Union

Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Revenge on the mind for home opener

Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Revenge on the mind for home opener

Union vs. Toronto FC
4:30 p.m. on CSN

With the revenge factor and home-field advantage on their side, the Union (0-0-1) open their account at Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday (4:30 p.m./CSN) against superstar Sebastian Giovinco and Eastern Conference favorites, Toronto FC (0-0-1). It's an early but important test for Jim Curtin's club.

Here are five things to know:

1. Lineup consistency
The Union are coming off an impressive 0-0 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps last Sunday, earning the club its first point of the season in a tough rough environment. 

"We had a good game against Vancouver," Union center back Oguchi Onyewu said. "It was a good point away from home. Now it's time to do business in front of our fans."

That strong road effort means the Union likely won't alter their lineup on Saturday. Following the solid outing, Curtin will start a very similar group against Toronto FC. 

"You won't see us change drastically from the guys who did well against Vancouver," he said. "How we want to set up and defend won't be different."

That means the Union could tap the impressive Derrick Jones, Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya in the midfield, along with Fabian Herbers, Chris Pontius and Jay Simpson mounting the attack. Curtin, who likes to play a more up-tempo, attack-oriented game at home, isn't one to mess with a successful formula.

"We tend to have more of the ball at home," Curtin said. "We just need to get that final ball in the box a bit more reliably."

2. Stopping Gio
On Saturday, the Union will be tasked with something they haven't been able to do since Sept. 6, 2014 -- beat Toronto FC.

"They have very good players, these are the games that you test yourself," said Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, whose club went 0-1-2 against Toronto FC last season, including a first-round playoff loss. "We're looking forward to this game. It'll take teamwork to shut them down but we're placing an emphasis on defending."

And while emphasizing defense is something Curtin implores his team to do on every occasion, it's a must against Toronto FC, which boasts one of the more potent attacks in MLS. 

"They are a very good attacking team," Curtin said, “and one we respect a great deal. We think we have a good plan in place."

Part of that plan, which Curtin didn't disclose in full, is to stop Giovinco, the league's most dangerous attacker. It sounds obvious but easier said than done. Giovinco has 39 goals and 31 assists over the last two seasons.

"Gio is the league's most dangerous player," said Curtin, who also mentioned Toronto FC players, Jozy Altidore, Drew Moor and Michael Bradley. "He's tricky because it can't just be center backs that focus on him because one-on-one he can beat anyone. You're just trying to limit touches. When he gets the ball, you want him as far away from your goal as possible."

3. Lacking intensity
Entering the season as Eastern Conference favorites, Toronto FC had a mild letdown in its season opener against Real Salt Lake last weekend, tying the game, 0-0. But what TFC coach Greg Vanney was most concerned with was a lack of fire from his squad.

"Our overall engagement and intensity needs to get higher," he told the media. "We had a good start to the game in Salt Lake but we faded out of it a little bit. It was too easy for Salt Lake to get beyond our first line. We have to be more engaged and have more intensity."

But while Vanney wants his club to be more engaged against the Union on Saturday, he doesn't want it to change the game plan. Though he respects the Union, Vanney said Saturday is about what his team can do. 

"We're still worrying about things we need to improve upon," he said. "It's going to be about us. They have a good team, they looked well-organized and very disciplined in their approach last week. They made it difficult for Vancouver to get chances. I suspect it'll be a tough game." 

4. Keep an eye on
Sebastian Giovinco: Knowing how dangerous Giovinco can be, the Union's defensive game plan revolves around keeping an eye on the 30-year-old. "The message all week was about being organized and knowing where he is at all moments," Curtin said. 

Oguchi Onyewu: Center back Ken Tribbett was torched by Toronto FC twice last season -- once in the regular season, which got him pulled from the game at halftime, and again in the postseason. On Saturday, it will be Onyewu's job to help slow down a vicious TFC attack that tortured the player Onyewu is currently ahead of on the depth chart. "He's answered everything we've asked him to do,” Curtin said.

5. This and that
• The Union are 6-6-5 all-time against Toronto FC and 4-2-2 at home against the Canadian side. 

• It’s been two years and six months since the Union defeated Toronto FC. Over that six-game winless span, the Union, who are 0-5-1 against TFC since Sept. 6, 2014, have been outscored 13-7.

• Both Ilsinho and Warren Creavalle missed last weekend’s match with injuries. Creavalle is expected to be ready on Saturday but Ilsinho, slowed by a hamstring injury, didn't begin on-field training until Thursday, which puts his selection in doubt.

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.