Union

Union-Dynamo 5 things: Riding high into mid-week showdown

Union-Dynamo 5 things: Riding high into mid-week showdown

Union vs. Houston Dynamo
7:30 p.m. on TCN

Riding a four-game point streak and coming off back-to-back wins, the scorching Union (2-4-4) set to host potent Cubo Torres and the equally hot Houston Dynamo (6-3-1) in a rare mid-week tilt at Talen Energy Stadium on Wednesday night.

Here are five things to know:

1. Committing to Defense
The Union’s dramatic turnaround starts on the defensive side.

After giving up two-plus goals is six-straight games this season, the Union have rattled off three consecutive shutouts, outscoring their competition 7-0 over that span. It’s resulted in two wins and a road draw.

“The best defenders in the world can do nothing if there isn’t pressure to the ball,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “And that’s where we’ve been better. That makes everyone’s job across the back line a lot easier and more predictable. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. But it does give us a chance in all these games.”

While the team is scoring goals in droves, the players believe it’s a stronger commitment to defending that has the Union winning games. The club has won back-to-back games for the first time since Aug. 24 and Aug. 27, when they defeated the Columbus Crew and Sporting Kansas City.

"I think we're just working a little harder and everyone is committed to defending,” Union goalkeeper Andre Blake told reporters. “I think we all get that it's going to take 11 to defend. We all understand that there are no plays off and we've just got to work as hard as we can on the defensive side of things."

Blake, who had a rocky start to the season but is now tied for second in MLS with four shutouts on the season, wasn’t tested often, earning the one-save effort last Saturday. And even though it didn’t involve much work, the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year will take every clean sheet he can get.

"As a goalkeeper, I can take some of those nights,” he said. “If we have 35 games and I get zero shots and all shutouts, then I'll take that. The guys are doing very well and it's making my job easier, so I just need to make sure that whenever something is coming my way that I'm in the right mindset and ready to make a save."

2. Stopping Cubo
The Union’s defensive resurgence will be tested on Wednesday. With 21 goals on the season, the Dynamo, led by Torres’ league-leading eight goals, are atop the Western Conference in points and currently lead the league in scoring.

“We need to stay consistent and collectively defend from top to bottom, from C.J. Sapong to Andre Blake,” said Union defender Ray Gaddis. “We want to be a cohesive unit, do the dirty work and stay together. We know we are facing a good Houston team, we just need to stay together and focus on the task.”

That task includes stopping the league’s leading scorer. Facing the New York Red Bulls on May 6, the Union were able to stop Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips. Last Saturday, they completely shut out Luciano Acosta, frustrating the attacking midfielder into taking a red card.

“We’ve done a good job limiting the opponent's chances,” Curtin said. “The biggest thing with that is trying to cut out their key guys. We’ve done a good job of limiting touches, chances and played some decent soccer along the way as well.“

Next up: Torres.

“He’s clinical around the goal,” Curtin said of Torres, who earned four his eight goals from penalty kicks. “Their wingers are so dangerous, Alex is so dangerous on the dribble, it results in a lot of fouls around the box. I think they had six PKs, five scored, so we have to be smart because they are so dynamic.”

3. Dynamo’s Road Problem
Leading the Western Conference with 19 points in 10 games may be an impressive feat for the Dynamo. But it doesn’t mean they are perfect.

The Dynamo, who have played a large chunk of their home games early this season to avoid mid-summer heat in Houston, are 6-0-1 at home but a paltry 0-3-0 on the road.

“This is a test for us,”  Dynamo fullback DaMarcus Beasley said. “We don’t try to look too much in the future but eight of our next 11 are away from home.”

The goal for the Dynamo over that span, beginning on Wednesday, is transferring their impressive home play to the road. According to Beasley, that hasn’t been an easy process, leaving the club still trying to find themselves away from BBVA Compass Stadium.

“If we figured it out we’d be winning on the road,” Beasley joked with reporters. “There’s no secret. We have to think that we can win and be able to incorporate what we do at home on the road. So far we haven’t done that. I can’t pinpoint it but we’re working really hard to try and make that right.”

4. Keep an eye on
Dynamo: Leading MLS in goals, Cubo Torres has eight goals in eight starts this season. One of the more potent offensive forces in the league, he had a goal and four shots against the Vancouver Whitecaps last week.

Union: Defensive midfielder Haris Medunjanin broke out offensively last week by notching his first MLS goal and two assists. He now sits tied for third in MLS in helpers with five on the season.

5. This and that
• The Union are 4-6-4 against the Dynamo all-time.

• With four assists on the season, Chris Pontius is two off his career high in helpers. He earned six total in 2016.

• The Union will be without midfielder Roland Alberg (hamstring) and center back Josh Yaro (shoulder), while Dynamo forward

• Alberth Elis is questionable with a hamstring injury.

Inside Doop: Lack of star power continues to doom Union

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Inside Doop: Lack of star power continues to doom Union

At long last, the Union’s season is coming to an end. Even better, they no longer have to play any games on the road this year.

In their final away match of a disappointing 2017 campaign, the Union let a lead slip away in a 3-2 loss to the Fire, finishing the year with a dismal 1-10-6 road record.

