Union ousted from U.S. Open Cup with 'devastating' loss on penalty kicks

Union ousted from U.S. Open Cup with 'devastating' loss on penalty kicks

Goalkeeper Ryan Meara stopped Fafa Picault and Felipe did the rest, catapulting the New York Red Bulls over the Union in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16, 1-1 (5-3), in added extra time penalty kicks on Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena. 

“It’s devastating for the guys,” Union manager Jim Curtin said to reporters. “I couldn’t be prouder of the group in terms of the effort we put in. I thought we showed a lot more fight, a lot more heart, a lot of grit, balls, guts, whatever your adjective is, we had more of it.”

Roland Alberg and Chris Pontius kept pace with the Red Bulls early in penalties, but a heroic diving stop by Meara on Picault was the difference. Red Bulls veteran Sacha Kljestan gave his club the 4-2 lead but was matched by rookie Marcus Epps, opening the door for Felipe to finish the contest. 

“I missed,” Picault said to reporters. “I shot it and he made a good save. It hit the post and that’s it.”

Despite guessing correctly on nearly all of the Red Bulls’ attempts, Union backup keeper John McCarthy was unable to make a stop. Meara finished with one.

After qualifying but losing in the tournament’s title game in 2014 and 2015, the Union failed to make it out of the quarterfinals last season. This year, the club, which defeated the Harrisburg City Islanders in its first match, wasn’t able to survive the Round of 16.

Meanwhile, the Red Bulls advance to face the New England Revolution on July 13 at Harvard University’s Jordan Field. The Revolution defeated D.C. United, 2-1, on Wednesday.

Trailing by one and after nearly 90 minutes of futility, Alberg and the Union hit gold in the 86th. Launching a long-ball pass into the box, Jack Elliot stunned the Red Bulls’ back line as the volley landed at the feet of a nearly offside Alberg. The Union No. 10 turned and fired off a shot that beat Meara far side to lock the match at 1-1.

“Roland Alberg put in an incredible shift in terms of work rate and effort,” Curtin said. “Character to come back, this group has that.” 

But that wasn’t the only scoring chance for the Union. Despite shaky defense early, the Union owned the game’s first great opportunity, when Picault, whose finish was suspect all game, broke free on a breakaway in the 18th minute. His low shot was sloppy and body-stopped by Meara to keep the game scoreless. 

“We had them on the ropes in their building and we didn’t quite finish them off,” Curtin said. 

It was one of 27 attempts on goal throughout the contest for the Union.

“We created enough to win,” Curtin said. “We should have won tonight.”

While the Union missed chances, the hosts took control. In the 41st minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips pounced on a Josh Yaro turnover and slid a centering pass to Kljestan, who easily placed his shot through McCarthy and in for the 1-0 advantage at the half.

“We have to regroup and refresh,” said Curtin, whose club is set to face the New England Revolution on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium. “This is why our sports science department gets the big bucks. We’ll be ready to go.”

Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

USA Today Images

Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

CHESTER, Pa. — When Saturday’s game ended, Union midfielder Borek Dockal told head coach Jim Curtin two things: that his body felt fine and that he knows he can play a lot better.

That’s probably just about all Union fans need to hear.

Sure, it was a mostly uneventful and somewhat disappointing MLS debut for the team’s new Designated Player in a scoreless draw with Columbus Crew SC (see observations). But it’s also a long season and Dockal is still trying to mesh with his teammates and get his fitness up after dealing with a preseason ankle injury.

“I think he had some good moments,” Curtin said. “I think you can see his quality and how comfortable he is on the ball. He can pass and he looks forward. … [But] it’s been a week where he’s really trained with the group, so you see a ball played behind when he’s looking to play through. It’s going to take a little bit of time. But overall [I’m] happy with the amount of minutes he was able to push.”

Dockal, signed only three days before the start of the 2018 season, was a tougher critic on himself after sometimes struggling to connect passes and move to the right spot in his 77 minutes of action. But the Czech playmaker also acknowledged that he needs more time to adapt to MLS and learn his teammates’ tendencies.

“For me, it was the first game so it was a little bit about how to find my space on the field, to see how my teammates are moving, which kind of positions should I be in the most to help them,” said Dockal, who sat out the Union’s first game — a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution. “So I just have to learn from this first game and be better the next game.”

Expectations will certainly be raised when the Union play their next game, in two weeks, on the road against the Colorado Rapids. But expectations are already high for Dockal, who has experience in the Champions League and with the Czech Republic national team.

Along with fellow newcomer David Accam — who he said the team needs to find more on the wing — Dockal is filling in what was a major position of need last year and should provide a major offensive punch in the midfield, playing in front of veterans Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin.

It just hasn’t happened yet.

“My performance definitely can be better,” Dockal said. “But I have to start at some point so it would actually be a miracle if I played an excellent game today.”

“Overall, it’s a first step and nothing replicates these games,” Curtin said. “We didn’t put him on the ball as much as we would have liked. ... But he's an incredibly talented guy."

Union lifeless in draw with Crew

USA Today Images

Union lifeless in draw with Crew

CHESTER, Pa. — In a matchup of two teams with perfect records, it ended up being a stalemate.

On Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union and Columbus Crew SC fought to a scoreless draw as goalkeepers Andre Blake and Zack Steffen finished with three saves apiece.

The Union move to 1-0-1 on the season while the Crew, who entered the day in first place in the Eastern Conference, sit at 2-0-1.

• With the Union coming off a weird early bye week, the game lacked fluidity for much of the first half as both teams only put one shot on target before halftime. 

• Borek Dockal, the Union’s new Designated Player, made his MLS debut after sitting out the opener. The Czech playmaker looked tentative early in the match and had some giveaways in the second half before coming out in the 77th minute. It’s too early, of course, to make any judgements but that probably wasn’t the kind of debut head coach Jim Curtin hoped to see.

• David Accam, the team’s other prized newcomer, enjoyed good start to the second half and was active throughout in his second game in Philly. It shouldn’t be long before he opens his account for the Union.

• Steffen came through with a couple of big saves early in the second half for Columbus. It might be hard for some Philly fans to see the Downingtown native and former Union academy player on the visiting side, even if they do get to cheer for a star ’keeper of their own in Blake.

• CJ Sapong, fresh off signing a new contract, couldn’t get on the ball much or even get any shots off. The Union striker had three goals and three assists in seven previous meetings against the Crew.

• On the other end of the field, Gyasi Zardes was held in check after scoring three goals in his first two games for Columbus following a trade from the LA Galaxy. That’s a good sign for the progress of Philly’s young center backs, Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty.

• Ray Gaddis entered the game as a halftime sub for Fabinho, who left with a leg injury. Fabinho and Gaddis are both two of the club’s longest-tenured players, and Gaddis being able to play as both a left back and right back is a nice luxury to have off the bench.

• Despite an announced attendance of 15,323, the crowd at Talen Energy Stadium looked smaller than usual — and with less energy. A lot of that probably has to do with the on-field play but in general, the Union seem to have a better home-field advantage during night games, when the atmosphere is more electric.

• A shoutout to the Sons of Ben, though, for unveiling some cool Philly tifo before kickoff — a “cheesesteak shark” preying on a boat of Crew rowers underneath the word “Jawns.” 

• The Union — who are 4-1-1 in their last six meetings with the Crew — are off again next weekend before before facing Colorado on March 31 in their first road game of 2018.