Union

Union owner sets bar for final playoff push: 'We need to win two games'

Union owner sets bar for final playoff push: 'We need to win two games'

CHESTER, Pa. — After the ribbon was cut and the people applauded and the music stopped, Union owner Jay Sugarman remained by the stage outside the Union’s newly named training facility.

And when the conversation turned from what the state-of-the-art Power Training Complex can do for the franchise’s future to the team’s more immediate future this weekend and next, his words suddenly took on a more urgent tone.

“We need to win two games,” Sugarman said. “We have the talent. We have the ability. So I’m hoping the guys come very hungry. It would be a great thing to have a home playoff game here after a long five years.”

Things certainly were a lot different back in 2011 when, in just their second year of existence, the fledgling Union made the playoffs and hosted the Houston Dynamo in the first game of a two-game Eastern Conference semifinals series.

But the Union lost that game and the next one too to get bounced early from the postseason. And they haven’t returned since — a streak they hope to break this year if they can just snap out of their current five-game winless slide and beat already-eliminated Orlando City SC on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium (3 p.m., The Comcast Network).

Another win the following week vs. the rival Red Bulls at Talen Energy might then prove to be enough to give them a home game in the first round of the playoffs — and, perhaps, wipe away some of the bitter memories of the past few years that saw two coaches fired and several more gut-wrenching setbacks.

“I know the difference between winning and losing can be very, very small,” Sugarman said. “It can be confidence, it can be one piece of the puzzle isn’t the same as it used to be. So I know how fragile it is to be on that emotional high where you think you’re going to win every game. I played a lot of sports — not very good at soccer unfortunately — and I know what that feeling is. And when you lose it, it’s hard to get back.  

“Our guys haven’t changed. Their talent isn’t different. Their abilities aren’t different. So it’s really about [sporting director Earnie Stewart] and the coaching staff getting them back to where they believe they should be. And I think the leadership on this team should be able to do it for two games that are going to lead to a playoff spot. I want to see that on the field.”

Off the field, Sugarman has done a lot of important things over the past year to bolster the club’s standing, removing controversial CEO Nick Sakiewicz and hiring the well-respected Stewart, launching a new minor-league affiliate in Bethlehem Steel FC, and providing significant resources for this summer’s marquee signing of Alejandro Bedoya.

Perhaps nothing’s been as valuable, though, as the investment that ownership made into their new indoor training facility — which celebrated its official opening Thursday after signing a naming-rights deal with Power Home Remodeling last week (the team had been using it for most of the year before that, however). The 16,500 square foot building, which is a stone’s throw from the two outdoor training fields inside the stadium complex, includes a weight training area, physical therapy and sports science development area, nutrition center, locker rooms, a video theater and players’ lounge. 

And Sugarman, Stewart and head coach Jim Curtin agree that it rivals any facility in MLS — and even globally.

“I’ve been to a lot of places in England, a lot of places in Germany, in top leagues,” Curtin said. “You’d be surprised where this one would stack up against them. It’s special. It’s a unique building. They kept the old aesthetic, which is really cool; I think it fits the city and the blue-collar elements to it. But also everything in there is state of the art and well thought-out.”

Curtin knows the facility has already been a great thing for his players, who he says have “smiles on their faces” when they walk in before practice. And he and Stewart also know it will continue to be an important recruiting tool for top talent, both foreign and domestic.

But even if Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony marked another big step in the Union’s quest to become a more sought-after franchise for years to come, they know they still need to make the playoffs this year or risk taking a step backwards.

“We’re in the sports business,” Sugarman said. “We need to win. I don’t define winning as you have to win a championship every year but you want to show you’re a team capable of winning it all. And we have that ability. They know it, Earnie knows it, Jim knows it. So now it’s about performance. And I’m not a coach but we’re going to give them every opportunity — there should be no excuses. 

“The team has proved it’s good enough to not only get in the playoffs but go deep in the playoffs. We just need to show it.”

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

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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

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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.