What went wrong? And what can we expect from next week’s regular-season finale at Talen Energy Stadium? Here’s a look in the final Inside Doop of 2017:

Three thoughts about Sunday’s game
1. The Union were once again reminded what star power can do for a team. On Sunday, the Fire’s Nemanja Nikolic put on a show with three goals — his 22nd, 23rd and 24th of the season — to all but wrap up a Golden Boot crown and put on his back a Fire team that was without fellow star Bastian Schweinsteiger. In Philly’s last road game, Atlanta also overcame the loss of star Miguel Almiron to ride Josef Martinez to a big win. That’s what happens when you spend a lot of money: you have a stable of difference-makers and their presence trickles down to the rest of the club. The Union, simply, don’t have anything close to that — one of the big reasons why they can’t play well for 90 minutes on the road and why they’ll be missing the playoffs for the sixth time in the franchise’s eight-year history.

2. The closest thing the Union do have to a true star, apart from goalie Andre Blake, is the midfield combo of Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. And both overcame their recent heartbreak of missing out on the World Cup (Bedoya with the U.S., Medunjnanin with Bosnia and Herzegovina) to put in strong shifts. Medunjanin’s pass to set up Bedoya’s second goal of the season was a thing of beauty — and marked his 11th assist of the season. Say what you want about the Union, but those two are consummate pros and locker room leaders who will do everything in their power to get this thing turned around in 2018.

3. Sadly for the Union, one of their best stories of the season — Jack Elliott — had a night to forget. The rookie center back, who went from fourth-round draft pick to Rookie of the Year contender, lost track of a long ball on the Fire’s first goal and then committed a penalty to set up Nikolic’s second goal. Elliott will still be an important piece heading into 2018, but it’s important to remember that he’s no sure thing, especially after seeing what happened to Keegan Rosenberry and Josh Yaro in their second seasons. Meanwhile, Richie Marquez continued his late-season revival with one of his better games of the year. Raise your hand if you have any kind of handle on the team’s center back situation right now.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. Home finales are usually special no matter how a season turns out but it’s hard to figure what kind of crowd and reception there will be when the Union take on Orlando next Sunday (4 p.m., 6ABC). This has been a trying season for Union fans who watched their team fail to build on any kind of momentum from last year’s playoff berth while lowly teams like Chicago or expansion teams like Atlanta (for the reasons listed above them) skyrocketed past them. At the same time, the Union have been mostly fun to watch at home, where they’ve set a franchise record with nine wins. The chance to go for a 10th victory and have C.J. Sapong break the single-season scoring record could be a couple reasons that people will flock to the stadium — that, and the realization that there will be no more soccer there until March.

2. Another big reason to come to Talen Energy Stadium is to see Kaka, the Brazilian legend who will play his last game in MLS. Who will play their last game for the Union? It’s hard to say for sure but Roland Alberg, Ilsinho, Chris Pontius and Brian Carroll are decent bets as an offseason potentially filled with turnover looms.

3. How will head coach Jim Curtin construct the lineup? He doesn’t like to switch things too much, but fans may be clamoring for young guys like Derrick Jones and Adam Najem while Curtin may want to give something of a send-off to Carroll or Charlie Davies, well-known veterans who have hardly played this year. And what about Maurice Edu? He hasn’t played in more than two years — but will a player who led the Union to back-to-back U.S. Open Cup finals in 2014 and 2015 get to say goodbye to fans in some way?

Stat of the week
Even after Bedoya’s goal Sunday, the Union’s four highest-paid players — Bedoya, Edu, Ilsinho and Jay Simpson — have combined for only seven goals this season.

Quote of the week
"It was definitely nostalgic to come back and play at Toyota Park. When I was younger in the U-16s and the U-18s, I played a lot here when I was with the academy. It was good to come back on the professional side and be able to play on the same field I play it on when I was younger." — Union rookie Marcus Epps

Player of the week
Bedoya scored a very nice goal, made a couple of perfectly timed tackles and generally looked sharp in his first game back from the USMNT’s World Cup qualifying failure. Maybe he should’ve played in Trinidad, huh?

Union blow another lead, beaten by Fire

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Union blow another lead, beaten by Fire

BOX SCORE

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Nemanja Nikolic scored two of his three goals in the second half, increasing his league-leading total to 24, and the Chicago Fire rallied for a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Union on Sunday.

The Fire (16-10-7) moved into third in the Eastern Conference, which would be good for a home game in the playoffs. Nikolic is four goals clear of his pursuers for the Golden Boot with one game to play.

Nikolic opened the scoring in the third minute, getting to a long feed from Brandon Vincent and aided by a bad angle by defender Jack Elliot before beating Andre Blake. Nikolic's penalty kick in the 64th tied it at 2 after David Accam was taken down in the penalty area. Nikolic completed his first career hat trick with an easy finish from the middle of the box on a feed from Brandon Vincent for the game winner in the 78th.

Chicago defender Johnan Kappelhof's own goal put the Union in a 1-1 tie at the six-minute mark and a feed from Haris Medunjanin to Alejandro Bedoya for a chip shot was good for the lead from the 13th minute.

Philadelphia (10-14-9) finished 1-10-6 on the road this season.