Union

Union-D.C. United 5 things: Slumping Union look to end slide against D.C. United

Union-D.C. United 5 things: Slumping Union look to end slide against D.C. United

Union vs. D.C. United 
7:00 p.m. on 6ABC
 
Looking to avoid four-straight losses for the second time this season, the last-place Union (4-7-4) aim to prey on vulnerable D.C. United (5-8-3) in a battle at the bottom of the Eastern Conference Saturday night (7:00 p.m., 6ABC) at Talen Energy Stadium.
 
Here are five things to know:
 
1. Back to slump-busting
The Union are a streaky team. After losing four-straight matches earlier this season, the club claimed two draws then went on a four-game winning streak. Things were looking up until the Union stumbled again and dropped their last three matches, including a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls last Sunday.
 
“We had a tough start, a hot run and a little bit of a dip,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We can not allow this to be a long-term thing.”
 
Although the potential of another four-game losing streak will loom large over Saturday’s match, the Union will have to shrug it off if they want to turn their season around. The weekend tilt features the two lowest ranked teams in the Eastern Conference. 
 
“It’s a weird run of form,” said Curtin, who pointed out the Union’s recent losing streak was more about bad luck than poor play. “Streaks get longer and can get problematic or we can step up on Saturday night and put an end to it.”
 
To do that, the Union need more on both sides of the ball. Over that four-game winning run, the Curtin’s outscored their competition 11-1. They took the lead and locked the game down.
 
“It’s a league of runs,” Curtin said. “The strong teams are the ones that aren’t conceding a lot of goals. If you start with that foundation, which is something we believe in and something we’ve improved on but that hasn’t been perfect, it at least gives you a chance to get results in every game. We showed glimpses of that through the four-game stretch of winning.” 
 
2. Looking for a fix
To get back to those winning ways, the Union need a quick fix. But as Curtin explained Wednesday, the defense, which has allowed five goals in its last three matches, has been unlucky rather than poor.
 
“If you look at our last eight games as a team defensively we’ve conceded six goals, which isn’t bad,” he said. “Four of them are without [Alejandro] Bedoya in the last two games. Two of the goals were down a man and two were on restarts. We have a team that needs to do a little better offensively and is a little cleaner defensively decisions as well. But overall I don’t think there’s a real problem with us conceding a ton of goals.” 
 
But while leaning away from putting all of the losing weight on his defense, which has recently included Ray Gaddis, Jack Elliott, Oguchi Onyewu and Fabinho, Curtin, a defender at heart, didn’t let his team’s defensive effort go unscathed. 
 
“We need to continue work on things, to build on that,” Curtin said. “It does start with defense in this league. If you at the team at the top of standings and they defend their butts on for 90 minutes. We’ve been able to do that in patches of games but it’s been too inconsistent.”
 
One solution? Score more. The Union have only managed one goal in their last three games. Curtin stated that it’s not for lack of chances but missing finish that has caused the trouble.
 
“You want to try to get into the situations where you get to [Chris] Pontius comes to life, that’s where [C.J.] Sapong comes to life. In short, we need more crosses.”
 
3. Basement battle
Although Saturday’s match against D.C. United is technically just another early-summer game, it will tell a lot about where the two clubs are headed. It’s a battle of teams trying to climb out of the East basement.
 
“If we can [get a win], we put ourselves in a good spot moving up the table,” D.C. United manager Ben Olsen said. “Philly is right around us so it’s an important match at this point in the season.” 
 
The Union are leaning on previous success against United as navigation through Saturday. On May 13, they dismantled their rivals, 4-0, at RFK Stadium.
 
“We were good with the ball, possession was strong,” Curtin said. “We were clinical with our finishing. When you take your chances in this league it’s everything. That day we finished everything and that’s what it comes down to. Hopefully, we have a sharp day in front of goal, we’ve proven we can do it.”
 
Olsen is expecting a familiar contest.
 
“We know them very well and they know us very well,” he said. “There will be no secrets on what our teams are about, it’s always a physical matchup, it’s a rivalry game for us. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s never an easy place to get points but we’ve done it before.” 
 
4. Keep an eye on
Deshorn Brown: The United newcomer, who was acquired this week from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, made his debut Wednesday for United and will likely play a factor on Saturday. He’s a speedster that the Union know well. “Tough timing,” Curtin said. “It’s speed, that’s what he is. He looks to get in behind, he’s a guy who creates chances and he’s dangerous. We’ll see him for sure. That’s my belief at least. I think we’ll see Deshorn one way or another. It was a good acquisition for them.”

Alejandro Bedoya: After missing two games with a lower-body injury, the midfielder is expected to return Saturday against United. That should give the Union a boost on both ends of the ball, as the club found chemistry and settled nicely with Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin working together in the center.

5. This and that
• The Union will be without Derrick Jones, who is suspended after receiving a red card last Sunday against the New York Red Bulls. It puts Curtin is a tough position as Warren Creavalle (out with a right hamstring strain) would be the primary depth behind Bedoya at the No. 8 spot.

• The Union will also be without Fabian Herbers and potentially Jay Simpson, who is questionable with a left hamstring strain. United will miss Nick DeLeon, Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin and Patrick Mullins. 

• The Union are 8-8-4 against D.C. United all time and 6-3-0 at home.

Alejandro Bedoya, CJ Sapong, Warren Creavalle called upon for international duty

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Alejandro Bedoya, CJ Sapong, Warren Creavalle called upon for international duty

A trio of Union players are being called upon for international duty.

Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and forward CJ Sapong have been named to the final U.S. Men's National Team roster for an upcoming international friendly against Portugal on Nov. 14 in Leiria, Portugal. 

