Union

Union-Sounders thoughts: Taking on the defending champs

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CSN

Union-Sounders thoughts: Taking on the defending champs

Seattle Sounders (12-8-11) at Union (9-13-9)
1 p.m. on ESPN

CHESTER, Pa. — With three games left in the season, the Union are on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention.

But that won’t stop them from wanting to put on a good show for the home fans against Clint Dempsey and the reigning champs.

Here are some thoughts on the Union’s penultimate game at Talen Energy Stadium:

• The Union are coming off a 3-0 midweek loss in Atlanta, which dropped their road record to a dismal 1-9-6. But the team has been pretty good at home this season, sporting an 8-4-3 mark. If they can beat Seattle or Orlando in their home finale, they’d set a club record for most home wins in a season.

• Another record that could be set: the individual single-season scoring record. CJ Sapong is currently tied with Sebastien Le Toux for the most goals all-time with 14.

• The Union enter the weekend in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and could be eliminated from the playoff race before their kickoff if the New York Red Bulls beat Toronto on Saturday. If not, a loss or draw to Seattle would officially knock them out.

“We haven’t been mathematically eliminated yet but we are realistic in where we are in the table,” Curtin said. “All we can do is try to win our last three games and see what happens from there. Guys are playing for pride, they’re playing for our home fans, they’re playing to break a record, as small as it sounds, for most home wins. Little things like that can motivate guys.”

• The Sounders, winners of the 2016 MLS Cup, are fresh off a big 3-0 win over West-leading Vancouver and can clinch a playoff spot this weekend. Curtin said he isn’t sure if Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer will rest any players with the quick turnaround and cross-country flight but he said they’re preparing for “their best lineup.”

• While Jordan Morris, one of the best young American players, is out with a hamstring injury, the Union will likely see Dempsey, one of the best American players ever. Curtin said it’s a big deal any time a player of his stature comes to town, and he’s wary of the challenge Dempsey presents.

“He’s a guy they played as a No. 9 in their last game, which was something a little different,” the Union coach said. “But he still has the freedom to go all over the place. He’s not just gonna stand between the two center backs. So our challenge with Clint is his unpredictability — he pops out right, out left, he comes deep for the ball. So we’ll have our hands full.

“He’s a special player and they have some other special players around them in [Nicolas] Lodeiro and a core of good experienced defenders.”

• Dempsey and Union captain Alejandro Bedoya will likely join forces after the game for two massive U.S. national team games vs. Panama on Oct. 6 and Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10, with a trip to next summer’s World Cup on the line. The Union won’t have any games during the international break, next playing at Chicago on Oct. 15.

“You always want to have a good performance, to have a good taste in your mouth when going into a long break,” Curtin said.

• Although he’s been reluctant to play some of his more untested youngsters, even as the team has fallen out of the playoff race, Curtin said midfielders Derrick Jones and Adam Najem will be “in the discussion for this weekend, for sure” thanks to strong recent performances with USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC.

“It is likely they’ll be rewarded,” the Union coach said. “Maybe it’s being in the 18 and hopefully they can work their way into the starting lineup by the end of the year.”

• Two starters in Wednesday’s match vs. Atlanta are questionable after picking up injuries in the game: defensive midfielder Warren Creavalle (hamstring) and right back Keegan Rosenberry (ankle).

• The Union have an interesting history with Seattle, facing them in their first-ever game in 2010 (a loss in Seattle) and their first-ever game at Talen Energy Stadium a few months later (a win). They also met them in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup championship match — a thrilling game that ended in a heartbreaking extra-time loss for Philly with Dempsey netting the winning goal.

• Aside from the Open Cup loss, the Union are undefeated at home against Seattle, going 2-0-2 against them in league play at Talen Energy Stadium.

Union notes, quotes and tidbits: Brian Carroll's 'very special' farewell tour ends perfectly

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Union notes, quotes and tidbits: Brian Carroll's 'very special' farewell tour ends perfectly

CHESTER, Pa. — Union midfielder Brian Carroll accepted his framed jersey and watched a tribute video from the field at Talen Energy Stadium, prior to Sunday’s 6-1 win against Orlando City SC. 

