Union

Union-Impact 5 things: Playoff-hungry teams face off in East showdown

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Union-Impact 5 things: Playoff-hungry teams face off in East showdown

Union vs. Montreal Impact
8:00 p.m. on CSN

Attempting to claw into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Union (8-10-5), coming off a dominating 3-1 win over FC Dallas last weekend, want to keep the momentum rolling as they host the Ignacio Piatti and the Montreal Impact (7-8-6) on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know:

1. Elliott’s rise
Jack Elliott has been a revelation for the Union. 

The quiet and unassuming fourth round selection in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft will make his 19th consecutive start at center back for the Union against the Impact. 

“Jack Elliott has been the Rookie of the Year,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “He’s been excellent.”

And that’s not just a coach spewing positives for an undeserving player, there’s momentum behind Elliott for Rookie of the Year. The Union, who are 8-10-5, are 8-7-3 with Elliott as a starter, including seven of the team’s eight shutouts.

“It’s good to see a young center back playing at the high level he is,” Curtin said of the 6-foot-5 standout. “It is my duty as a coach to get the word out for my guy and Jack has been exceptional.”

But despite his worthiness, Elliott might not stand a chance. As Curtin explained, and as the Union experienced in 2016 when Keegan Rosenberry lost out to Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris, goals open eyes. Currently, Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel, with three goals and six assists in 18 starts, may have the edge.

“I always want to be a voice for the defenders,” Curtin said. “When people start banging in goals, that’s what stays in people’s minds. You wish there were more quantifiable metrics for defenders. It is tough to really get recognition as a defender for awards because if you’re winning games, 3-0, they are talking about the guys who score three goals, not who kept the zero.” 

2. Learning from the past
Before the Union were able to turn their season around, they hit the ground. That thud happened against the Impact at home on April 22 when they blew a three goal lead to draw the visitors, 3-3.

“That was probably rock bottom,” Curtin said.

The Union were winless in their first six games of the season entering that contest. Claiming the opening three goals was a breath of air for the struggling club, and to lose it was devastating. 

“We got up three goals and gave up the one to [Ignacio] Piatti before the half,” Curtin said. “It was a time when we didn’t have a lot of confidence and when that goal went in you could feel the life go out of the stadium and go out of the group. It’s two points that we dropped and two big points.”

But the club recovered. Though disappointing, the draw was the start of a six game unbeaten run that sparked the Union’s come back to Eastern Conference relevance.

“That was the low point for the group but they stuck together and rebounded well,” said Curtin, whose team is three points out of playoff position. “We still have an opportunity to get ourselves back into the discussion for the playoffs.” 

3. Impactful match
Separated by two points in the East standings and with two games in hand, Saturday’s match means as much for the Impact as it does for the Union.

“Getting a result is really important right now,” said Impact’s Dominic Oduro. “Because we can come home for a couple of games, and if we can win those, will be right in playoff position.”

But the Impact understand what they’re stepping into. The Union have been fantastic at home of late, currently on a 4-0-0 run while outscoring the opposition, 10-1, over that span.

“Philadelphia is a team that always comes out strong when they play at home,” said Impact manager Mauro Biello, who mentioned C.J. Sapong, Ilsinho and Haris Medunjanin as players his club needs to watch. “They score goals early so we have to be ready for that. It’s about being aware of those elements and being able to focus on what brings us success.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Ignacio Piatti: The dynamic midfielder was out for the Union’s 2-1 loss to the Impact at Saputo Stadium in late July, but was key to the Impact comeback draw. “When you talk about Montreal, it starts with Ignacio Piatti and trying to contain him the best you can,” Curtin said. “He’s not the kind of guy you can shut down for 90 minutes.”

Ilsinho: The Brazilian had the game of his MLS career last weekend by putting up a goal, two eye-popping assists and five shots in a 3-1 rout of FC Dallas. It was exactly what the Union needed from the No. 10 position.

5. This and that
• The Union will once again be without goalkeeper Andre Blake, who is set to miss his third game with a laceration to his hand suffered in the Gold Cup title game. Blake hasn’t played for the Union since July 2 - a 3-0 win over the New England Revolution.

• With Blake out, John McCarthy will get his seventh consecutive start on Saturday. He’s been solid in reserve, making 28 stops and allowing eight goals over that span.

• Masterful at home of late, the Union are 7-1-0 at Talen Energy Stadium since May 1. 

• The Impact are 1-5-5 on the road this season and have never won at Talen Energy Stadium (0-2-5). However, the Union are 3-6-6 all time against the Canadian side.

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

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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

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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.