Union-D.C. United 5 things: Union desperate for first win

Union-D.C. United 5 things: Union desperate for first win

Union (0-1-2)  at D.C. United (0-2-1)
7 p.m. on TCN

Fresh off a much-needed international break, Sebastien Le Toux and stumbling D.C. United host Alejandro Bedoya and the Union (0-1-2) on Saturday night (7:00 p.m., TCN) at RFK Stadium, in what has become a crucial early-season battle between the two winless clubs.

Here are five things to know:

1. Looking for three points
Three games into the 2017 campaign and the winless Union are already feeling pressure. 

"I do know we lost a game to Orlando, which we weren't happy about,” said Union manager Jim Curtin regarding his club's recent 2-1 loss to Orlando City SC. "We would have liked to get at least a point out of it, we would have liked to get three out of [Toronto FC on March 11]. We didn't, so our players and staff know the task at hand. We have to get points early on in the year because it's important." 

While it was only the first defeat for the Union in 2017, the loss was another reminder that the club hasn't won a game since August 2016. Still, Curtin isn't worried about the continuation of last season's late struggle.

"It's important to recognize that this year's team is different from last year's in terms of personnel," Curtin said. "It's a new year, a new group. While we were happy to make the playoffs, we weren't happy with the ending of the year. It's in the past. We had months and months of off time between that, so I don't think you can connect the two years together."

But Curtin does recognize that if the Union don't begin to pull in points soon, starting on Saturday against D.C. United, the situation could get dire for the Union. You can only go so far without a win before the hull begins to crack.

"You don't want to be a team that's chasing," he said. "It's a hard league to come from behind and chase in. You saw last year with the [Seattle Sounders] and D.C. getting hot late in the year. But that's not a situation we want to put ourselves in. It starts with a good performance against D.C. and building into the three-game homestand that we have."

2. Keeping D.C. at Zero
Although the Union and D.C. United are cuddling at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the scenario appears much more dire for Ben Olsen's club. Through three games, United has yet to score a goal and has conceded a conference-worst six.

"It's a scary thing," Curtin said. "You don't want to be the team they break out against. Ben is as hard a worker as there is in our league and he has a good team. If you actually look at their performances and watch the games as we have now on tape, they are creating chances. They are dangerous."

More troubling for United is that their primary striker, Patrick Mullins, is out for three or four weeks with a left hamstring injury. That leaves the club to lean on Jose Guillermo Ortiz, Lamar Neagle or former Union legend, Sebastien Le Toux as the go-to forward.

"I'm sure he'd like to be out there," Curtin said of Le Toux, who played six seasons with the Union before being traded last season to the Colorado Rapids. "I'm sure he'd like to score against us. You see it so often, guys move from one club to another and there's a chip on their shoulder to score against their old team. Knowing Ben, I wouldn't be surprised if [Le toux] plays a bunch of minutes against us."

Regardless, the Union are treating United as a defensive problem.

"They have a lot of dynamic attackers," Curtin said. "You look at guys like Lloyd Sam. [Patrick] Nyarko has given us fits over the past years. [Luciano] Acosta, when he gets going, he's a handful, he pops up all over the field."

3. United Urgency
While the Union may have had a rougher than expected start to their season, D.C. United's season has been a nightmare. The club kicked off the year with a scoreless draw but followed that effort up with a 4-0 loss at the hands of New York City FC. 

On March 18, Olsen's team dropped a 2-0 decision at home to the Columbus Crew.

"We have to trust in the process of getting better right now," Olsen said. "We're getting plenty of looks and plenty of chances, we just have to clean up the final stuff on the offensive end."

But according to Olsen, the pressure United feels to find a result on Saturday isn't irregular, despite the team's rocky start.

"There's always an urgency to win games in this league," he said. "It doesn't matter if it's the first game, third or what your record is. We're always looking to get three points at home and this is no different." 

4. Keep an eye on …
Patrick Nyarko: The speedster, with a goal and two assists in his last three games against the Union, continued that into the preseason when he fired on the Union with a goal in the 14th minute of a United win. He's a problem the Union will have to solve on Saturday.

Jay Simpson: Simpson's first goal with the Union came minutes before he had to leave the match against Toronto FC and head to the hospital with a rib injury. But after a few weeks of rest and recovery, the forward is healthy and ready to make an impact against D.C. United on Saturday. 

5. This and that
• The Union are 7-7-4 against D.C. United all time and 2-0-1 in their last three games against the rival club.

• Union goalkeeper John McCarthy has been diagnosed with a concussion and will not travel with the team. Third-string goalkeeper Jake McGuire will travel. 

