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Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Facing the league's best team

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Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Facing the league's best team

Union at Toronto FC
8 p.m. on TCN

Fresh off a frustrating draw in San Jose, the Union (8-11-6) have an even tougher road game as they face first-place Toronto FC (14-3-8) at BMO Field on Wednesday night.

Here are five things to know:

1. Road woes
The Union have won only once on the road this season — one of five teams in MLS with less than two away wins in 2017. And of all those results, perhaps none were as disheartening as Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the Earthquakes, as a penalty in the final minutes caused them to blow a very late lead.

The result spoiled an overall good performance, including the first career goal from rookie Jack Elliott, and did little to help them in their playoff chase. With 30 points, the Union currently sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, six points out of the final playoff spot.

“It was a good team performance and a heartbreaking ending to the game,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “Guys put a ton into it. I thought it was one of our better road performances, so there are positives in that regard.”

They’ll need an even better road performance to get a result against a Toronto side that’s a whopping 9-0-3 at home. 

2. The league’s best ever?
With 50 points in 25 games, Toronto FC is not only comfortable in the Supporters’ Shield lead but also on pace to become just the third MLS team this millennium to reach the two-points-per-game plateau and finish with the best record in league history.

So is this the best team Curtin has ever seen?

“I know with the Twitter world, you have to talk about best ever everything, best eclipse, best whatever,” Curtin said. “I don’t like comparing generations because it’s always challenging to do. But I do think they’re a special team.”

And the reason they’re special, he said, is not only because of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley but the effective role players they’ve filled out around their star trio. Curtin shouted out last week’s MLS Player of the Week Justin Morrow, midfielders Victor Vasquez and Marky Delgado and defender Drew Moor as just a few examples.

“Toronto has three key guys but then people forget about the pieces they have around them now,” Curtin said. “They’ve done a heck of a job assembling their roster.”

3. Blake set to return
The good news for the Union is that they’ll have a big weapon to try to slow down Altidore, Giovinco and the rest of TFC’s star-studded attack.

Curtin announced that reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake, who missed the last eight games because of the Gold Cup and a hand injury, is set to once again man the net.

“It’s good to have him back,” Curtin said. “I think Johnny [McCarthy] did an excellent job in his absence. But to have Andre back in net is a good thing for the group.”

With Blake returning and even Maurice Edu finally on the mend, the Union are quite healthy for their upcoming stretch that includes a home game vs. Atlanta on Saturday. Only Fabian Herbers is out with Curtin saying that Ilsinho (right adductor strain) and Oguchi Onyewu (left groin strain) will be available for selection. 

4. Keep an eye on …
Jack Elliott: The Union center back and MLS Rookie of the Year hopeful had arguably his best game of the season in San Jose and is now set for his toughest test yet. Curtin thinks he’ll be up for the challenge, though he does want to see the rookie improve his defensive heading. “He’s playing way behind the years,” the Union coach said. “He’s playing against some of the top forwards in the league and has been our most solid guy back there.” 

Sebastian Giovinco: Curtin thinks the Italian playmaker is maybe the best player the league has ever seen. And Giovinco often shows that against the Union, scoring in his first five games vs. Philly before that streak ended earlier this year when he left a game with an early injury. “Giovinco can beat you 100 different ways,” Curtin said. “You give him a free kick and it’s all but a certainty that it will at least be a scare for Andre. You have to be smart, have to be disciplined.”

5. This and that
• Keegan Rosenberry, last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up, made his first appearance since May on Saturday after Giliano Wijnaldum was forced to exit with an injury. And he might see some more action this week. “Whether it’s Toronto or Atlanta, he will play a role in these games moving forward,” Curtin said.

• TFC are unbeaten in their last 13 regular-season home games, winning 10 of them and drawing three. 

• Toronto’s scored four goals in each of their last two home games. They’ve never scored four goals in three straight home games.

• The Union are averaging 16.2 aerials won per game this season, the most of any MLS team.

• In 17 regular-season meetings, the Union and Toronto have each won six times to go along with five draws.

Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

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Humble and unassuming, Union's Brian Carroll retiring as 'pioneer for the game in this country'

CHESTER, Pa. — It’s almost too fitting that Brian Carroll has decided to become a financial planner in Indianapolis.

For the retiring Union midfielder (see story), it’s a perfectly unassuming job for a perfectly unassuming guy. Someone who, without shin guards and cleats, always looked more like a business manager than a pro athlete anyway. An underappreciated, underrated, never-flashy player who was damn good at soccer and leaves the sport as a “pioneer for the game in this country,” according to Union head coach Jim Curtin.

“Having the opportunity to coach him here in Philadelphia, being around him, to work with him, it’s been a real honor for me,” Curtin said Thursday. “Once you reflect back on his career, the trophies that he’s won, the caps he’s received for the U.S. national team — he’s a true professional, a guy who always played the game with a smile on his face but also was kind of a quiet killer on the field.”

Carroll’s pedigree certainly is impressive. Two-time MLS Cup champion. Four straight Supporters’ Shields. Nine straight playoff appearances. Fourth-most MLS appearances in league history. Sixth-most minutes.

