Union

Union-Revolution 5 things: Back to MLS grind after Open Cup exit

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CSN

Union-Revolution 5 things: Back to MLS grind after Open Cup exit

Union vs. New England Revolution
5 p.m. on FS1

Fresh off a gut-wrenching end to their 2017 U.S. Open Cup, the Union (5-7-4) return to MLS play to host a team in the Revolution (5-7-5) they could end up battling for one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots.

Here are five things to know:

1. Bruised but not beaten
Recovering from games four days apart is always a difficult task; recovering from a grueling 120-minute knockout game that ended with a brutal shootout loss to the nemesis New York Red Bulls is even tougher.

But although head coach Jim Curtin said he felt like he and the players “let down the fans,” he’s confident that they’ll be up for a quick turnaround.

“We will have some fresh legs,” Curtin said. “With the competitive roster, we have guys we plug in and don’t really miss a beat. That’s a strong thing to have. We’re a real balanced team and it’s a group I’m confident will be fresh. … Even the 120-minute guys are feeling pretty strong and ready to turn it around and go again.”

Indeed, four regular starters — goalkeeper Andre Blake, defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Ray Gaddis, and midfielder Ilsinho — didn’t play at all vs. the Red Bulls on Wednesday and another (Chris Pontius) only played 15 minutes.

And as for the guys who went the full 120 minutes, Curtin is feeling good about their effort and recovery, specifically pointing to attacking midfielder Roland Alberg.

“It was his best game in a Philadelphia Union uniform,” the Union coach said.

2. Gold Cup absences
There’s good news and bad news on the international absence front.

The bad news? The Union will be without captain Alejandro Bedoya, who’s currently with the U.S. national team leading up to start of the Gold Cup next weekend. And the Union are 5-1 in the last six games Bedoya has started.

The good news is Blake, who was dealing with a minor rib injury, is set to make one final start in Philly before joining Jamaica for the CONCACAF tournament. And he’s coming off a monster performance in the Union’s 1-0 win over D.C. United last weekend.

The Revs, meanwhile, will be without striker Juan Agudelo (U.S.) and midfielders Kelyn Rowe (U.S.) and Gershon Koffie (Ghana). All three were part of Saturday’s U.S.-Ghana friendly, though only Rowe got into the game, earning his first USMNT cap.

3. All eyes on Jones
With Bedoya gone and Warren Creavalle hurt, 20-year-old midfielder Derrick Jones has a big opportunity in front of him as a starter for Sunday’s game — and potentially a few more after that.

In Jones’ last start, he was shown a red card that led to a 2-0 loss to the Red Bulls on June 18. But he said he’s learned from that experience and is eager to temporarily take the spot of a player like Bedoya.

“I look up to him every day in training, on the field, in games,” Jones said of the Union captain. “He tells me to play my game, keep doing what I’m doing.”

Curtin said the first half of the season has gone well for Jones, who began the year of a starter before transitioning to a reserve role. But he expects more from the promising young homegrown.

“This is a big time for him now with Ale being out for these next two games,” the Union coach said. “He’ll have his hands full. But his fearlessness is what [sporting director Earnie Stewart] and I love in him and it’s what we see every day in training. We know he’ll be up to the challenge.”

4. Players to watch
Revolution: New England is missing some key players with Diego Fagundez suspended and others injured on top of the Agudelo, Rowe and Koffie international absences. But in striker Kei Kamara, the Revs still have a marquee veteran striker who can turn a game on its head.

Union: This could be an important game for Ilsinho, who’s dealing with a calf issue but figures to start at the No. 10 attacking midfield role. And he may need to have a big game to keep that spot, considering Alberg is coming off such a good game and Adam Najem — an up-and-comer at the No. 10 spot — had an “excellent” performance vs. the Red Bulls four days ago, according to Curtin.

5. This and that
• In their Open Cup game Wednesday, the Union finished with 27 shots but only scored once, leading Curtin to have the players work on finishing during practice this week.

• Maurice Edu, who hasn’t played an MLS game since Sept. 20, 2015, participated in training this week but still has no timetable to return.

• The Revs have yet to win on the road this season, going 0-6-3 in nine matches.

• The Union are 2-0-1 in their last three meetings with the Revs, outscoring them 8-1.

• With seven assists, Revs midfielder Lee Nguyen is tied for third in the league.

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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USA Today Images

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.