Union-Red Bulls 5 Things: Facing a rival on national TV


Union-Red Bulls 5 Things: Facing a rival on national TV

New York Red Bulls (6-7-2) at Philadelphia Union (4-6-4)
5 p.m. on ESPN

After a 15-day break from MLS play, the Union hit the field at Talen Energy Stadium on Sunday to welcome the rival Red Bulls in a nationally televised showdown, hoping to snap a two-game losing streak. 

Here are five things to know:

1. Getting to know you
It was only last month when the Union last faced the Red Bulls at home, storming to a 3-0 win behind a C.J. Sapong hat trick to snap a 15-game winless streak and kick off a four-game winning streak. And after Sunday’s game, the Union again face the Red Bulls — on the road, on June 28 — in the U.S. Open Cup.

Union head coach Jim Curtin added that should only add more to the rivalry — though he did say that only a playoff meeting will make it a true rivalry.

“There have been some wild games between us,” he said, “so I think there is a little spice in there for sure.”

2. Injury issues
The Union won’t be completely healthy as they try to slow down stars Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips and the rest of the Red Bulls.

On top of the long-term injuries to Maurice Edu and Brian Carroll, Fabian Herbers (groin) and Warren Creavalle (hamstring) weren’t able to train on Friday while Alejandro Bedoya (hamstring) practiced for a bit but wasn’t included in the projected starting lineup.

The Union captain, fresh off a stint with the U.S. national team (where he sustained the injury), is questionable for the game but Curtin is confident the Union will be fine even if Bedoya can’t go, and even though the team is coming off a 3-1 win over the Harrisburg City Islanders in the U.S. Open Cup game just four days ago.

“We got through the Open Cup game healthy,” he said. “We were able to manage minutes for certain guys. I think we’ll have fresh legs Sunday against a very good Red Bull team.”

3. Showcase for Jones?
If Bedoya isn’t ready to play, Derrick Jones will likely make his first MLS start since April 8 and his first MLS appearance since the last time Philly faced the Red Bulls on May 6. But the 20-year-old midfielder had a good reason for the absence as he was playing for the U.S. at the Under-20 World Cup. He then followed up a strong international tournament with a goal in Wednesday’s Open Cup win over Harrisburg.

“He has a little bounce in his step in training. He’s been really good,” Curtin said. “Now he steps on field vs. Red Bull and Tyler Adams is out there — two young guys who showed really well at the World Cup and they’ll want to get the better of each other in this game coming up. Derrick's done a great job for us when called upon. He’s a guy I have no problem throwing out there. I think he has grown in maturity from his experience at U-20 World Cup.”

Jones said he has  “a lot of confidence” after emerging as a starter at the U-20 World Cup and agreed with his coach that the chance to play against his U-20 teammate Tyler Adams is extra motivation for the weekend.

“We talked at camp and always trashed talk with each other,” he said with a smile. “I can’t wait to see him.”

4. Keep an eye on…
Red Bulls: Everything starts with Kljestan, who leads the team with six assists, and Wright-Phillips, who has a team-high six goals. Slowing them down will be a big test for a Union backline that is still growing as a unit and for goalkeeper Andre Blake, who Curtin hopes will “bail us out a couple of times.”

Union: Haris Medunjanin began to come into his own before leaving for a stint with Bosnia during the international break. He’ll likely need to have another big game for the Union to snap a two-game losing streak, especially if his midfield partner Bedoya is out.

5. This and that
• The Red Bulls have lost six straight road games, the fourth-longest such streak in franchise history.

• The 15 goals the Red Bulls have scored this season are the second-fewest in the Eastern Conference, ahead of only D.C. United and five fewer than the Union.

• The Red Bulls are coming off a 1-0 win over New York City FC in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday.

• Bedoya has committed the most fouls in MLS this season with 33.

• After going winless in their first four home games, the Union have won three straight at Talen Energy Stadium. The last time they won at least four straight home games was a five-game streak from Sept. 20, 2015 to April 23, 2016. 

Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

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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

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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.