Union

Union-Rapids 5 things: Closing in on a record winning streak

Union-Rapids 5 things: Closing in on a record winning streak

Union vs. Colorado Rapids
7 p.m. on TCN

Not long after setting one of the longest winless streaks in MLS history, the resurgent Union (3-4-4) can now set a franchise record for consecutive wins when they host the struggling Colorado Rapids (2-7-1) on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

Here are five things to know:

1. Going streaking
Yes, the same team that started 0-4-2 has rebounded from that dreadful start to go unbeaten in five games with three straight dominating wins by a combined score of 9-0.

It marks just the third three-game winning streak in history for a club that's never had a four-game winning streak. But they have a golden opportunity to do just that with a very winnable home match against an equally tired Colorado team playing on the other side of the country.

Remarkably, the Union can also move their shutout streak from four games — already a club record — to five.

What do these records mean given the 15-game winless streak that came before it?

“I think it’s a testament to the players,” Curtin said following Friday's practice session. “They stuck together through a difficult time. I think we’re stronger because we did stick together through as difficult a stretch as you can go through.”

2. All about the defense
The only thing more surprising than the fact that the Union haven’t given up a goal in four straight games is the personnel they are doing it with.

Rookie Jack Elliott, one of the last picks in the 2017 draft, has been starting at center back along Oguchi Onyewu, who was out of soccer for two years. And Ray Gaddis, who had been relegated to a reserve role last season, has supplanted Keegan Rosenberry at right back, at least for now. 

“I think it’s a testament to how they hard they train, the preseason they go through,” Curtin said. “We treat each guy the same way, whether you’re old or young, the reps that you get in training are all equal. It’s not a big surprise now when a guy gets thrown in.”

Interestingly enough, oft-overlooked left back Fabinho has been the only defender to play every minute as he prepares to play his 100th MLS game.

“He’s a guy who is a great player for us,” Curtin said. “He’s been with the club for a while, has a good idea of what we ask out of our left back. He’s done a better job I think this year of not running himself into the ground in the first 20 minutes or so with those 80-, 90-yard tiring runs, and has been very disciplined and has had a great season for us so far.”

3. Rotating the attack?
No one on the Union has been hotter than their two wingers with Fafa Picault scoring in each of the last two games and Chris Pontius leading the way with two assists in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Houston to match his career high with six assists on the season.

But with the Union playing their third game in eight days, will both get the start once again — especially with a talented winger like Fabian Herbers waiting on the bench?

“We’ll have to look at what makes the most sense,” Curtin said. “Do we use one as a reserve? It’s a possibility. But they’re confident right now, they’re flying, and they’re getting goals and assists, which is a bonus.”

4. Keep an eye on …​
Rapids: Perhaps the best goalkeeper in American history, Tim Howard, will face the Union for the first time. It’s fair to say Curtin thinks highly of the 38-year-old stalwart who’s had a remarkable career, including an epic performance for the U.S. national team at the last World Cup. “Anytime he’s in the goal,” the Union coach said, “there’s a darn good chance he’s going to get a clean sheet. … It takes a special effort to beat a guy like Timmy.”

Union: Curtin said that attacking midfielder Roland Alberg won’t be able to return from a quad injury in time for the game, which means Ilsinho, fresh off a great game Wednesday, should be in line to get his third straight start in that position. But can he handle another grueling shift just three days after the last one? “Ilsinho is in a newer position for him,” Curtin said. “I think he has adjusted well to it. He’s doing a lot of running defensively. It is tough on the legs, so we’ll look at everything.”

5. This and that
• Union goalkeeper Andre Blake hasn’t allowed a goal in 363 minutes and counting — currently the second longest shutout streak in Union history. The longest currently belongs to Zac MacMath, who went 408 minutes without surrendering a goal in 2012 and will be in town Saturday as Colorado’s backup goalkeeper.

• The Union have beaten the Rapids just once in nine all-time meetings and never at Talen Energy Stadium (0-2-3). 

• In last Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of D.C. United, Haris Medunjanin became the second Union player to have a goal and multiple assists in the same game, joining Sebastien Le Toux. 

• The Rapids rank last in MLS with eight goals scored this year and have only scored one total goal in their last seven regular-season road games

• The Rapids are 0-5-0 away from home this year and have been outscored 10-1 in those games.

Union midfielder Brian Carroll to retire after 15 MLS seasons

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Union midfielder Brian Carroll to retire after 15 MLS seasons

CHESTER, Pa. — Brian Carroll didn’t play a single minute in his first year in Major League Soccer.

That was in 2003.

Fourteen years later, he’s set to retire as one of the longest-tenured and accomplished players in league history.

Carroll, a mainstay of MLS and the Philadelphia Union, announced his well-deserved retirement Thursday ahead of the Union’s 2017 finale vs. Orlando City SC on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium (4 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia +)

If he plays in Sunday’s game, it will be his first minutes of the season as age and injuries have started to creep up to the 36-year-old defensive midfielder who’s been battling for a time in a crowded position.

But as recently as last season, Carroll was still a key player for the Union, who he spent seven of his 15 MLS seasons with, wearing the captain’s armband at times and being a consummate pro in an ever-changing locker room.

