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.

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

USA Today Images

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

USA Today Images

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.