Union-Impact 5 things: Both teams missing key players in Eastern Conference tilt

Union-Impact 5 things: Both teams missing key players in Eastern Conference tilt

Union at Montreal Impact
7:30 p.m. on TCN

After a 13-day break from MLS play because of the Gold Cup, the Union (6-7-5) enter a busy stretch with a tricky road trip that starts in Montreal tonight and ends in Columbus three days from now. Here are five things to know for Wednesday’s matchup vs. the Impact (5-6-6):

1. Missing players
The Union will be without a slew of key guys as Chris Pontius (U.S.) and Andre Blake (Jamaica) are still with their respective national teams heading into the Gold Cup quarterfinals. And even though Alejandro Bedoya was released from the U.S. national team, that was only so he could welcome the birth of his second child, which he did Tuesday morning.

That means Bedoya understandably may not want to leave his newborn daughter, Milena, behind to fly to Montreal for Wednesday’s game. Instead, the Union captain will likely join the team for the second half of their road trip in Columbus for Saturday’s game.

“Obviously, we’re a much better soccer team when he’s there with us, but there are certain things that are more important for soccer for sure,” said Union head coach Jim Curtin, a father of three. “The birth of a child, for me, is always something that is an incredibly unique experience. … It would be pretty darn selfish to take that away from him.”

Among other injuries, the Union will also be without Bedoya’s midfield replacement in Derrick Jones, who suffered a concussion in Saturday’s friendly vs. Swansea City and will, according to Curtin, “be out at least until Saturday.”

But the Impact will also likely be without some important players, including Patrice Bernier and Anthony Jackson-Hamel (with Canada at the Gold Cup), Ambroise Oyongo (right knee surgery) and star playmaker Ignacio Piatti (groin injury).

“You dodge a bullet because he’s as talented a guy in the league that there is,” Curtin said of Piatti. “We’re missing guys, they’re missing guys — it will be a real fight.”

2. Brutal schedule
It was recently revealed that, of every team in MLS, the Union have the toughest remaining schedule for the second half of the season with trips to home powerhouses Toronto, Chicago and Atlanta looming.

That means that even though it’s tough to win on the road in this league, the Union know they need points in Montreal and Columbus — two teams near them in the standings — before coming home to face Columbus again next Wednesday.

“It’s a tricky time, with the combination of the Gold Cup and the schedule,” Curtin said. “They gave us Saturday off, which was I guess nice. But then they crammed in Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday, so you’re playing the same amount of games. I’d rather almost that they kept us in the rhythm of a weekly game. It’s a challenge.”

According to Curtin, there is at least one positive about hitting the road for a midweek game, however.

“The old Wednesday night is good for us because it’s not quite the same atmosphere on a Wednesday night in a home stadium,” the Union coach said. “We have to jump on them and take advantage and try to take points.”

3. Ilsinho back to the wing?
With Pontius on U.S. national team duty in Philly and Fabian Herbers out indefinitely after undergoing sports hernia injury, the Union are a lot thinner on the wing — once arguably their deepest position.

Fafa Picault will start on one side and it looks like Ilsinho will slide back over to the wing from the central midfield position he had been occupying for the last couple of months. That means Roland Alberg, who had lost that No. 10 spot, is in line to start his first MLS game since early May and play alongside Ilsinho in Montreal.

“They’re both experienced players, and I’m totally comfortable with them being on the field together,” Curtin said. “We will have a little more possession. They’re guys that are very good on the ball. I’m comfortable in that regard.”

Curtin added that speedy rookie Marcus Epps will continue to be a top winger off the bench while Herbers recovers from surgery (which could be up to the next eight weeks).

“Every time he comes into a game he changes it,” Curtin said of Epps.

4. Players to watch
Union: If Bedoya doesn’t make the trip to Montreal, Warren Creavalle will almost certainly get the start in the midfield alongside Haris Medunjanin. Although it will only be his second start of the season, Creavalle is a seasoned MLS player who started 21 games last season, so he should be up for the challenge. And look for veteran Brian Carroll to back him up and possibly make his season debut if the Union are holding a late lead.

Impact: Since coming over in May as a Designated Player, Swiss midfielder Blerim Dzemaili has three goals and four assists for Montreal in only 626 minutes.

5. This and that
• The Impact are 5-1-1 all-time vs. the Union in games played in Montreal.

• The Union had a stunning collapse when the Impact visited Talen Energy Stadium earlier in the season, blowing a 3-0 lead for a 3-3 draw.

• Montreal just acquired Shaun Francis, but Curtin said he thinks the experienced Jamaican left back may be immediately thrown into the fire and see time tonight

• Union striker C.J. Sapong remains one goal away from hitting double digits for the first time in his career.

