Union

Union-Timbers 5 things: Kicking off season-defining road swing

Union-Timbers 5 things: Kicking off season-defining road swing

Union (11-10-8) at Timbers (10-11-8)
6 p.m. on TCN

With the 2016 season nearly over, the playoff-hungry Union begin a defining three-game road trip Saturday, as they travel cross-country to battle the reigning MLS champion Portland Timbers at Providence Park.

Here are five things to know for the matchup.

1. Beginning the gauntlet
Hungry for points, the Union run into a three-game road swing at a bad time.

“When the schedule comes out, you see that block of three games and go, 'That’s a tough stretch right there,'" Union manager Jim Curtin said. “When it’s a block of three road games, the first one is critical.”

Currently fourth in the Eastern Conference, the club’s ability to scrape together results on the road, where it hasn't been particularly strong, could determine where it lands in a crowded East playoff picture.

If the Union can manage the third or fourth spot in the East, they get a first-round home game. If they fall to fifth or sixth, they visit the opposition. With that kind of positioning on the line, it’s crucial that the Union rise to the occasion against the Timbers.

“I think it is critical to start the road trip and get confidence,” said Curtin, whose club also faces Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls on the road swing. “Get a point or three out of the first game, because that sets the tone for the next two. I think it’s important to go into a tough place and get points.”

2. Midfield changes
Between Brian Carroll’s injury and Alejandro Bedoya’s international duty, Union midfielder Warren Creavalle has been a workhorse, filling in the gaps in what has often been a patchwork midfield.

“Warren has done a great job,” Curtin said. “There’s not many players that get a bigger smile on their face from playing defense. I like those kind of guys. There’s moments in the game where he looks exhausted and gassed, and then he’ll find that second wind and go on an 80-yard run, put out another fire for us and make a big play.”

But the Union might have to do without Creavalle on Saturday. The midfielder is suffering from knee tendinitis, meaning the Union could go back to Carroll at defensive midfield Saturday. Carroll is recovering from plantar fasciitis and hasn’t played since Aug. 6.

“He’s an important player to be getting back at an important time of the year,” Curtin said of Carroll. “Brian has had a quiet great season for this club. He’s looked sharp in training and I think it’s time where we would say we’re comfortable throwing him in as a starter.”

3. Weary Timbers
The Timbers are in an awkward situation.

On Wednesday, the club was defeated by Deportivo Saprissa, 4-2, in CONCACAF Champions League play, in San Jose, Costa Rica. Meaning the weary Timbers now have to travel back home for a Saturday clash with the Union.

“They have a big travel from Costa Rica to play a game at Portland in the afternoon,” Curtin said. “And on what they would deem a hot temperature day.”

If this match was played early in the season, the Timbers would likely rely heavily on squad rotation in which they would dress backups and younger players. But the Timbers need points. With 38 points, they are holding onto the sixth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

“They’re fighting for points just like we are, just like everybody kind of at this point of the year,” Curtin said. “A lot of the same things that we did against Montreal we need to bring to the Portland game. We need to have that killer instinct to end the game.”

And the Timbers aren’t the healthiest, either. According to Jamie Goldberg of the Oregonian, Jack Jewsbury, Alvas Powell, Liam Ridgewell, Darlington Nagbe, Ned Grabavoy and Fanendo Adi are all questionable for Saturday.

“We need to shift gears and focus on the league,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “We’re in a situation where we’re assessing guys and we may have some guys that are out, a bit banged up because of the week. We’re still assessing who is healthy.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Union: With Ilsinho unfit to put in heavy minutes, or even play at all, the right attacking midfield position will likely land with Fabian Herbers, who has started four consecutive games. And though he doesn’t have a goal over that span, Curtin feels he’s due. “Fabian, I think this last game, had four really good looks,” he said.

Timbers: Although former Union striker Jack McInerney is goalless in his last seven games, there’s no doubt he’d like to stick it to the Union. McInerney is mainly a bench forward but has five goals in 21 games this season.

5. This and that
• The Union’s front three of C.J Sapong, Chris Pontius and Herbers have combined for just one goal in each of their last five games. “I’d be more concerned with the three of them if we weren’t getting chances,” Curtin said.

