Union's Ken Tribbett has shot at redemption vs. Toronto FC

USA Today Images

Union's Ken Tribbett has shot at redemption vs. Toronto FC

CHESTER, Pa. — To say Ken Tribbett had a rocky game the last time the Union faced Toronto FC would be an understatement.

The first-year MLS defender out of Drexel scored a goal but was also victimized on three Toronto goals before getting pulled from the game at halftime.

Tribbett has played sparingly since then, losing his starting spot to Joshua Yaro, who he’s traded time with at center back for much of the season.

But when the Union face Toronto again this Saturday at BMO Field, Tribbett will return to the starting lineup while Yaro serves a one-game suspension for a red card he picked up in last weekend’s 2-1 loss to Portland.

“It’s a good opportunity for redemption,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “Ken’s a guy we’ve leaned on heavily this year. He’s had a lot of great games for us. Obviously it’s no secret the Toronto game was a difficult one for him. A lot of the instances where we gave up chances the last time against Toronto were actually off of balls in our attacking half of the field that were turned over quickly and there was a second ball that was bouncing and we fell asleep for a split second. And I think Ken learned from that game.”

Tribbett admitted his last game against Toronto wasn’t his best performance but he isn’t scared to face his former tormentors again. In fact, he said he’s “grateful” for another opportunity to show what he can do and apply the lessons he learned from his last outing.

“Of course there are certain things you can always improve on,” Tribbett said. “Spacing in behind a big strong guy, you’ve got to learn to use your body. There’s a bunch of different things. I’ve learned my lesson and hopefully it’ll pay off on Saturday.”

The good news for Tribbett is that reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco has been out with an injury and likely won’t be back in time to face a Philadelphia team he’s scored against every time he’s faced them. The bad news is that Jozy Altidore is the hottest player in the league right now with eight goals in his last nine games for Toronto.

One of those goals came during Toronto’s 3-1 win in Philadelphia on Aug. 20 when Altidore muscled his way around Tribbett. Moving forward, the Union center back said the key to dealing with a big striker like Altidore is “maybe stay off and don’t wrestle with him so much.”

Of course, it won’t be just on Tribbett to contain Altidore but the Union’s entire young backline, as well as their midfield and goalkeeper Andre Blake.

“It’s always tough when you’re playing against a good player,” Tribbett said. “It’s even tougher when they’re scoring goals and in good form. All we can do is work together as a team to try to slow him down.”

One of those players who will look to slow down Altidore and the rest of Toronto’s vaunted attack is rookie Keegan Rosenberry.

Like Tribbett, he’s looking for a little bit of redemption after struggling in the Union’s last game in Portland. But also like Tribbett, he’s excited for the challenge this weekend’s north-of-the-border trip presents.

“Limiting his impact on the game is a challenge,” Rosenberry said of Altidore. “He’s feeling good right now. But we’re up for the challenge. It’s easy to get up for these types of games when you have those types of players that are feeling good.”

Normally, losing a player like Yaro — Rosenberry’s fellow rookie and old teammate at Georgetown — would be a big blow. But because Yaro and Tribbett have platooned for most of the year (be it for suspensions, injuries or whatever else), Rosenberry called it “lucky” that “both guys have plenty of experience.”

And although Curtin prefers stability along his backline, he too is glad that the two players have both logged a lot of big minutes in their first MLS seasons.

“They’ve both dealt with a lot of the top strikers,” the Union coach said. “I think it’s good. All these minutes and using all these different lineups that we’ve had to go to, it pays off in the big moments now — because it’s not a big deal for Ken to step in in Josh’s absence, and conversely I’d be completely comfortable with Josh jumping right back in.”

Tribbett said the competition between him and Yaro has been a good one because “both of us are true competitors” who naturally want to earn their spot.

But that will be on the backburner this weekend as Tribbett knows for sure he’ll be the one called upon with Yaro suspended.

And he’s ready to help the Union earn crucial points against arguably the best team in the East.

“I’ve been playing against top-caliber guys all year,” Tribbett said. “In the preseason, we played Toronto and we beat them 1-nil. We’ve shown that we can shut them down; we just need to do it again on Saturday.”

Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

USA Today Images

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

USA Today Images

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.