Union-Orlando City 5 things: Returning home with playoffs in sight

Union-Orlando City 5 things: Returning home with playoffs in sight

Union vs. Orlando City SC
3:00 p.m. on TCN 

With a week to regroup from a troublesome road swing, the confident Union (11-12-9) will have an opportunity to take a step closer to the postseason Sunday, when they host Orlando City SC (7-11-14) at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know.

1. Union Regrouping
The Union enter Sunday’s match slumped over, riding a five-game winless streak and going 0-3-2 over that span. But with two weeks away from game action before facing Orlando City, manager Jim Curtin hopes the club hit a reset button.

“We’ve had a good week and a half of training and we’re looking to finish the season strong,” Curtin said. “This is about getting back to basics, doing the things that have made us a successful team this year and executing our roles. It’s about staying within ourselves and not trying to get out of our comfort zone.”

Aside from a focus on the basics, the Union hope the remedy to their slump is home cooking. For the first time since Sept. 10, the club will play at Talen Energy Stadium, where they are 8-3-4 on the season.

“We’ve been a very strong team at home,” Curtin said. “We set the goal of 10 wins in Talen Energy Stadium, and we look to set ourselves up in a position to reach that goal, it’s something we will try to do in these final two games. We know it’ll be a tough task but the guys are confident and they’re playing well.”

2. Saving Sapong
The Union’s outlook could get much better if C.J. Sapong could break out of his slump. As the club’s backbone target forward, Sapong has just two goals since May 20 and has gone eight games without a goal. 

“There’s no secret the goals haven’t been coming for C.J.,” Curtin said. “Nobody wants to score more than C.J., but he also knows the most valuable thing is helping the team get three points. That’s what we need. All strikers go through droughts and … he’s a guy we believe in and he’s done a great job for us this year.” 

But the more concerning aspect is his shot totals. Sapong isn’t just getting unlucky, he only has one shot on goal in his last seven games. Whether that’s on him, the opposition’s defensive plan or lack of service, the Union want more opportunities from Sapong. 

“We’d like more shots and looks at goal, it’s something we’re working on in training every day, so when he does get his opportunity in games he’ll take care of them,” Curtin said. “He’s a guy who is working hard.”

Curtin is working to get his top scorer back on track by injecting confidence and keeping Sapong’s head in the right space, with the goal of avoiding poisonous frustration.

“He’s unique, he’s his own person, so you have to get your message across the right way and find out what makes him tick,” Curtin said. “When he’s confident, he’s unstoppable in our league. We want to get him going again and get him back to his form.” 

3. Spoiler Orlando City
Although Orlando City is officially outside of the playoff race and 2-7-7 on the road this season, the Union are considering Jason Kreis’ club a very dangerous opponent and possible spoiler.

“It’s a tricky one,” Curtin said. “You have a team that has dangerous attacking pieces, but how Jason will handle it, I don’t know. It’s a dangerous one. Guys are fighting for their positions in the team, not just for the rest of this year but for the future. They really want to impress a new coach.”

While Orlando City, which still features leading goal scorer Cyle Larin and leading playmaker Kaka, is 0-4-1 in its last five, Curtin isn’t sure whether to expect a similar team to the one the Union faced in a 2-1 win on April 8, a 2-2 draw on May 25, or a completely different club.

“It becomes about us, it becomes about the Philadelphia Union winning a game at home and everyone just executing and doing their job,” Curtin said. “Who Orlando puts on the field, we can’t control. Regardless of how they approach the game, we have to be executing and doing our jobs in front of our home fans."

4. Keep an eye on
Union: After receiving a cortisone shot in his foot to help the pain associated with plantar fasciitis, Ilsinho, who hasn’t made a start in seven matches, appears to be back in the starting conversation for the Union. When he plays, Ilsinho is a dangerous option for the Union on the right side of the midfield. “One way or another,” Curtin said, “he will influence the match on Sunday.”

Orlando City SC: Though he has only one goal in his last six games, Cyle Larin could punish the Union on Sunday if the hosts aren’t careful. Despite the slump, the forward has 14 goals in 30 games this season.

5. This and that
• In the Union’s last match (New York Red Bulls on Oct. 1), Alejandro Bedoya left the match with an injury to his rib area. But according to Curtin, the rangy midfielder is ready for Sunday. “He has a little pain when he plays any longer ball and his body has to twist in a certain way," Curtin said. "He feels it, it’s nothing that will prevent him from playing.”

• The Union have never lost to Orlando City, with a record of 2-0-2 all time. 

• Union center back Josh Yaro, who left the club’s last match against the New York Red Bulls with a concussion, has not been cleared for Sunday and is not expected to play. He’s officially listed as questionable.

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.”