Union-United 5 things: 1st look at 'angry' Atlanta in inaugural clash


Union-United 5 things: 1st look at 'angry' Atlanta in inaugural clash

Union vs. Atlanta United
7 p.m. on CSN

Coming off a difficult two game road swing in which they earned just one point, the Union (8-12-6) hope home cooking can get help them back in the win column, as they set to host impressive expansion side Atlanta United (10-8-5) for the first time Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know:

1. Loss recovery
Wednesday’s defeat at the hands of Toronto FC wasn’t just one of many road losses for the Union, it was a beating. The best team in MLS dominated the Union and easily walked to the 3-0 victory.

“Against a Toronto team, to put it bluntly, we were outclassed on the road in their stadium,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “They are the best team in our league and I still think we can learn from it because that’s the standard.”

The Union can learn from the opportunity. Call it training at altitude, but Curtin believes the losing experience can only help as the Union head into the Atlanta match.

“We got 90 minutes in a loud atmosphere,” Curtin said after the game. “It’s a place which is good for our guys to grow and get better. They saw that we need to raise our level.

“It gives us room for major improvement. You can still take things away from the film session and implement it into Atlanta.” 

2. Angry Atlanta
When the Union hit the field Saturday night, they know they’ll be meeting an angry Atlanta club. While the Union were being defeated by the league’s best, the expansion side was losing to the league’s worst in D.C. United.

“They are an angry team coming into our building and in need of points,” Curtin said. “We’re going to do everything we can to take all three points.”

Atlanta has every right to be angry. The club has one win in its last four matches and is in desperate need for points in the Eastern Conference. As it stands, Atlanta, with a game in hand, is one point behind the Montreal Impact for the sixth and final postseason slot. With that type of playoff fight brewing, losing on the road to D.C. United would make any team disgruntled.

“It’s not a must win,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst told reporters. “But the mentality of the group is that we want to bounce back from that poor performance, that disappointment. We know if we put in a good performance that we’ll win the game.”

3. Ice cold opposition
One weakness the Union could exploit Saturday is Atlanta’s lack of scoring. Not a typically poor offensive team, Atlanta has only buried three goals in its last four games, which has led to its recent struggles.

“That final third is a place where players have to solve it themselves during the game, with imagination,” Atlanta coach Tata Martino told the media. “The first 75 meters of the field we’re doing OK, but in the last 25 meters or so, it’s something the players need to solve during the game.” 

But the Union aren’t buying into Atlanta’s offensive issues. It takes a simple look at the standings to see the visitors enter Saturday’s match with 42 goals this season, good for fourth in the East. 

“They have a dynamic front group of [Miguel] Almiron, [Josef] Martinez, [Yamil] Asad, [Hector] Villalba, and they have a deep bench, too,” Curtin said. “They throw their outside backs forward, especially on the left-hand side, so we’ll have to deal with that.” 

4. Keep an eye on …
Alejandro Bedoya & Haris Medunjanin: When Martino discussed the Union, he mentioned two players — Medunjanin and Bedoya. “They have some dangerous players and two really good holding midfielders in Blake and Medunjanin,” he said. “Those are two guys we don’t want to give time and space on the ball."

Hector Villalba: In a crowded group of productive offensive weapons, Villalba, Atlanta’s leading scorer, leads the club with 10 goals and four assists on the season. There’s a good chance that if Atlanta does break its scoring slump, Villalba will be the guy to do it.

5. This and that
• During Martino’s media availability, the coach stated the Union “scores a lot of goals but also gives up a lot of goals.” With three games in hand over Atlanta, the Union have only allowed six more goals on the season than Atlanta but scored eight fewer.

• If the Union come alive for a big effort, it’ll happen at home. The club is 7-4-2 at Talen Energy Stadium this season, while Atlanta is a respectable 4-6-4 on the road.

• Union goalkeeper Andre Blake returned to game action on Wednesday after missing eight matches. He allowed three goals on four shots.

• Atlanta midfielder Carlos Carmona will miss Saturday’s match because of a yellow-card accumulation suspension.

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

USA Today Images

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

USA Today Images

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.