Union Notes: Refreshed Keegan Rosenberry hoping to reclaim starting spot

Union Notes: Refreshed Keegan Rosenberry hoping to reclaim starting spot

CHESTER, Pa. — The fact that Keegan Rosenberry worked his way back into the lineup after getting benched shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. The right back was, after all, an MLS All-Star and one of the league’s top rookies last season.

It was how it happened that was more unexpected — with Rosenberry coming into last week’s game midway through the second half after Ray Gaddis suffered a nasty bruise.

What happened next? The Union, spurred at least in part by the energy that Rosenberry and fellow sub Derrick Jones brought off the bench, erupted for three goals to cruise to a 3-0 victory — their first win of the season and one they hope will be a turning point as they prepare to face another rival in D.C. United on Saturday (7 p.m., The Comcast Network).

“It’s exciting, it’s the first time we really felt like we could rally around a result,” Rosenberry said after Wednesday’s practice. “The performances have been good at times but nothing like getting a real result and getting three points out of a game. I think the energy in training has been higher and I think we’re excited about the game in D.C.”

Rosenberry admitted entering the game when he did was “a little bit difficult” because defenders are used to playing either “90 [minutes] or nothing.” He also said that coming in because of an injury is not ideal and he hopes Gaddis gets healthy.

But now that he did get back on the field, he naturally hopes to remain there and rediscover the form that allowed him to play every minute last season — while feeling refreshed after a couple of weeks to rest his legs.

“It’s the way you respond from this kind of stuff that is most important,” he said. “If I can come back from this stronger, and hopefully the team is stronger, then we’ll benefit from it. … Of course I hope to be involved in the team going to D.C. but whatever [head coach Jim Curtin] thinks is gonna help the team win, then I’m all for it.”

Curtin may have other more pressing lineup decisions with key attacking players Roland Alberg and Chris Pontius both dealing with injuries, but who starts at right back will certainly be a question leading into the game. The Union coach didn’t tip his hand, praising both Gaddis for a “brave” tackle that led to his leg bruise last week and also Rosenberry for entering the game in a tough spot.

“To Keegan’s credit, he came in, made some good initial plays right off the bat to get his feet back under him, connected his passes,” Curtin said. “It’s always tough to come in as a sub to a game as high-paced as that game was, as intense as that game was. I thought Keegan came in and contributed well. We’ll see how Ray recovers.”

Jones’ journey
It wasn’t long ago that Derrick Jones was living in Ghana. Now, the Union midfielder, who moved to Philadelphia six years ago, will represent the United States at the Under-20 World Cup.

Jones wasn’t available to talk to reporters this week; he already left to join his U-20 teammates as they prepare for the tournament which begins on May 20 in Korea Republic. But Curtin gushed about what it means for Jones to become a U.S. citizen and play for his new country in a World Cup — and also what it means for the Union organization.

“It’s great for Derrick. It’s great for the city of Philadelphia. It’s great for the club,” Curtin said. “He’s a Philly kid that worked through our youth academy to the Bethlehem Steel to the first team. Now to go into a U-20 team and represent our country is special for him.

“It hurts to lose him in a lot of ways with the busy schedule coming up. But, at the same time, the relationship with MLS and U.S. Soccer is one that’s growing and everyone agreed to release their players. … I couldn’t be happier for Derrick as a Philadelphian, as a Union player. It’s good for our badge and I know he’ll represent us very well.”

Ode to RFK
Saturday’s game will mark the end of an era as it will likely be the last MLS game the Union will play at RFK Stadium, D.C. United’s long-standing home that will soon give way to a new soccer-specific stadium set to open next year.

Curtin, who has coached and played many games in since D.C. began playing there when MLS began in 1996, gave the old building a fitting farewell.

“Everybody walks in there and says, ‘Man, this place is falling apart.’ There are a lot of negative comments, especially from younger players. And it hasn’t been taken care of very well, there’s no secret there,” he said. “But talk about a stadium with a ton of history in football and soccer. Any time we play at RFK, it’s always felt like a big game. That was maybe kind of engrained in me from some tough D.C. battles. There was always the smell of stale beer and urine or whatever it was from the Dave Matthews concert the night before.

“It certainly is maybe time. That’s probably the best way to put it. Maybe I’m nostalgic, maybe I’m old school or whatever you want to call it, but I still love going there. It’s a really cool place — a special place with a ton of history.”

