Union

Union-Impact 5 things: Searching for confidence, goals against visiting Montreal

Union-Impact 5 things: Searching for confidence, goals against visiting Montreal

Union vs. Impact
1 p.m. on 6ABC

After suffering four consecutive losses, the winless Union (0-4-2) will grasp for traction when they host the one-win Montreal Impact (1-2-3) on Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium.

It's a battle at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Here are five things to know:

1. Finding confidence
The Union's nightmarish start continued last Friday with a devastating home loss to New York City FC. It was the club's fourth straight defeat, which sank the Union to the bottom of MLS with two points through six games.

"We've put ourselves in a tough spot with our start," Union attack Chris Pontius said. "We know what we have to fix, everything is fixable. We have the talent here, we've seen it throughout games, we just need to put it together for 90 minutes."

According to manager Jim Curtin, the Union's issues, while plentiful, aren't easy to pinpoint and correct. But what Curtin can identify is that his club is putting in the work to turn things around.

"It's not for lack of effort," Curtin said. "This group is so deserving of a result. I feel for the guys because I see how hard they work each and every week."

However, one fixable aspect of the Union's game is a stiffening of their upper lip. If the fragile Union can maintain a strong mental state through the ebbs and flows of Saturday's match and beyond, Curtin is confident his team will begin to see favorable results.

"When things aren't going well, guys start to press and confidence is down," he said. "You start to see guys try to do too much and be the one to make a big play.

"There will be mistakes that are made over the course of 90 minutes. It's how you bounce back, that's how you get points in this league. It's something we discussed. Is there a magic potion to cure it? I wish there was but there's not. But we have to get through this together."

2. Finding the net
If the Union want to begin that turnaround, they will need to hit the net. Curtin's club is tied for the second-fewest goals scored in MLS this season at five, despite adding 70 total shots in six games.

"We need to punish teams, we need to put some goals away," Pontius said. "The past few games, we've started the game brightly, turned over teams in bad spots but we just haven't punished them and got the goals that we needed."

Alejandro Bedoya believes those goals will arrive. The Union captain, who remained confident in his team's ability to climb out from this hole, blamed his club's attacking issues on "small margins" in the offensive third.

"We've stressed that it's important to have a high energy level, it's been intense," Bedoya said. "The results have not gone our way but guys haven't gotten discouraged, which is a good sign. We're still confident, we just have to tweak a few things, we have to get sharper in the final third and execute on some plays. It'll come. We're not concerned with it, we'll right the ship."

But believing is only part of the equation. Curtin identified some of the on-field issues that have kept the Union out of the net and plans on fixing them for Saturday.

"The only way you get to goal in this league is playing that forward ball," said Curtin, who believes his team isn't being aggressive enough with its passing. "We've worked on that a great deal. There hasn't been a ton of times where our wingers have gotten in behind, teams are keeping us in front of them right now. It's fair to say we've had good possession but it's not where the other team is really threatened." 

3. Counter Impact
With just one more win on the season than the Union, the visiting Impact know exactly what to expect when the whistle blows at Talen Energy Stadium. They've been through it.

"It's going to be a tough game because they have to go out there and shine," Impact forward Dominic Oduro told the media. "The fans want a win, they want a win and the coaches want a win. They are going to come full force."

Expecting that pressure from the Union, the Impact will use their speed to work the counter attack. After all, it's their calling card.

"We're good at counter attacking, so hopefully we absorb the pressure and take that for our advantage," Oduro said. "They'll have the crowd behind them, so we have to be smart and absorb that pressure."

Curtin is well aware of what to expect. 

"Montreal is a very dangerous team that is good on the counter attack and has some very experienced players," he said. "We'll have to be sharp. They have a very dangerous group."

Although the Impact, who are coming off a 2-1 win against Atlanta United, know the Union are vulnerable, they refuse to take the hosts lightly. As Impact coach Mauro Biello told the media, it's a league of parity.

"We know they haven't won a game yet but this is a good team, a team that will be desperate to win," Biello said. "When you look at the standings, you can get a false indication. They have quality players on that side and we have to be ready on our end to go get points."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: With Bedoya dropping from the No. 10 position back to his more natural No. 8 slot, the Union are expected to rely on Roland Alberg to take over as primary midfield playmaker for the second consecutive week. "His possession was deeper than we'd want it to be," Curtin said of Alberg's performance last week. "He connected a lot of his passes but we want them to take a little more risk and be a little more forward. He showed some good signs."

Impact: The Impact's MVP in 2016, Ignacio Piatti missed two games with an injury before returning last week with a vengeance. He scored a goal and registered five shots. In four career games against the Union, Piatti has two goals and two assists. 

5. This and that
• The Union are undefeated hosting the Impact, holding a 2-0-4 home record against the Canadian side. However, the club is 3-5-5 all-time against the Impact, outscored, 22-15.

• For the third game, the Union will be without goalkeeper John McCarthy, who is recovering from a concussion. Jake McGuire is expected to be the primary backup. Defender Josh Yaro (shoulder) is also out, despite being near full health.

• Throughout training this week, Curtin, who may be looking to counter the Impact's forward speed, played right back Ray Gaddis with the starting team ahead of Keegan Rosenberry, and Jack Elliott ahead of Oguchi Onyewu.

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.