Union

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

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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.

Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

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Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

CHESTER, Pa. — It’s almost too fitting that Brian Carroll has decided to become a financial planner in Indianapolis.

For the retiring Union midfielder (see story), it’s a perfectly unassuming job for a perfectly unassuming guy. Someone who, without shin guards and cleats, always looked more like a business manager than a pro athlete anyway. An underappreciated, underrated, never-flashy player who was damn good at soccer and leaves the sport as a “pioneer for the game in this country,” according to Union head coach Jim Curtin.

“Having the opportunity to coach him here in Philadelphia, being around him, to work with him, it’s been a real honor for me,” Curtin said Thursday. “Once you reflect back on his career, the trophies that he’s won, the caps he’s received for the U.S. national team — he’s a true professional, a guy who always played the game with a smile on his face but also was kind of a quiet killer on the field.”

Carroll’s pedigree certainly is impressive. Two-time MLS Cup champion. Four straight Supporters’ Shields. Nine straight playoff appearances. Fourth-most MLS appearances in league history. Sixth-most minutes.

But when you stack him up against some other guys on the all-time leaderboard of games played (Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis, Steve Ralston, even his brother-in-law Chad Marshall), it’s fair to say he doesn’t get the same kind of national recognition. What gives?

“Because he goes about his business in such a quiet way, he isn’t a guy who is loud on the field or loud in the locker room, he’s just a lead-by-example kind of guy, and often those guys don’t get a whole lot of credit,” Curtin said. “[But] he’s a guy who anybody speaks about him in the game has nothing but positive things to say. Everybody has a Brian Carroll story, and they’re all positive. There are not a lot of guys that end their career with that — with not one person that you would ever meet that would say a negative thing about them. He’s been a guy who’s gone about his business the right way — an example of so many young players to learn from in our country.”

Even if he might not always get league-wide attention, anyone who ever played with Carroll certainly knows what he’s all about. Five years ago, then-Union teammate Danny Califf said he was “one of the most underrated guys in the league, and he has been for a long time,” before adding: “He’s happy to sit back and be in the playoffs and win championships — and let everyone else talk about the other guys that don’t.” Two years later, when Carroll was the team’s captain, Amobi Okugo revealed that everyone called him “The Iron Man.” 

But for Carroll, always a picture of humility, none of that stuff ever really mattered. And if he did fly under the radar, that's just fine with him, too.

“I think I have some athletic ability, thank goodness, but I’m not the fastest, the tallest or the strongest,” said Carroll, who remarkably was never shown a red card in any of the 370 games he played. “What I brought was consistency, work ethic and fulfilling my role to the best of my ability and me doing that enabled other guys to fulfill their roles and succeed at their roles. I’m happy and thankful that I was able to lead my team to some trophies, whether it be Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup.”

It’s a testament to his work ethic that the 36-year-old defensive midfielder continued to play at a high level as recently as last season. And although his playing time completely dried up this year, he holds no ill will toward the Union about that. If anything, he’s enjoyed the chance to step into a new role that’s involved coaching up his younger teammates at practice.

“I knew coming in these past couple of years my role was gonna change and be more supportive, still helping to lead,” he said. “One thing leads to another last year and I was a little bit more involved than what was planned. Then this year, it just kind of went according to plan — supporting the guys and helping them out in any way I can.”

Because of how he filled that role, many people speculated that he would transition directly into coaching or into a front office job. But while Carroll said he explored that path, he said the best thing for him to do with his family right now is to move to Indianapolis, where his wife is from.  

Of course, that could always change.

“There’s always a job here with the Philadelphia Union if he wants one,” Curtin said. “I know he’s moving into the financial world. I’m hoping he’s not sitting in a cubicle but if he is sitting in a cubicle, the door’s always open to come back here on the field to be a coach because he has so much more to give.”

He still has a little more to give as a player, too. Although he hasn’t played all season, Curtin said Carroll will likely play in Sunday’s 2017 finale vs. Orlando City SC — for his 371st and final MLS appearance.

“I think it’s important for him to get on the field, so we will find a way to make that happen,” Curtin said. “I kind of half-joked about starting him and seeing how long he could possibly last being out a lot this year. But he’s been sharp in training the past couple of weeks, so it’s great. 

“He’s an experienced guy, so no matter where you put him on the field, he deserves for our fans to give him a proper send-off. And I know they will.”

Union suspend Keegan Rosenberry for 'inappropriate' tweet

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Union suspend Keegan Rosenberry for 'inappropriate' tweet

Keegan Rosenberry’s nightmare season has come to an end. 

The second-year right back, who has floated in and out of favor with Union manager Jim Curtin throughout the 2017 campaign, has been suspended for the final game of the regular season on Sunday against Orlando City, for what Curtin deemed “unprofessional” behavior on social media.

“His activity on social media prior to kickoff was inappropriate,” Curtin said. “It’s something that won’t be tolerated. It's a decision that he made, one that he’ll be held accountable for. It’s unprofessional and disrespectful to the guys in the locker room.” 

Shortly before the Union’s 3-2 loss to the Chicago Fire last Sunday, in which he wasn’t tapped to start, Rosenberry tweeted a photo of himself on the bench with an unhappy look on his face and the headline, “(Need some caption help)”. The image, which also included defender Richie Marquez, was viewed as a veiled comment on his lack of playing time. 

It’s since been deleted.

“He’s a great young player that I think will learn from this,” Curtin continued. “But as professionals, we are held to a standard. To do that right before kickoff is not something [Union sporting director Earnie Stewart] and I will tolerate.”

It’s been a rough year for Rosenberry, who, after playing every minute of the regular season in 2016, was benched in favor of a more defensively stout Ray Gaddis after the Union’s first six games. The 23-year-old 2016 Rookie of the Year runner-up only managed five more starts and eight appearances following his early-season struggles. 

Although he made a five-game comeback through August and September, an ankle injury knocked him back out. He finished the season with one assist and four shots.

Now, he’ll miss the finale.