With new deal signed, CJ Sapong hungry to 'eat' for Union

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With new deal signed, CJ Sapong hungry to 'eat' for Union

CHESTER, Pa. — When the Union first traded for CJ Sapong ahead of the 2015 season, they knew they were getting a promising young attacking player.

What may have been less expected was Sapong developing into one of the top American strikers, a member of the U.S national team rotation and a foundational player that makes the Union’s entire system go.

So with Sapong’s contract set to expire at the end of the 2018 campaign, the Union knew they had to make sure to lock him up — which they did just one game into the season, signing him Wednesday to a new deal that runs through 2019 with a club option for 2020.

“I hope he continues to progress as a center forward,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart told reporters from the club’s training complex Wednesday. “I think CJ is a person that, [with] the way he takes care of his body and the professional that he is, has a long future in soccer. And he’s still growing as a soccer player.”

At 29, Sapong might not be considered young anymore. But it’s easy to make the case that his best soccer is still in front of him, considering he’s coming off a breakout 16-goal season — the first time in his career he eclipsed double digits — and is set up for even more success this year with the offseason additions of playmakers Borek Dockal and David Accam.

The combination of Dockal’s vision behind him with the speed of Accam and Fafa Picault on either side of him has Sapong as excited as inking a new deal.

“That gives me space to just chill in the box and eat when I can,” he said. “I find it hard to believe we’ll be kept off the scoresheet too many games this year.”

After opening his account in Philly’s season-opening 2-0 win over the Revolution on March 3, Sapong will look to find the back of the net again when the Union return to the field Saturday vs. Columbus at Talen Energy Stadium.

And putting all contract negotiations behind him should only provide further motivation to a player who can now rest easy that Philadelphia will be his home for years to come.

“He’s a guy who’s done everything for the badge, and it’s been a pleasure to work with him and watch him grow and take his game to another level,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I’m looking forward to working with him for the next few years.”

Currently in his eighth MLS season, Sapong said he hopes to, at the least, hit double-digits in goals every year while continuing to do the dirty work and hold-up play that Curtin loves — and has endeared him to Philly fans.

“I owe a lot to Philadelphia,” Sapong said, “and how it’s transformed me as a person and a player.”

The kids are finally all right for Union in season-opening win

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The kids are finally all right for Union in season-opening win


CHESTER, Pa. — For years, the Union have yelled from the rooftops about their youth-first mentality and plan to win through player development.

On Saturday night, that plan finally came to fruition.

"It's a big step for us," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "The fact that some homegrowns weren't just on the field but left huge impacts on the game, it's special."

Anthony Fontana, 18, Auston Trusty, 19, and Derrick Jones, 21, all put their stamp on the Union's 2-0 season-opening win over the Revolution.

Fontana, hailing from Newark, Delaware, and who played 66 minutes at attacking midfield, opened up his MLS account in the 43rd minute when he gathered a tipped ball from C.J. Sapong and placed a confident shot past Matt Turner. 

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play here at this club,” Fontana said. “To be able to actually help the team today feels good.”

His teammates also couldn’t be happier. That includes Union and former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Alejandro Bedoya, who took Fontana under his wing throughout the preseason.

“I’m so happy for him,” Bedoya said. “He’s a good player so I hope he takes a good step this season. Not a bad way to start his debut, to score a goal. It’s just the beginning for him, he’s got a bright future.”

For Trusty, it was all about the clean sheet. Pairing with Jack Elliott on the left side of the Union defensive line, Trusty had the unenviable job of shutting down the Revs’ most potent option, Juan Agudelo. 

“It means a lot, but it’s also the challenge,” Trusty said. “The coach put me up to it and our organization put me up to it and they believe I can do it. I just set out to fulfill my role, do my task and keep the clean sheet and just play my role on the team.”

At one point in the first half, Agudelo beat Trusty and moved in on a breakaway, only for the rookie to catch up and steal the ball back.

“He made a couple key tackles in the box, won a lot of aerial duels in the box, did a lot of the things that don’t show up in the stat sheet for center backs,” Curtin said. “But the thing that makes me most proud is there was a zero at the end of the day. That’s what is most important. That means Auston did the job.” 

And while the win was a productive introduction for the Union’s crop of talented prospects, it was also an unforgettable experience for the local kids.

“It’s amazing,” Trusty said. “Imagine growing up in the Philadelphia area, being a little kid and coming to see these guys play, to be on the same field. I remember buying a ticket and coming to see these guys play and always dreamed of playing for the Union. For it to actually happen is amazing. It’s very humbling. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”