Bedoya has earned 65 international caps for the USMNT including four World Cup appearances. Conversely, Sapong has earned just two caps, both in friendlies. However, Sapong recorded 16 goals this season, setting a career-high and a new franchise record. His 16 goals were tops among American players in MLS, one more that USMNT mainstay Jozy Altidore.

Union midfielder Warren Creavalle has also been called up by Guyana in their friendly against Trinidad and Tobago. Creavalle has earned three international caps. He played in 13 matches for his club team, his second most in a season since joining the Union in 2015.

Too many familiar chords for Union's Stewart in end-of-season address

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Too many familiar chords for Union's Stewart in end-of-season address

CHESTER, Pa. — Earnie Stewart has a lot of qualities you’d want in a sports executive.

He’s patient. He’s even-keeled. He’s endlessly positive. He always has a plan in mind, and he’s always thinking about the future.

If the Union sporting director has a fault, it may be that he doesn’t seem to have a great read on Philly sports fans, many of whom might have, let’s call it, different personality traits than him. But if Union supporters are feeling negative and impatient these days, it’s certainly for good reason.

The franchise has been floundering near the bottom of MLS since its inaugural season in 2010, while watching teams that entered the league around the same time (Toronto, Seattle, Portland) soar past it and more recent expansion clubs (New York City FC, Atlanta, Orlando) open their wallets for MVP-caliber players while drawing big crowds.

Stewart, meanwhile, has admitted the focus in Philly has been on building a foundation and committing to the franchise’s infrastructure through a new practice facility, a minor-league affiliate and an ever-improving youth academy. 

But even if the Union executes flawlessly in all of those aspects, it doesn’t necessarily give the team a competitive advantage over other MLS clubs, most of whom have the same things in place. Similarly, the rebuilding process won’t bear fruit in the way it does for teams in other leagues like the Sixers and Astros since the MLS draft isn’t a reliable mechanism to acquire foundational pieces.

Soon, the club’s youth academy, fueled by a partnership with Bethlehem Steel FC (where the top players can bypass college and get professional minutes) could very well lead to exciting things. But for a team that stresses development, developing young players has never been a particular strong suit — the regression of Keegan Rosenberry (along with the injuries to fellow 2016 standout rookies Josh Yaro and Fabian Herbers) serving as the latest, most glaring example.

Besides, focusing on development and infrastructure shouldn’t take away from building a team that can make the playoffs, which the Union failed to do in 2017 for the sixth time in the franchise’s eight-year history. Philly fans want a winner today, and seeing an expansion team like Atlanta roll into the playoffs behind star South American imports and record crowds has only made their frustration more pronounced.

Which brings us to Stewart’s end-of-season press conference Wednesday.

In his address with reporters, Stewart dove into many of the roster changes the team has made as it declined the options of several players. Still, it didn’t feel like very much will change at all.

For starters, he announced that Jim Curtin will be retained as head coach despite his 38-50-31 overall record. Second, he said that the team’s search for a new attacking midfielder would start in its “own backyard” and didn’t rule out bringing back Ilsinho, possibly in a reserve role, rather than wipe the slate clean after the 2016 season showed it’s the biggest position of need. And third, he hedged when asked if ownership would spend more money to keep up with other teams.

“We have those conversations and I have to say that our ownership group with [majority owner Jay Sugarman] leading that has been good,” Stewart said. “But we’ve also chosen a path that we have as a club, that we started at least since I’ve been here two years ago. That’s our pathway. That’s who we are, that’s who we want to be, and the most important part is we’ve got to come to grips with that.

“Can you spend like the Torontos? No, we can’t. It’s as simple as that. So we have to do it in a different way, and I think we’ve found that way. When you look around at what we have at the club and the facilities we have, we’re still building because a lot of times it’s only seen in player spending. But this is such a young club that there’s so much that needs to be built. You can bring in the best player you want but if you don’t have the infrastructure, it’s not going to work.”

The thing about this is no one is even asking them to spend like Toronto FC, who dishes out over $18 million a year to three star players: Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Clearly, it’s a strategy that works, as Toronto posted the best record in league history this season after advancing to the MLS Cup final a year ago. But at this point, Union fans would settle for bringing in just one difference-maker in the $2 million range (plus a transfer fee) — the kind of salary that lured star playmakers Miguel Almiron (Atlanta), Diego Valeri (Portland), Romain Allesandrini (LA Galaxy) and Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle) to MLS. 

Imagine one of those players behind striker CJ Sapong and in front of central midfielders Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. The Union could easily make the playoffs. Throw in a veteran defender and a quality winger and you could make the case they’re a title contender.

That’s the thing about MLS. There’s a lot talk about building a foundation and grooming young players but, in the end, your success boils down to how much you spend and whether or not you acquire the right players. 

Teams can literally scout anywhere in the world and the Union have had success mixing young Americans in with talented midfielders from France, Argentina and Bosnia, where Medunjanin — an excellent acquisition — hails. But Stewart has also had a lot of misses with his signings as Roland Alberg, Jay Simpson, Giliano Wijnaldum and others failed to make the kind of impact the club needed.

Stewart didn’t really accept much blame for any of those guys, saying Alberg actually had a “very good role” with the Union and that fellow Dutchman Wijnaldum was a “very talented kid” who simply struggled to adapt to a new country. He also didn’t appear to think the 2017 season was a particularly poor one, pointing to the fact that Union finished with same point total, with a better goal differential, as in 2016. Nor did he express any alarm over young players' development, noting that “every player developed this season, except the output wasn’t always the same on Saturday or Sunday.”

On it’s face, there’s nothing wrong with being this positive and Stewart very may well may have big things in store this offseason. But after hearing so much about progress for eight years without ever seeing very much of it, it’s easy to understand why Union fans might not share in his optimism.