• With Blake gone, John McCarthy will get his second straight start in net after making six saves in a 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City two weeks ago.

Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

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Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

CHESTER, Pa. — When Saturday’s game ended, Union midfielder Borek Dockal told head coach Jim Curtin two things: that his body felt fine and that he knows he can play a lot better.

That’s probably just about all Union fans need to hear.

Sure, it was a mostly uneventful and somewhat disappointing MLS debut for the team’s new Designated Player in a scoreless draw with Columbus Crew SC (see observations). But it’s also a long season and Dockal is still trying to mesh with his teammates and get his fitness up after dealing with a preseason ankle injury.

“I think he had some good moments,” Curtin said. “I think you can see his quality and how comfortable he is on the ball. He can pass and he looks forward. … [But] it’s been a week where he’s really trained with the group, so you see a ball played behind when he’s looking to play through. It’s going to take a little bit of time. But overall [I’m] happy with the amount of minutes he was able to push.”

Dockal, signed only three days before the start of the 2018 season, was a tougher critic on himself after sometimes struggling to connect passes and move to the right spot in his 77 minutes of action. But the Czech playmaker also acknowledged that he needs more time to adapt to MLS and learn his teammates’ tendencies.

“For me, it was the first game so it was a little bit about how to find my space on the field, to see how my teammates are moving, which kind of positions should I be in the most to help them,” said Dockal, who sat out the Union’s first game — a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution. “So I just have to learn from this first game and be better the next game.”

Expectations will certainly be raised when the Union play their next game, in two weeks, on the road against the Colorado Rapids. But expectations are already high for Dockal, who has experience in the Champions League and with the Czech Republic national team.

Along with fellow newcomer David Accam — who he said the team needs to find more on the wing — Dockal is filling in what was a major position of need last year and should provide a major offensive punch in the midfield, playing in front of veterans Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin.

It just hasn’t happened yet.

“My performance definitely can be better,” Dockal said. “But I have to start at some point so it would actually be a miracle if I played an excellent game today.”

“Overall, it’s a first step and nothing replicates these games,” Curtin said. “We didn’t put him on the ball as much as we would have liked. ... But he's an incredibly talented guy."

Union lifeless in draw with Crew

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Union lifeless in draw with Crew

CHESTER, Pa. — In a matchup of two teams with perfect records, it ended up being a stalemate.

On Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union and Columbus Crew SC fought to a scoreless draw as goalkeepers Andre Blake and Zack Steffen finished with three saves apiece.

The Union move to 1-0-1 on the season while the Crew, who entered the day in first place in the Eastern Conference, sit at 2-0-1.

• With the Union coming off a weird early bye week, the game lacked fluidity for much of the first half as both teams only put one shot on target before halftime. 

• Borek Dockal, the Union’s new Designated Player, made his MLS debut after sitting out the opener. The Czech playmaker looked tentative early in the match and had some giveaways in the second half before coming out in the 77th minute. It’s too early, of course, to make any judgements but that probably wasn’t the kind of debut head coach Jim Curtin hoped to see.

• David Accam, the team’s other prized newcomer, enjoyed good start to the second half and was active throughout in his second game in Philly. It shouldn’t be long before he opens his account for the Union.

• Steffen came through with a couple of big saves early in the second half for Columbus. It might be hard for some Philly fans to see the Downingtown native and former Union academy player on the visiting side, even if they do get to cheer for a star ’keeper of their own in Blake.

• CJ Sapong, fresh off signing a new contract, couldn’t get on the ball much or even get any shots off. The Union striker had three goals and three assists in seven previous meetings against the Crew.

• On the other end of the field, Gyasi Zardes was held in check after scoring three goals in his first two games for Columbus following a trade from the LA Galaxy. That’s a good sign for the progress of Philly’s young center backs, Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty.

• Ray Gaddis entered the game as a halftime sub for Fabinho, who left with a leg injury. Fabinho and Gaddis are both two of the club’s longest-tenured players, and Gaddis being able to play as both a left back and right back is a nice luxury to have off the bench.

• Despite an announced attendance of 15,323, the crowd at Talen Energy Stadium looked smaller than usual — and with less energy. A lot of that probably has to do with the on-field play but in general, the Union seem to have a better home-field advantage during night games, when the atmosphere is more electric.

• A shoutout to the Sons of Ben, though, for unveiling some cool Philly tifo before kickoff — a “cheesesteak shark” preying on a boat of Crew rowers underneath the word “Jawns.” 

• The Union — who are 4-1-1 in their last six meetings with the Crew — are off again next weekend before before facing Colorado on March 31 in their first road game of 2018.