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


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.

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.