Union

Union-Real Salt Lake 5 things: Rolling Union carry 4-game win streak to Utah

Union-Real Salt Lake 5 things: Rolling Union carry 4-game win streak to Utah

Union vs. Real Salt Lake
8:00 p.m. on CSN
 
Hitting the road with a club record four-game win streak at their back, the streaking Union (4-4-4) will face a cross-country test Saturday, as they take on Albert Rusnak and inconsistent Real Salt Lake (3-8-2) at Rio Tinto Stadium.
 
Here are five things to know.
 
1. Keeping momentum
With four-straight wins and six unbeaten to catapult them up the Eastern Conference standings and nearly in playoff position, the Union are rolling. 
 
But despite the hot streak, Union manager Jim Curtin doesn’t want his club’s demons returning.
 
“The biggest thing we’ve tried to stress how hard we had to work to get out of that hole and the feeling we had while we were in that hole, we don’t want that back ever against,” Curtin said, with regards to the Union going winless in their first eight games of the season. “The good run of games helps that and the performances have been really good, but you’re guarding against that ever creeping back in and kicking it down when it does.”
 
Curtin shouldn’t have to worry about that. His players have proven to possess a steady mental quality, one they put on display throughout the eight-game winless streak to start the season. There wasn’t infighting or finger-pointing, the club went to work and are now fighting for a playoff position.
 
“We’re not going to get too high or get too low,” Curtin said. “We’re going to stick with what we believe in.”
 
Along with mental strength, Union leading scorer C.J. Sapong, who has eight goals on the season, believes it’s positive vibes that will help the team continue its streak in Utah.
 
“It’s the collective energy of the group,” he said. “Through our rough spell, we still had belief in ourselves. We finally got that one win and have been flying high since then.”  
 
2. Haris on fire
Playing quarterback of the Union’s offense and spearheading his club’s recent hot streak, Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin is quickly warming up to MLS.
 
“Haris has been excellent for us,” Curtin said. “There’s a couple statistics now where we’re at the top of the league and he has one — it’s called usage percentage. Fourteen-percent of our touches are distributed by him, so if you want him to be a quarterback, point guard, he’s third in the league in that. We want him on the ball as much as possible and that’s including restarts where he’s proven to be lethal.”
 
Lethal is right. After registering three assists in his first nine MLS games, the veteran defensive midfielder is pacing the Union’s attack, scoring two goals and two assists over the Union’s last four wins. That includes the game-winner against the Colorado Rapids last Saturday, where he ripped a free kick through the Rapids’ defensive wall to beat Tim Howard from just outside the box.
 
And while Medunjanin is known as an adept playmaker, it’s that free-kick scoring ability that takes his game, and the Union offense, to another level.
 
“He has an ability to serve a ball to get an assist and the shooting he possesses to win a game for you, it’s huge,” Curtin said. “Other teams have to be cautious in and around the box which leads to us being more dangerous around the box.” 
 
3. Trusting the process
The Union and RSL have a lot in common this season. Both teams went winless from August onward to finish the 2016 season and both clubs suffered losses in the early going of 2017, falling to the bottom of their respective conferences.
 
The difference is while the Union have recovered from that depressing ordeal, RSL hasn’t.
 
“The process is going,” said RSL coach Mike Petke, who took over the team in late March. “It takes a while and you have to be willing to go over a lot of speed bumps. We’re working through some stuff and we’ll be better off in the end.” 
 
While RSL has five losses in their last six matches, the players do feel that tide turning. 
 
“You gotta keep pulling out the positives of every game we play and keep building on them,” RSL’s Luke Mulholland said. “We have to keep working on the positives, shooting and hopefully we’ll find the back of the net here.” 
 
With a 2-1 home win over New York City FC on May 17, RSL traveled to CenturyLink Field last weekend, where they stood toe-to-toe in a 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders. They were not outmatched, which should give the Union pause. 
 
“I consider it a loss on paper but we gained so much in there,” Petke said. “To look at the game and rewatch it again, the players did 95% of what we wanted. It was ugly, we dumbed it down because that’s what we had to do. We were bleeding goals so we wanted to limit certain things. It’s an incredible stepping stone. But it’s all for nothing if they don’t carry it into the Philadelphia game.” 
 
4. Keep an eye on …
Albert Rusnak: While RSL doesn’t have much going for it offensively, it’s not for lack of trying from Rusnak. The 22-year-old first-year MLS midfielder has three goals and four assists in 11 games. He’s the player the Union will have to stop Saturday.

Haris Medunjanin: The midfielder will look to keep his hot streak alive Saturday, as he goes for his fifth point in five games. It’s becoming abundantly clear that as Medunjanin goes, so does the Union.

5. This and that
• In the Union’s history, they have never defeated RSL. The club is 0-3-6 all-time against the Western Conference side.

• During the Union’s 4-0-0 streak, they have outscored opponents, 11-1. The lone goal against came in the first half of the Union’s come-from-behind win over the Rapids on Saturday.

