Union

Union-Timbers 5 things: Desperate Union host best in West

Union-Timbers 5 things: Desperate Union host best in West

Union vs. Portland Timbers
7 p.m. on TCN

Reeling from back-to-back losses and two points through their first four games, the winless Union (0-2-2) return to Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday (7 p.m., TCN) to face the Western Conference-leading Portland Timbers (3-1-1) to kick off a crucial three-game homestand.

Here are five things to know.

1. Restarting the season
After dropping their second consecutive match, a 2-1 loss to D.C. United last weekend, the Union find themselves in the Eastern Conference basement. They are one of three MLS teams without a win through the first four games of the season. 

"There's a sense of urgency," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "If you look at the table, we're in a bad spot."

But there is hope. Beginning on Saturday against the Timbers, the Union kick off a three-game homestand that could revitalize their young season. 

"We've played three of four games away so we're definitely looking forward to a long streak of home games," Union defender Oguchi Onyewu said. "Hopefully we can start winning and get the points we feel is deserved from our work ethic on the field. Hopefully, we can turn things around right now."

Although it's early, this home set is crucial for the Union to remain competitive in an improved East. As it stands, the Union are four points out of the postseason picture. Curtin's club made the playoffs last season with 42 points, taking the tiebreaker winner over the New England Revolution.

"You don't want to fall too far behind," Curtin said. "The good news is only one team has three wins in the East right now so we're not too far off the pace. But there is a danger that if you don't take care of business at home, you can fall into a hole. It's a tough league to chase from behind."

Because of that, the pressure will be ramped up Saturday.

"We now have three at home and still have 30 games left of the season, so we have time to get things right," Curtin said. "But there's urgency. We've lost two games in a row and it doesn't taste good to anybody and we're not happy with that."

2. Union center back shuffle
If the Union want to revitalize their season Saturday, they might have to do it with a rookie at center back. Jack Elliott, a 6-foot-5 defender drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, teamed up with center back Oguchi Onyewu when one of the club's most valuable players, Richie Marquez, suffered a concussion at D.C. United last weekend. 

"Jack came into the game in a tough spot," Curtin said. "I thought he passed the ball very well. D.C. was sitting back a little bit but he was good positionally in stopping counters. We're happy with how he played."

Marquez, who wasn't able to practice with the team all week, is expected to be cleared by Saturday but would be a coach's decision after that. Marquez has played 58 games over the last three seasons for the Union.

"There will be a tough decision to make," Curtin said. "We're confident in both guys, we're confident in Jack to play in MLS. He has the size, the feet, the passing ability to play in the league. He showed that against D.C. United, it was a good performance."

3. Slowing the Timbers
The Timbers enter Saturday's match tied for the MLS lead with 10 points. And it's easy to see why, as the club is armed with players like Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco, Fanendo Adi and Darlington Nagbe.

"They are dangerous, there's no question about it," Curtin said. "They are fluid in their attack, great in possession. You have to be decisive against them in transition because they recover so quickly with the speed that they have. They present a lot of problems and can beat you a lot of different ways."

But while his team is more individually skilled, Timbers manager Caleb Porter knows his club is facing a wounded animal in the Union. He's coming prepared.

"They'll definitely play in a way they are desperate for a win," Porter said. "That could be tough to deal with but also maybe help us open up some opportunities. We're going to focus on what we want to do and respect the individuals and their team. It'll come down to the matchups and who executes.

"They are a lot better than their record, I think they are a dangerous team because they haven't won." 

4. Keep an eye on …
Diego Valeri: When it comes to the Timbers, Valeri is the player to stop. He's currently on pace for a career season, sitting second in MLS in goals with five, including two penalty kicks. He has 16 shots in five games.

C.J. Sapong: One of the few bright spots in the first four games, the Union forward is riding a three-game scoring streak while coming off the bench. "C.J. is giving us some life now," Curtin said.

5. This and that
* The Union are 1-3-3 against the Timbers all time but are 1-0-2 at Talen Energy Stadium in the series. 

* Despite the lopsided lifetime series, the Timbers haven't scored a goal on the road against the Union in three games. The Timbers were crushed, 3-0, in 2015, during their latest trip to Talen Energy Stadium.

* Union backup goalkeeper John McCarthy is still suffering a concussion and will be out for his second-consecutive game Saturday. He will be replaced by Jake McGuire.

* According to Opta, Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin leads MLS in chances created with 13. He has one assist on the season, however.

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.