But when you stack him up against some other guys on the all-time leaderboard of games played (Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis, Steve Ralston, even his brother-in-law Chad Marshall), it’s fair to say he doesn’t get the same kind of national recognition. What gives?

“Because he goes about his business in such a quiet way, he isn’t a guy who is loud on the field or loud in the locker room, he’s just a lead-by-example kind of guy, and often those guys don’t get a whole lot of credit,” Curtin said. “[But] he’s a guy who anybody speaks about him in the game has nothing but positive things to say. Everybody has a Brian Carroll story, and they’re all positive. There are not a lot of guys that end their career with that — with not one person that you would ever meet that would say a negative thing about them. He’s been a guy who’s gone about his business the right way — an example of so many young players to learn from in our country.”

Even if he might not always get league-wide attention, anyone who ever played with Carroll certainly knows what he’s all about. Five years ago, then-Union teammate Danny Califf said he was “one of the most underrated guys in the league, and he has been for a long time,” before adding: “He’s happy to sit back and be in the playoffs and win championships — and let everyone else talk about the other guys that don’t.” Two years later, when Carroll was the team’s captain, Amobi Okugo revealed that everyone called him “The Iron Man.” 

But for Carroll, always a picture of humility, none of that stuff ever really mattered. And if he did fly under the radar, that's just fine with him, too.

“I think I have some athletic ability, thank goodness, but I’m not the fastest, the tallest or the strongest,” said Carroll, who remarkably was never shown a red card in any of the 370 games he played. “What I brought was consistency, work ethic and fulfilling my role to the best of my ability and me doing that enabled other guys to fulfill their roles and succeed at their roles. I’m happy and thankful that I was able to lead my team to some trophies, whether it be Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup.”

It’s a testament to his work ethic that the 36-year-old defensive midfielder continued to play at a high level as recently as last season. And although his playing time completely dried up this year, he holds no ill will toward the Union about that. If anything, he’s enjoyed the chance to step into a new role that’s involved coaching up his younger teammates at practice.

“I knew coming in these past couple of years my role was gonna change and be more supportive, still helping to lead,” he said. “One thing leads to another last year and I was a little bit more involved than what was planned. Then this year, it just kind of went according to plan — supporting the guys and helping them out in any way I can.”

Because of how he filled that role, many people speculated that he would transition directly into coaching or into a front office job. But while Carroll said he explored that path, he said the best thing for him to do with his family right now is to move to Indianapolis, where his wife is from.  

Of course, that could always change.

“There’s always a job here with the Philadelphia Union if he wants one,” Curtin said. “I know he’s moving into the financial world. I’m hoping he’s not sitting in a cubicle but if he is sitting in a cubicle, the door’s always open to come back here on the field to be a coach because he has so much more to give.”

He still has a little more to give as a player, too. Although he hasn’t played all season, Curtin said Carroll will likely play in Sunday’s 2017 finale vs. Orlando City SC — for his 371st and final MLS appearance.

“I think it’s important for him to get on the field, so we will find a way to make that happen,” Curtin said. “I kind of half-joked about starting him and seeing how long he could possibly last being out a lot this year. But he’s been sharp in training the past couple of weeks, so it’s great. 

“He’s an experienced guy, so no matter where you put him on the field, he deserves for our fans to give him a proper send-off. And I know they will.”

Union suspend Keegan Rosenberry for 'inappropriate' tweet

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Union suspend Keegan Rosenberry for 'inappropriate' tweet

Keegan Rosenberry’s nightmare season has come to an end. 

The second-year right back, who has floated in and out of favor with Union manager Jim Curtin throughout the 2017 campaign, has been suspended for the final game of the regular season on Sunday against Orlando City, for what Curtin deemed “unprofessional” behavior on social media.

“His activity on social media prior to kickoff was inappropriate,” Curtin said. “It’s something that won’t be tolerated. It's a decision that he made, one that he’ll be held accountable for. It’s unprofessional and disrespectful to the guys in the locker room.” 

Shortly before the Union’s 3-2 loss to the Chicago Fire last Sunday, in which he wasn’t tapped to start, Rosenberry tweeted a photo of himself on the bench with an unhappy look on his face and the headline, “(Need some caption help)”. The image, which also included defender Richie Marquez, was viewed as a veiled comment on his lack of playing time. 

It’s since been deleted.

“He’s a great young player that I think will learn from this,” Curtin continued. “But as professionals, we are held to a standard. To do that right before kickoff is not something [Union sporting director Earnie Stewart] and I will tolerate.”

It’s been a rough year for Rosenberry, who, after playing every minute of the regular season in 2016, was benched in favor of a more defensively stout Ray Gaddis after the Union’s first six games. The 23-year-old 2016 Rookie of the Year runner-up only managed five more starts and eight appearances following his early-season struggles. 

Although he made a five-game comeback through August and September, an ankle injury knocked him back out. He finished the season with one assist and four shots.

Now, he’ll miss the finale.