• Union forward Chris Pontius suffered a broken hand against Orlando City but is expected to play in a full capacity Saturday.

With new deal signed, CJ Sapong hungry to 'eat' for Union

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With new deal signed, CJ Sapong hungry to 'eat' for Union

CHESTER, Pa. — When the Union first traded for CJ Sapong ahead of the 2015 season, they knew they were getting a promising young attacking player.

What may have been less expected was Sapong developing into one of the top American strikers, a member of the U.S national team rotation and a foundational player that makes the Union’s entire system go.

So with Sapong’s contract set to expire at the end of the 2018 campaign, the Union knew they had to make sure to lock him up — which they did just one game into the season, signing him Wednesday to a new deal that runs through 2019 with a club option for 2020.

“I hope he continues to progress as a center forward,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart told reporters from the club’s training complex Wednesday. “I think CJ is a person that, [with] the way he takes care of his body and the professional that he is, has a long future in soccer. And he’s still growing as a soccer player.”

At 29, Sapong might not be considered young anymore. But it’s easy to make the case that his best soccer is still in front of him, considering he’s coming off a breakout 16-goal season — the first time in his career he eclipsed double digits — and is set up for even more success this year with the offseason additions of playmakers Borek Dockal and David Accam.

The combination of Dockal’s vision behind him with the speed of Accam and Fafa Picault on either side of him has Sapong as excited as inking a new deal.

“That gives me space to just chill in the box and eat when I can,” he said. “I find it hard to believe we’ll be kept off the scoresheet too many games this year.”

After opening his account in Philly’s season-opening 2-0 win over the Revolution on March 3, Sapong will look to find the back of the net again when the Union return to the field Saturday vs. Columbus at Talen Energy Stadium.

And putting all contract negotiations behind him should only provide further motivation to a player who can now rest easy that Philadelphia will be his home for years to come.

“He’s a guy who’s done everything for the badge, and it’s been a pleasure to work with him and watch him grow and take his game to another level,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I’m looking forward to working with him for the next few years.”

Currently in his eighth MLS season, Sapong said he hopes to, at the least, hit double-digits in goals every year while continuing to do the dirty work and hold-up play that Curtin loves — and has endeared him to Philly fans.

“I owe a lot to Philadelphia,” Sapong said, “and how it’s transformed me as a person and a player.”

The kids are finally all right for Union in season-opening win

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The kids are finally all right for Union in season-opening win


CHESTER, Pa. — For years, the Union have yelled from the rooftops about their youth-first mentality and plan to win through player development.

On Saturday night, that plan finally came to fruition.

"It's a big step for us," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "The fact that some homegrowns weren't just on the field but left huge impacts on the game, it's special."

Anthony Fontana, 18, Auston Trusty, 19, and Derrick Jones, 21, all put their stamp on the Union's 2-0 season-opening win over the Revolution.

Fontana, hailing from Newark, Delaware, and who played 66 minutes at attacking midfield, opened up his MLS account in the 43rd minute when he gathered a tipped ball from C.J. Sapong and placed a confident shot past Matt Turner. 

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play here at this club,” Fontana said. “To be able to actually help the team today feels good.”

His teammates also couldn’t be happier. That includes Union and former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Alejandro Bedoya, who took Fontana under his wing throughout the preseason.

“I’m so happy for him,” Bedoya said. “He’s a good player so I hope he takes a good step this season. Not a bad way to start his debut, to score a goal. It’s just the beginning for him, he’s got a bright future.”

For Trusty, it was all about the clean sheet. Pairing with Jack Elliott on the left side of the Union defensive line, Trusty had the unenviable job of shutting down the Revs’ most potent option, Juan Agudelo. 

“It means a lot, but it’s also the challenge,” Trusty said. “The coach put me up to it and our organization put me up to it and they believe I can do it. I just set out to fulfill my role, do my task and keep the clean sheet and just play my role on the team.”

At one point in the first half, Agudelo beat Trusty and moved in on a breakaway, only for the rookie to catch up and steal the ball back.

“He made a couple key tackles in the box, won a lot of aerial duels in the box, did a lot of the things that don’t show up in the stat sheet for center backs,” Curtin said. “But the thing that makes me most proud is there was a zero at the end of the day. That’s what is most important. That means Auston did the job.” 

And while the win was a productive introduction for the Union’s crop of talented prospects, it was also an unforgettable experience for the local kids.

“It’s amazing,” Trusty said. “Imagine growing up in the Philadelphia area, being a little kid and coming to see these guys play, to be on the same field. I remember buying a ticket and coming to see these guys play and always dreamed of playing for the Union. For it to actually happen is amazing. It’s very humbling. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”