• Despite a very success past few weeks, the Union are picking up injuries. Midfielder Fabian Herbers strained his hip/groin against the Rapids. He’s out two-to-four weeks. Roland Alberg is also expected to be out with a quad injury. Defender Josh Yaro is healthy and training with the team but is a conditioning track. 

• For the hosts, MLS veteran Tony Beltran is expected back in the lineup against the Union. The defender missed 10 matches with back and calf injuries.

Union dealing with all sorts of frustration after another home loss

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Union dealing with all sorts of frustration after another home loss

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — With four of their first five matches at home, the Union had an opportunity to get their season off to a positive start. But with a 1-2-2 record, capped off by a 2-0 loss to Orlando City on Friday night at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union are wondering what went wrong (see observations).

“I didn’t get the job done,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I take responsibility for the group. I know we have a really strong team. We’ve played good soccer at home, we just need to bury those chances.”

The poor results haven’t come from a lack of effort. The Union have outshot opponents, 87-48, this season, and are currently fifth in MLS in possession at 54.3 percent. But like Curtin said, it’s been about the finish. They’ve been outscored, 6-3, this season and are averaging just over a half goal per game.    

“The ball is not bouncing our way right now, it’s not going in the net,” Curtin said. “And with that, confidence drops. I understand the frustration from the fans. The players are frustrated, I’m frustrated and it’s difficult. We need to stick together in the hardest moments.“

According to midfielder Haris Medunjanin, the Union are pressing too hard to score. He said on Friday after the loss that the team was off in every facet, and that the lack of offense isn’t bad luck, but a patience issue.

“We need to keep the ball more,” he said of the midfielders. “We want to attack every attack and that’s not possible. You can’t attack every attack. That was our problem today. We were not patient, we attacked too quick. I think we need to learn from that and play as a team.” 

His frustration was palpable. 

“It’s about scoring goals,” he said. “If you have just one chance and you score a goal and it’s 1-0, it’s enough. It’s about winning games. It’s not about how many chances you create, it’s about scoring goals.”

Between David Accam, Borek Dockal, Fafa Picault and C.J. Sapong, the Union should have enough firepower to find the net. And though it’s not connecting right now, Curtin is confident his team will find that scoring groove. It just has to relax.

“We have quality attackers and they all want to contribute and help,” Curtin said. “Maybe sometimes they press and try to do too much. We have to find the balance. When our team is at its best, it’s Haris and (Alejandro) Bedoya controlling the tempo of the game. Right now, it isn’t clicking. At the same time, I know we have the possibility to break out.” 

Union lose to Orlando City as offense continues to flounder

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Union lose to Orlando City as offense continues to flounder

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Unfazed by the Union’s opening salvo, Orlando City held strong and punched back. Dom Dwyer and Chris Mueller scored first-half goals for the visitors, as they easily took down the floundering Union, 2-0, on Friday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

Joe Bendik claimed the six-save shutout.

With the loss, the Union fall to a paltry 1-2-2 on the season and a concerning 1-1-2 at home. Orlando City moves to 3-2-1. 

• It wasn’t all bad for the Union. During the first 20 minutes, the hosts fired off four corners, 10 total crosses and seven shots. But as usual, it didn’t amount to much. 

• David Accam nearly broke through in the 27th minute, when he torched his defender and broke in on a partial breakaway. However, his short-side shot hit the side of the net. Impressive work but Andrew Wenger-like finish. That’s a trend this season.

• That lack of finish would haunt the Union in the 38th minute, as Dwyer, kept onside by Matt Real, escaped coverage and accepted a pass from Sacha Kljestan for the easy dish past Andre Blake for the 1-0 lead. It deflated the Union.

• Orlando continued punishment delivery in the 45th, when Mueller claimed a loose ball in the box and walked in net for the 2-0 lead. It was miscommunication and fumble by Jack Elliott and Matt Real that caused the turnover. 

• And if you thought it couldn’t get worse for the Union, it did. Out of the gate in the second half, center back Elliott, arguably the Union’s best player this season, went down injured with what the team called a “right leg injury” and was replaced by rookie Homegrown Mark McKenzie.

• McKenzie, who made the roster over Josh Yaro, joined Real and Auston Trusty on the back line. It gave the Union three Homegrown players on defense alone. With 22-year-old Elliott, the club had the youngest defensive line in MLS history. Add in 19-year-old McKenzie, and the Union set another record. 

• Looking for anything to give his team life, Union manager Jim Curtin pulled Fafa Picault for Ilsinho in the 60th minute. It didn’t work. Picault finished with three shots.

• While the season is still young for the Union, losing at home is a concerning trend. With four of their first five matches at home, this was supposed to be a lucrative stretch. Instead, the club is stumbling into phase two, which features four of five on the road — including FC Dallas, Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Columbus Crew. Next up for the Union: FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium.