayed loose in the locker room," he said. "Getting three points is something we worked very hard to and expected to have it before this point in the season but it adds a little bit of a story to everything. Going through this adversity in the beginning of the season will help throughout the season."

2. Surging Sapong
Despite the Union's troubled season, Sapong has shined bright.

"C.J. is obviously very hot right now," Curtin said following the Union's win.

Sapong carried the Union to their first win of the season with a stellar three-goal show in the win over the Red Bulls. Along with the victory, the veteran forward tied the league lead in goals with seven. But according to him, goals aren't the focus.

"I'm always trying to create space for myself but I feel where I provide the most impact is being a hassle for the defenders to play against," Sapong said. "Holding the ball up for my team and being tough on defense as well. I want to get the goals but I have to focus on the things that I do that help my team."

United have taken notice of Sapong's recent output. The Union will lean on the forward even more with the probable absence of attacking midfielder Roland Alberg, who suffered a hamstring injury last weekend and is questionable for Saturday.

"Sapong is playing really well right now," United striker Patrick Mullins said. "He's someone we are aware of."

3. United rebound
Although D.C. United are coming off a 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact, their second in four games, manager Ben Olsen isn't worried. His club is still one point out of playoff position.

"We all have to be on a certain level to succeed," he said. "If four or five players turn it down just a bit, that's enough. I'm not overly concerned, I believe this group has a response in it. We're not in the worst spot in the table, we just have to focus on the next two games and get the points we need."

While United are looking for points, the Union will look to turn up the emotion.

"This game is about us," Curtin said. "It's about us continuing to build on the past couple good results. We're going to go on the road against the rival who we've had some heated games with in the past. This won't be any different."

For the home team, Saturday's match is about respecting the Union but controlling the tempo. 

"It's a team that shouldn't be overlooked," Mullins said of the Union. "They just got their first win but that could have come a while back for them. They have dangerous players, the onus is for us to respond, be on the offensive and take on the opponent when they come in this weekend."

4. Keep an eye on …
Union: Though Sapong is on a tear, the key to Saturday's match could be young Adam Najem. The 22-year-old is the only natural No. 10 on the roster as Alberg may miss the contest with a hamstring injury. "We want to give guys opportunities," Curtin said. "We would be more than willing to plug him in."

D.C. United: As a result of United injuries, former Union man Le Toux has made three consecutive starts for his new club. He's rewarded Olsen with two goals over that span. "He does exactly what Seba does," Curtin said. "He runs the line and gets behind defenders. He's injected life into their offense."

5. This and that
• The Union are 7-8-4 against United all-time, which includes a Union road loss, 2-1, on April 1. Sapong scored the only goal for the Union.

• Le Toux currently ranks second on United with two goals, while Luciano Acosta leads the club with three.

• With a pair of assists last weekend, Chris Pontius tied Haris Medunjanin for the Union team lead in assists with three.

• The Union will be without Josh Yaro (shoulder), Maurice Edu (knee), while Alberg is questionable. For United, Patrick Nyarko (hamstring) and Nick DeLeon (lower ab strain) are out, with Steve Birnbaum (concussion), Bill Hamid (groin) and Julian Buescher (IT band irritation) are questionable. 

• With Derrick Jones on international duty and Ray Gaddis banged up from last weekend, the Union could tap Keegan Rosenberry and Warren Creavalle for big minutes against United. Creavalle has yet to play this season, while Rosenberry started on the bench in the team's last three matches.

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

usa-brian-carroll.jpg
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

uspresswire-union-keegan-rosenberry.jpg
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.