Playing in his final MLS game, the veteran took it all in.

“Tonight was special,” said Carroll, who wrapped up his 15th season after announcing his retirement earlier in the week. “Especially the win, but really just the whole week and the handshakes and the hugs and the pictures and the little interviews. It all made for a very special week. And to top it off this way was really icing on the cake.”

Carroll entered the match for Fafa Picault at halftime and played a flawless 45 minutes.

“I felt OK,” he said. “I just needed five minutes to catch my breath. Then I was all right. The game was pretty settled at that point so I could just sit in and try to help the guys around me so it was fun.”

Then, with the same class and grace that he carried throughout his career, Carroll rode off into the sunset after one final professional match in front of the fans.

“It was really special and I’ll never forget it, said Carroll, who is moving to Indianapolis and beginning a career as a financial planner. “I love this club and I will always do anything I can to support it and be there for the club. I thank you for all the kind words and support and I’ll miss you guys.”

On the hot seat
Finishing the season outside of the playoffs with an 11-14-9 record, Union manager Jim Curtin’s future has become a topic of conversation. And although it’s unlikely he goes anywhere this offseason, the coach was asked if he thinks about his future.

“You might as well just ask me if I’m a human being,” Curtin said. “Of course you think about things like that. When you guys ask, “Do you hear the boos?” Do you think I have ears? These are silly questions.”

From the sound of it, Curtin believes his job is safe. 

“I have a decent understanding of where I stand in the organization,” he said, “and I’ll continue to work to try to get it better and I know it’s not good enough right now, but I’ll continue to work as hard as I possibly can.”

Looking to the future
Despite the overall disappointing season, the Union used the finale Sunday to put on a show.

“There was something in the air,” said Union forward C.J. Sapong, who scored a pair of goals in the 6-1 rout. “It definitely felt like it was our day and it’s a good way to close the season. What can we take from this to implement for next season to do better.”

While the victory might feel like a deodorant that covers up the stink of another lost season, it did something interesting: It gave the Union the same record and point total as 2016 when they made the playoffs to only be dispatched by Toronto FC. 

“I think it just depends on which way you look at it,” Sapong said. “For me personally, given the talent we have in this locker room, I feel like we should be playing in the playoffs, playing for hardware. Give credit to my teammates, staff and fans for dealing with a very up and down year, but now it’s behind us. We put our heads down and look forward.” 

As Sapong said, the Union’s focus is on next season.

“We have offseason now to prepare,” Curtin said. “We’re not satisfied, but at the same time, the effort of the players, they gave everything. We asked them to bring a knife to a gunfight and they don’t complain. We recognized it wasn’t enough but there are still good things happening at the club.” 

Ilsinho's status
Ilsinho may not have a spot on the Union next season, but he played like he wanted one. The Brazilian playmaker buried two goals and had a key assist in Sunday’s season finale in an inspired performance.

‘I love it here,” he said. “I’m so happy here. All season I tried to help, I tried to do my best. Sometimes yeah, sometimes no, but it’s soccer you know. I love everything here, I like it here, I hope to be back.” 

But despite the output, it still wasn’t a productive season from Ilsinho, who has a team option on his contract for 2018. With six goals and five assists in 27 games, he was better than his two goals, two assist line in 2016, but still uninspiring. 

Still, the club liked what it got from Ilsinho at the No. 10 spot down the stretch.

“Ilsinho raised his game toward the end of the year,” Curtin said. “We’re happy for him. But again, the challenge is always to do it for 90 minutes, do it on the road. He shows he has incredible talent and he’s raised his level.” 

Record-breaking Sapong
With his 15th and 16th goals Sunday, Sapong finally snapped the Union franchise mark for goals in a season set by Sebastien Le Toux in 2010. While Sapong has brushed away talk of individual accolades throughout the year, the forward was able to appreciate the honor after the season finale. 