In all for the Union, Carroll has played 13,818 minutes, the most in franchise history, and 165 games, second only to Sebastien Le Toux.

Throughout his MLS career, the savvy midfielder known for his tremendous work rate played a total of 370 games (tied for fourth in league history) and 30,776 minutes (sixth all-time), winning championships with his two previous teams — D.C. United in 2004 and the Columbus Crew in 2008. He also won the Supporters’ Shield four straight years, with D.C. in 2006 and 2007 and with Columbus in 2008 and 2009.

His teams made the playoffs in his first nine years in the league, a streak that culminated with the Union’s first-ever postseason appearance in 2011 — his first season in Philly.

Carroll, a former star player at Wake Forest, also had success at the international level, earning eight caps with the U.S. national team and also playing for a couple of U.S. youth teams.

The father of three now plans to move to Indianapolis with his family and embark on a new career in financial planning.

Inside Doop: Lack of star power continues to doom Union

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Inside Doop: Lack of star power continues to doom Union

At long last, the Union’s season is coming to an end. Even better, they no longer have to play any games on the road this year.

In their final away match of a disappointing 2017 campaign, the Union let a lead slip away in a 3-2 loss to the Fire, finishing the year with a dismal 1-10-6 road record.

What went wrong? And what can we expect from next week’s regular-season finale at Talen Energy Stadium? Here’s a look in the final Inside Doop of 2017:

Three thoughts about Sunday’s game
1. The Union were once again reminded what star power can do for a team. On Sunday, the Fire’s Nemanja Nikolic put on a show with three goals — his 22nd, 23rd and 24th of the season — to all but wrap up a Golden Boot crown and put on his back a Fire team that was without fellow star Bastian Schweinsteiger. In Philly’s last road game, Atlanta also overcame the loss of star Miguel Almiron to ride Josef Martinez to a big win. That’s what happens when you spend a lot of money: you have a stable of difference-makers and their presence trickles down to the rest of the club. The Union, simply, don’t have anything close to that — one of the big reasons why they can’t play well for 90 minutes on the road and why they’ll be missing the playoffs for the sixth time in the franchise’s eight-year history.

2. The closest thing the Union do have to a true star, apart from goalie Andre Blake, is the midfield combo of Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. And both overcame their recent heartbreak of missing out on the World Cup (Bedoya with the U.S., Medunjnanin with Bosnia and Herzegovina) to put in strong shifts. Medunjanin’s pass to set up Bedoya’s second goal of the season was a thing of beauty — and marked his 11th assist of the season. Say what you want about the Union, but those two are consummate pros and locker room leaders who will do everything in their power to get this thing turned around in 2018.

3. Sadly for the Union, one of their best stories of the season — Jack Elliott — had a night to forget. The rookie center back, who went from fourth-round draft pick to Rookie of the Year contender, lost track of a long ball on the Fire’s first goal and then committed a penalty to set up Nikolic’s second goal. Elliott will still be an important piece heading into 2018, but it’s important to remember that he’s no sure thing, especially after seeing what happened to Keegan Rosenberry and Josh Yaro in their second seasons. Meanwhile, Richie Marquez continued his late-season revival with one of his better games of the year. Raise your hand if you have any kind of handle on the team’s center back situation right now.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. Home finales are usually special no matter how a season turns out but it’s hard to figure what kind of crowd and reception there will be when the Union take on Orlando next Sunday (4 p.m., 6ABC). This has been a trying season for Union fans who watched their team fail to build on any kind of momentum from last year’s playoff berth while lowly teams like Chicago or expansion teams like Atlanta (for the reasons listed above them) skyrocketed past them. At the same time, the Union have been mostly fun to watch at home, where they’ve set a franchise record with nine wins. The chance to go for a 10th victory and have C.J. Sapong break the single-season scoring record could be a couple reasons that people will flock to the stadium — that, and the realization that there will be no more soccer there until March.

2. Another big reason to come to Talen Energy Stadium is to see Kaka, the Brazilian legend who will play his last game in MLS. Who will play their last game for the Union? It’s hard to say for sure but Roland Alberg, Ilsinho, Chris Pontius and Brian Carroll are decent bets as an offseason potentially filled with turnover looms.

3. How will head coach Jim Curtin construct the lineup? He doesn’t like to switch things too much, but fans may be clamoring for young guys like Derrick Jones and Adam Najem while Curtin may want to give something of a send-off to Carroll or Charlie Davies, well-known veterans who have hardly played this year. And what about Maurice Edu? He hasn’t played in more than two years — but will a player who led the Union to back-to-back U.S. Open Cup finals in 2014 and 2015 get to say goodbye to fans in some way?

Stat of the week
Even after Bedoya’s goal Sunday, the Union’s four highest-paid players — Bedoya, Edu, Ilsinho and Jay Simpson — have combined for only seven goals this season.

Quote of the week
"It was definitely nostalgic to come back and play at Toyota Park. When I was younger in the U-16s and the U-18s, I played a lot here when I was with the academy. It was good to come back on the professional side and be able to play on the same field I play it on when I was younger." — Union rookie Marcus Epps

Player of the week
Bedoya scored a very nice goal, made a couple of perfectly timed tackles and generally looked sharp in his first game back from the USMNT’s World Cup qualifying failure. Maybe he should’ve played in Trinidad, huh?