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Union-Red Bulls 5 Things: Aiming for 1st win of season vs. rival Red Bulls

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CSN

Union-Red Bulls 5 Things: Aiming for 1st win of season vs. rival Red Bulls

Red Bulls (5-4-1) vs. Union (0-4-4)
7:00 p.m. on TCN

Coming off a fortunate road draw and shutout against the Los Angeles Galaxy, the winless Union will be tested once again Saturday night when they host Bradley Wright-Phillips and the potent New York Red Bulls at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know.

1. Building Blocks
For some, last week’s scoreless road draw with the Galaxy, who dominated the Union throughout, was a lucky and undeserved result. For the Union, it was a long overdue step in the right direction. 

“It was something to build on moving forward to Red Bull,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose team is coming off back-to-back draws after losing four consecutive games. “It was something positive to build off of, the overall fight and grit from the group to get a clean sheet in a tough environment.

“It’s a minor victory to get a draw, but the clean sheet part of it is good.”

While it may not have been the prettiest match, the Union did scratch out the shutout. It was the club’s first since the opener on March 5, and the first time the Union allowed less than two goals in a game in their last seven attempts.

“We need to build off of that,” attacker Chris Pontius said. “We got a clean sheet now we have to turn it into another one. We were a little lackluster offensively in that game, so we need to do a little both now. We need to win the ball in better spots and spur the attack in that way.”

But now Curtin needs more from his club if the Union want a chance against the Red Bulls.

“Collectively, we can all do a little more,” Curtin said. “Everyone needs to raise their game. We know we have a lot of things we can work on and clean up, we haven’t had a full 90-minute performance. It’s important we get all of our guys playing at their highest potential.” 

2. Elliott’s Impact
Despite the Union’s poor start, one positive has been the emergence of rookie center back Jack Elliott. 

“He’s played great,” said Curtin, who singled out Elliott as an individual who played well against the Galaxy last weekend. “Jack’s skillset, just his size and presence. What people don’t realize is how good his feet are and his passing. He can start the attack. He does read the game very well and he’s two-steps ahead, he has a high soccer IQ, he’s an intelligent guy.” 

That’s high praise for the 6-foot-5, 21-year-old, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. Elliott is set to start his fourth-straight game Saturday, as he has overtaken Oguchi Onyewu as the club’s full-time right center back. 

“To be honest, the year he’s been above and beyond what we anticipated but it’s a credit to him and how hard he’s worked,” Curtin said. “We gave him an opportunity to debut and he’s done well. He’s a guy who we believe in and who has done a good job in his performance.”

The pressure hasn’t gotten to Elliott. The quiet youngster is fitting in nicely. 

“I’m settling in well,” he said. “Learning how everyone plays. It’s been good.”

But that could change against the Red Bulls. Just a few weeks after guarding New York City FC’s David Villa, Elliott will be tasked with defending the always potent Wright-Phillips.

“He’ll have a tough task this weekend,” Curtin said. “Bradley Wright-Phillips is one of the league’s best strikers.” 

3. Rivalry Expectations
With the Red Bulls and Union on different tracks this season, it would be understandable if the visitors didn’t take the Eastern Conference basement dwellers seriously.

But according to Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch, that won’t happen.

“We made it very clear, and our team is not foolish and not naive, but we made it very clear that this game down in Philly is against a desperate team a team that will throw everything at us,” the manager siad. “They want to show their fans that they are a good team and that their season is still around to be saved.” 

With that known, the Red Bulls have a plan. They want to manage the Union’s motion and match the expected physical intensity.

“It makes them more dangerous than ever,” Marsch said. “A good start will be key, managing the game will be key and being physically up for the game will be key. We’re excited.” 

To keep his team’s attention against a winless Union side, Marsch is playing up the rivalry. Although the two clubs have had emotions flair in recent years, the two sides have never met in the postseason and rarely ever play a match that carries more weight than any other MLS regular season game.

“We wanted to put an emphasis on the game in Philly, it’s a rivalry game and a team that always gives us a great match,” Marsch said. “We know whenever we play Philly they give everything they got and that’s what makes rivalry matches so good. We’ve never had an easy time in Philly, it’s always been a battle so we’ll be prepared for that again.” 

4. Keep an eye on
Bradley Wright-Phillips: The striker, who already has four goals in nine starts this season, has five goals and one assist in eight career games against the Union. If the Red Bulls are going to crush the hosts, they’ll do it off the foot of Wright-Phillips.

Ray Gaddis: Although it’s not a given that Gaddis will even make the start, he’s been one of the biggest surprises of the year for the Union. The overlooked right back took over starting duties for Rookie Of the Year nominee Keegan Rosenberry and seems primed to make his third consecutive start Saturday. “Ray has come in and done a good job,” Curtin said.” He’s given us some good defending.”

5. This and that
• The Union are currently tied for fourth all-time with the longest regular season winless streak in MLS history with 15. The Colorado Rapids, from July 2014 through April 2015, hold the league record with 18 regular season games without a win.

• The Union are 4-4-2 at home all-time against the Red Bulls.

• There’s an illness going around the Union, which claimed Ilsinho last week against the Galaxy and is now attacking Richie Marquez. Both players are questionable for Saturday. Josh Yaro (shoulder) and Maurice Edu (broken leg) remain out. 

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?

Union blow another lead, beaten by Fire

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Union blow another lead, beaten by Fire

BOX SCORE

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Nemanja Nikolic scored two of his three goals in the second half, increasing his league-leading total to 24, and the Chicago Fire rallied for a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Union on Sunday.

The Fire (16-10-7) moved into third in the Eastern Conference, which would be good for a home game in the playoffs. Nikolic is four goals clear of his pursuers for the Golden Boot with one game to play.

Nikolic opened the scoring in the third minute, getting to a long feed from Brandon Vincent and aided by a bad angle by defender Jack Elliot before beating Andre Blake. Nikolic's penalty kick in the 64th tied it at 2 after David Accam was taken down in the penalty area. Nikolic completed his first career hat trick with an easy finish from the middle of the box on a feed from Brandon Vincent for the game winner in the 78th.

Chicago defender Johnan Kappelhof's own goal put the Union in a 1-1 tie at the six-minute mark and a feed from Haris Medunjanin to Alejandro Bedoya for a chip shot was good for the lead from the 13th minute.

Philadelphia (10-14-9) finished 1-10-6 on the road this season.