Union-Red Bulls thoughts: Focus on future but still reasons to fight


Union-Red Bulls thoughts: Focus on future but still reasons to fight

Union (8-12-8) at Red Bulls (12-10-5)
1 p.m. on ESPN

Separated by nine points in the Eastern Conference standings, there’s little at stake when the Union and New York Red Bulls meet Sunday afternoon at Red Bulls Arena. But that won’t stop either team from preparing for a fight as the familiar clubs clash in New Jersey.

No handouts
With six games remaining in the regular season and the Union sinking to the bottom of the East, the focus turns to the future. But as Union manager Jim Curtin explained Wednesday, that change in focus doesn’t mean playing time will come as a charity for up-and-coming players.

“It won’t just be to throw six or seven guys out there and say good luck, I don’t think that’s a good idea for the development of young players,” the manager said. “We need to continue to fight for points, we have six games left. Is there a window and dip in form from certain guys, maybe we’ll find a way to get them in.”

Players like Adam Najem, Marcus Epps, Derrick Jones, Keegan Rosenberry and even defender Auston Trusty, are considered the next wave of talent for the Union, a team with little to be excited about. Yet if those young players want more playing time, they’ll have to earn it. 

“We still pick the team each week based on how they perform in training and things won’t be just handed to people,” Curtin said. “If Warren Creavalle is outperforming Derrick Jones in training, in every practice session, and I choose for Derrick because he’s young, I think it sends a bad message to the team.”

But that process doesn’t mean the Union are analyzing every move from their prospects. Curtin explained that if you can’t impress with the Union’s USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel, you probably won’t thrive with the Union.

“Right now, how many guys do we have dominating those Bethlehem Steel games? It’s not enough, it’s not enough right now,” Curtin said. “The performances that happen in those games are judged and judged harshly. We will play young players but we’ll also play the team that gives us the best chance at getting three points.” 

Defensive changes
One of the Union’s young prospects that is getting an opportunity to shine might not dress Sunday. Defender Josh Yaro, who sat out last weekend’s draw with Minnesota United because of a red-card suspension, injured his knee in training this week.

“Yaro picked up a knee injury, it swelled up on him,” said Curtin, who also noted that Yaro could still make Sunday’s starting lineup. “A knock he took on the knee in training.” 

If it lingers, however, the injury puts the Union in a tough position. With center back Oguchi Onyewu suspended against the Red Bulls because of yellow card accumulation, the Union could pull Richie Marquez out of mothballs to play next to Jack Elliott at center back.

“Richie had a very good day of training and that’s how we trained today, with Elliott and Richie on his left,” Curtin said. “It’s something that we’re confident in, something we’ve seen a bunch of the years.”

If Marquez does make the starting roster, which isn’t a given, it will be a golden opportunity for the 25-year-old. After making 53 starts over the last two seasons, Marquez only made eight starts in 2017 as he fell behind Elliott and Onyewu on the depth chart.

“Richie is a guy who is a pro, keeps his mouth shut and does his work each and every day,” Curtin said. “He’s a guy that I trust and still believe in. I know it’s been a difficult year for him, he’s been kinda the odd man out, but he can easily get in. He knows what we’re about with our back line and a guy whose number could be called.” 

Up for the fight
Despite the difference in the standings, the Union have played the Red Bulls with vigor in the club’s first two matches. The Union dominated the first game, 3-0, but dropped the second, 2-0, after falling to 10 men.

“We know what they’re about, they are a team that will high press, have a ton of fight and energy,” Curtin said. “It’s a rivalry game in their building, which will be difficult because they are in a good run of form now and we need to give maximum effort to get three points.”

If the two previous matches weren’t a signal to the Red Bulls to take the Union seriously, playoff implications will. As it stands, the Red Bulls, who have an Open Cup finals against Sporting Kansas City match Wednesday, hold the final playoff spot in the East with 41 points — five more than trailing Montreal Impact.

“They are a better team than their results,” Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch said about the Union, “They are a dangerous team. I know they are always up to play us, especially at Red Bulls Arena. We know that will be a really important one.”

Keep an eye on …
C.J. Sapong: The Union leading scorer buried his 13th of the season last weekend against Minnesota United, and he should have had a second. Sapong is playing well and will be a person of interest for the Red Bulls back line.

Bradley Wright-Phillips: With the Open Cup Finals on Wednesday, it’s not a given that Wright-Phillips will even play Sunday. But if he does, he’s the guy to watch. BWP had both goals in the 2-0 win over the Union back on June 3. He has 15 on the season.

5. This and that
• The Union are 6-12-3 against the Red Bulls all time, with much of that damage coming on the road. They are 1-7-1 at Red Bulls Arena.

• The Union enter Sunday’s match winless in their last five matches, with a 0-2-3 record. Meanwhile, Red Bulls are 1-1-3 over the same span.

• With 13 goals on the season, Sapong is one away from the Union franchise record of 14, set by Sebastien Le Toux in 2010.

• The Union will get captain Alejandro Bedoya back in the midfield after he missed last week’s match because of a yellow-card accumulation suspension.

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.