• Should Carroll not be able to play at defensive midfield Saturday, the Union have the option of tapping Ken Tribbett. The rookie central defender played midfield at Drexel University.

• Behind the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC, the Union are third in the East in goals with 48. However, the club is tied for fourth in goals against with 45.

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.

Union-Orlando City thoughts: Aiming to end season, Brian Carroll's career with a win

union-orlando-matchup.jpg

Union-Orlando City thoughts: Aiming to end season, Brian Carroll's career with a win

Orlando City (10-13-9) at Union (15-10-7)
4:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia+

After 33 games, the 2017 season finale is here as the Union return to Talen Energy Stadium for the last time on Sunday to host Orlando City. And although the match is relatively pointless for the two woeful clubs, both teams want to end with a win.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

•At this point, it’s all about pride. Coming off a horrendous regular season that includes just one road victory, a nine-game losing run to begin the campaign and no All-Stars, the Union want to bury their awful season with a win.

“It was a disappointing season,” said Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. “The aim right now is to finish the season on a high note at home. We want to give the fans something to cheer for.”

•With a win, the Union can finish the season with 42 points. That would match last year’s output, which was good enough for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Union are eight points out of the postseason prior to Sunday’s match.

•Brian Carroll will say goodbye to the Union and professional soccer on Sunday after announcing his retirement. The 15-year veteran, who played seven of those with the Union, will get on the field against Orlando City for one final run. Next up for the Virginia native? He’s moving to Indianapolis to begin a new career as a financial planner (see story). 

“There’s always a job here with the Philadelphia Union if he wants one,” Jim Curtin said.

•The quiet Carroll, who, at 36, hasn’t played a minute of MLS action this season, ends his career (not including Sunday’s match) fourth all-time in MLS with 370 appearances and sixth all-time in minutes played at 30,778. He’s won two MLS titles and four Supporters’ Shields.

He’s second on the Union’s franchise list for games played at 165, behind only Sebastien Le Toux. But Carroll owns the minutes played title at 13,818. Although it may not have shown through his quiet demeanor, he’s been a really good player for a long time.

•Though it’s the Union’s final match of the season, the club won’t dip into the youth pool. Curtin’s belief is that players who contributed minutes with the Steel throughout 2017 deserved to dress for the USL club’s first playoff game on the road against the Louisville City FC on Friday night.

If Curtin would have known the Steel would have been crushed, 4-0, things might have changed. Adam Najem, Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty made the start.

•One player who didn’t suit up for Steel but also won’t dress for the Union on Sunday is right back Keegan Rosenberry. Coming off a year in which he played every minute of the regular season and earned Rookie of the Year runner-up honors, Rosenberry was suspended by the Union for using social media to gripe about playing time.

The real issue was the timing. A subtle post, in which Rosenberry asked fans to caption an image of him on the bench with a disgusted look, came just hours prior to the Union’s match against the Chicago Fire last weekend. Curtin called it, “unprofessional” and “inappropriate.” Rosenberry ends his season with just 14 games played.

•Curtin and the Union can’t take much from the first time they saw Orlando City, a 2-1 loss on March 18. Cyle Larin, who probably won’t play for his team on Sunday, scored twice for Orlando, sandwiching a lone C.J. Sapong score. 

“That feels like forever ago,” said Curtin, whose club is 2-2-2 against Orlando City all time. “Both of our seasons have shifted, there’s been highs and lows.”

•As usual, Fabian Herbers, Maurice Edu, Josh Yaro and Ken Tribbett are out for Sunday. Right-winger Chris Pontius is questionable with an abdominal injury, which could open space for rookie Marcus Epps to earn significant playing time.

•If Orlando wants to take down the Union, it’ll have to do it without Kaka. It was announced by Orlando City that the legend, who isn’t renewing his contract, would not travel for the finale. So, if you wanted to see Kaka, you’ll have to go to Europe. 

•It may be meaningless for the Union and Orlando, but Sunday marks Decision Day around MLS, in which all 11 games are played at 4:00 p.m. In the Eastern Conference, four teams (New York City FC, Atlanta United, Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew) are eying a Knockout Round bye.