Union

Union looking as transfer window opens: 'We have flexibility to do something'

Union looking as transfer window opens: 'We have flexibility to do something'

With the summer transfer window now open, the Union are shopping for help. 

“We have some flexibility to do something,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We have a lot of guys that we’ve been looking at and the right thing that comes up, we’re always looking to strengthen our roster, offensively or defensively, there isn’t one position we’re targeting. We’ve been actively looking but nothing to report.”

Though Curtin wouldn’t tip his hand to what the Union’s strategy may be when it comes to adding talent, the club will likely look at attracting offense. The eighth-place Union are currently 13th in MLS in goals per game and believe a touch of potency on the offensive side could ignite their run at a playoff position. 

“We’ve probably come up a little short in terms of the quantity of chances and shots that we’ve created,” said Curtin, who believes his club’s eighth-ranked plus-four goal differential is a sign it could take the next step in the Eastern Conference. “But the quality of those shots, we come out tops in the league in terms of where we’re getting our shots from, so that part is good. We need to really improve the overall volume and quantity of those shots.”

But achieving that likely means adding a playmaking No. 10. The would-be quarterback of the Union’s offense, which is currently held by converted right-winger Ilsinho, and is the weak point of the club’s current attack, could make a significant difference. 

The club believes that current attacking pieces like Fafa Picault, C.J. Sapong and Chris Pontius are enough to be successful, the group simply needs a spark and some service.

“I like the group, I like all the players,” said Curtin, who hasn’t been able to fulfill the playmaking vacancy left by Tranquillo Barnetta last season. “I think it’s a strong group and if we’re able to add something, it’s a bonus.”

Curtin noted that making an addition at the 10 spot isn't easy because the Union aren’t the only team looking for that type of primary facilitator. The club recently hosted Costa Rican midfielder Elias Aguilar as a trialist but later stated it wasn’t the right fit. 

“It’s a position everyone in the world is looking for,” said Curtin, who along with sporting director Earnie Stewart demand all attacking players buy into the club’s defense-first mentality. “It’s a hard one to find the perfect player; the combination of attack, playing the final ball and doing the defensive work, cutting passing lanes off and doing all of those things.”

If the Union do bring someone in, there’s evidence it won’t be a band-aid for 2017 but part of a longer-term strategy. Ilsinho has been unproductive this season, scoring just two goals and no assists in 13 starts, while Roland Alberg, who has four goals and no assists, has been productive but doesn’t hold favor with the coaching staff, earning just four starts.

Curtin suggested that the two players, who combine for $912,583 in guaranteed salary, may not be in the Union’s plans for next season. That would make any significant mid-season addition at attacking midfield one that could alter the club’s future.

“Roland is in really good form right now, he’s been doing well and we’re having discussions about doing what’s best for him and the club moving forward,” Curtin said. “But that will be more towards the end of the year. Ilsinho will be the same thing. There are decisions to be made at the end of the year, they won’t be made right now.”

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.