Union

Union-Sporting KC 5 things: McCarthy taking over in goal for tough road clash

Union-Sporting KC 5 things: McCarthy taking over in goal for tough road clash

Union at Sporting Kansas City
8:30 p.m., The Comcast Network

Riding a modest two-game MLS winning streak, the Union (6-7-4) hit the road for a big test against one of the top teams in the league in Sporting Kansas City (8-4-7) on Thursday night.

Here are five things to know:

1. Depleted but still powerful
The Union are certainly catching Sporting Kansas City at a good time as three of the club’s premier players — Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi and Matt Besler — are with the U.S. national team for the Gold Cup. On top of that, Roger Espinoza is suspended and leading scorer Gerso Fernandes is questionable with an injury.

Nevertheless, Union head coach Jim Curtin warned that SKC is deep enough to overcome those losses, especially at home, where they own a sparkling 6-0-3 record this year.

“The way they play will be the same,” Curtin said. “They have a true system they believe in. They have a ton of experienced guys in [Ike] Opara, [Benny] Feilhaber, guys who’ve been through MLS games. It’s gonna be a difficult task. You can never take them lightly.”

SKC head coach Peter Vermes is confident in his team’s depth, too.

“One man’s absence is another man’s opportunity,” he told reporters in Kansas City. “For the good majority of games that we’ve had to make changes, guys’ performances have been good.”

2. McCarthy takes the reins
The Union will also be missing some key guys due to the Gold Cup as captain Alejandro Bedoya is with the U.S. national team while star goalkeeper Andre Blake recently joined Jamaica.

Blake is coming off two straight shutouts — his sixth and seventh of the season — and made some big-time saves in those wins over the New England Revolution and D.C. United.

Now, the Union turn to backup John McCarthy, who has played only in the Union’s two U.S. Open Cup games this season, most recently a shootout loss to the New York Red Bulls last week.

“Johnny’s coming off a really good performance vs. Red Bull,” Curtin said. “I think he’s in good form and is gonna do a good job for us in KC.”

After playing in 11 games in his rookie season in 2015, McCarthy has made only one league start since the start of the 2016 campaign — a 3-0 loss to Chicago last year. But his teammates have faith in the Philly native and La Salle alum.

“Dre, like I’ve said before, is to me the best goalie in the league,” Union winger Fafa Picault said. “But we definitely believe in John and what he’s able to do for us. We’ll count on him to make big saves. We’ll be ready and I’m sure he’s ready as well.”

3. Defense leads to offense
While Blake naturally deserves a lot of the credit for the team’s two straight shutouts, the backline has also been especially stingy, particularly the center back pairing of veteran Oguchi Onyewu and rookie Jack Elliott (who’s good to go Thursday after leaving Sunday’s game with a contusion).

“They defend individually really well,” Vermes said. “It’s like a bunch of little pitbulls on the field in the way they won’t give you time and space on the ball.”

Curtin also noted that the hard work on defense has lead to more offensive success with three different players scoring in last week’s win over New England, including attacking midfielders Ilsinho and Roland Alberg.

“It’s great for their confidence,” said Picault, who’s been one of the team’s most dangerous offensive players.

4. Players to watch
Union: C.J. Sapong, who spent the first four years of his MLS career in Kansas City, is back in old stomping grounds. And he could make it a special trip as he’s just one goal away from reaching the double-digit mark in goals for the first time.

Sporting Kansas City: The hosts may be missing a lot but still have a big weapon in center back Ike Opara, who is a dominant defender and dangerous offensively on set pieces. “People might laugh at this comment and I don’t really care,” Curtin said. “I’ve watched every KC game and Ike Opara is playing for me at an MVP-type level.”

5. This and that
• Chris Pontius was a late call-up to join Bedoya on the US national team but will be available for the game in Kansas City before departing.

• Sporting KC is undefeated at home in 17 straight games, with 10 shutouts in that stretch. They’re one of four teams in the league without a home defeat this season.

• SKC has allowed only 13 goals in 19 games, by far the lowest goals-against average in MLS.

• Of the Union’s six victories this season, five have come by shutout.

• In Philly’s last trip to Kansas City, they had one of their worst endings in franchise history, allowing two goals in stoppage time to turn a late 2-1 lead into a 3-2 loss. Just two days later, Curtin decided to bench goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi, who never played another game for the Union.

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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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.