“Obviously, to have my name somewhere for hopefully a very long time, it feels good,” he said. “I still feel like we could’ve done better. We’re not playing for anything meaningful, but it’s good to get those individual accolades. At the end of the season, I feel like I impacted my team in a positive way and that’s all I try to do.” 

And to break the record in Carroll’s last game made it even sweeter. When Sapong was subbed out in the final minutes of the match to an ovation, he hugged Carroll. 

“I told him I loved him and it was a pleasure to play with him,” Carroll said. “I told him this week, too, that I remember in his days on an opposing team, I would have to mark him on set pieces. It seemed really unfair, so I’m really thankful that he’s on my team and I don’t have to mark him anymore.”

Union-Orlando City observations: Breaking records in season-ending rout

Union-Orlando City observations: Breaking records in season-ending rout

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. —  In less than three minutes Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium, the match was effectively over. Ilsinho and the Union began their scoring assault in the third minute and didn’t stop until team records and Orlando City were thoroughly broken. The Union easily won the season finale, 6-1.

It was an impressive finish to an unimpressive season for the Union, as the club completed 2017 with an 11-9-14 record and 42 points — a mirror image of 2016. On the other side, equally disappointing Orlando City finished at 10-9-15 and more questions than answers.

• Before fans got settled into their seats, Ilsinho and the Union took the 1-0 lead. In the third minute, Alejandro Bedoya, off the rush, sent a trailing pass from the right side of the box that found a seam and Ilsinho, who easily placed the open shot past Earl Edwards Jr.

• Stunning Orlando City, the onslaught continued three minutes later. Breaking down the right side of the box, Ilsinho’s centering pass found Fafa Picault, who beat his man for a header that went bar-down and in for his sixth goal of the season.

• With the quick goal and assist Sunday, Ilsinho was playing out of his mind. And while it may not make a difference regarding his future with the club, the second-year Union player treated Sunday’s match like a guy facing a team option on his contract at the end of the season.

• Continuing to dominate Orlando City, C.J Sapong produced in the 26th minute, when he buried a cross-box feed from Picault. The goal made it 3-0 Union, but more importantly, gave Sapong 15 goals on the season, setting the Union franchise record for goals in a single season.

• But he wasn't done. Sapong netted his second of the game in the 74th minute, cleaning up a Haris Medunjanin shot and rebound. Totaling 16 goals on the season, Sapong snapped his career high by seven. He was pulled in the 86th minute for the curtain call and ovation.

• Even with the three-goal lead, Picault showed no mercy to Orlando City. The speedster broke free in the 30th minute and fired a shot through the legs of Edwards, who didn’t stand a chance. Picault left the match at halftime with what was suspected to be a concussion.

• While that goal was Picault’s second of the game and fourth for the Union, it also set a record for most goals scored in a single half by a Union team.

• Like a U.S. Open Cup match against an amateur team, the Union made it 5-0 in the 63rd minute. Medunjanin captured his team-leading 12th assist on the season by sending Ilsinho on a clean breakaway for the goal. Sapong made it 6-1, a little over 10 minutes later.

• Orlando City’s goal in the 72nd minute, scored by Dom Dwyer, broke Andre Blake’s shutout and kept the goalkeeper’s 2017 total at nine for the season. That’s three above his career high earned last season when he won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. Blake was outstanding Sunday, making four stops.

• Chris Pontius, who came off the bench in the second half, found himself on a breakaway with minutes remaining in the match. His shot hit the post to perfectly sum up his forgettable season.

• Playing his final game in MLS, Brian Carroll, who announced his retirement from professional soccer earlier in the week, received a pre-game name chant and ceremony. Playing his final minutes of the season, the veteran of 371 MLS games, took the captain’s armband and entered the match at halftime

• With the win Sunday, the Union pushed their record at Talen Energy Stadium to 10-4-3 — the best home record in team history. But with a putrid road record of 1-10-6, it’s easy to see why the club struggled in the Eastern Conference.