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.

Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

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Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

CHESTER, Pa. — When Saturday’s game ended, Union midfielder Borek Dockal told head coach Jim Curtin two things: that his body felt fine and that he knows he can play a lot better.

That’s probably just about all Union fans need to hear.

Sure, it was a mostly uneventful and somewhat disappointing MLS debut for the team’s new Designated Player in a scoreless draw with Columbus Crew SC (see observations). But it’s also a long season and Dockal is still trying to mesh with his teammates and get his fitness up after dealing with a preseason ankle injury.

“I think he had some good moments,” Curtin said. “I think you can see his quality and how comfortable he is on the ball. He can pass and he looks forward. … [But] it’s been a week where he’s really trained with the group, so you see a ball played behind when he’s looking to play through. It’s going to take a little bit of time. But overall [I’m] happy with the amount of minutes he was able to push.”

Dockal, signed only three days before the start of the 2018 season, was a tougher critic on himself after sometimes struggling to connect passes and move to the right spot in his 77 minutes of action. But the Czech playmaker also acknowledged that he needs more time to adapt to MLS and learn his teammates’ tendencies.

“For me, it was the first game so it was a little bit about how to find my space on the field, to see how my teammates are moving, which kind of positions should I be in the most to help them,” said Dockal, who sat out the Union’s first game — a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution. “So I just have to learn from this first game and be better the next game.”

Expectations will certainly be raised when the Union play their next game, in two weeks, on the road against the Colorado Rapids. But expectations are already high for Dockal, who has experience in the Champions League and with the Czech Republic national team.

Along with fellow newcomer David Accam — who he said the team needs to find more on the wing — Dockal is filling in what was a major position of need last year and should provide a major offensive punch in the midfield, playing in front of veterans Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin.

It just hasn’t happened yet.

“My performance definitely can be better,” Dockal said. “But I have to start at some point so it would actually be a miracle if I played an excellent game today.”

“Overall, it’s a first step and nothing replicates these games,” Curtin said. “We didn’t put him on the ball as much as we would have liked. ... But he's an incredibly talented guy."

Union lifeless in draw with Crew

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Union lifeless in draw with Crew

CHESTER, Pa. — In a matchup of two teams with perfect records, it ended up being a stalemate.

On Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union and Columbus Crew SC fought to a scoreless draw as goalkeepers Andre Blake and Zack Steffen finished with three saves apiece.

The Union move to 1-0-1 on the season while the Crew, who entered the day in first place in the Eastern Conference, sit at 2-0-1.

• With the Union coming off a weird early bye week, the game lacked fluidity for much of the first half as both teams only put one shot on target before halftime. 

• Borek Dockal, the Union’s new Designated Player, made his MLS debut after sitting out the opener. The Czech playmaker looked tentative early in the match and had some giveaways in the second half before coming out in the 77th minute. It’s too early, of course, to make any judgements but that probably wasn’t the kind of debut head coach Jim Curtin hoped to see.

• David Accam, the team’s other prized newcomer, enjoyed good start to the second half and was active throughout in his second game in Philly. It shouldn’t be long before he opens his account for the Union.

• Steffen came through with a couple of big saves early in the second half for Columbus. It might be hard for some Philly fans to see the Downingtown native and former Union academy player on the visiting side, even if they do get to cheer for a star ’keeper of their own in Blake.

• CJ Sapong, fresh off signing a new contract, couldn’t get on the ball much or even get any shots off. The Union striker had three goals and three assists in seven previous meetings against the Crew.

• On the other end of the field, Gyasi Zardes was held in check after scoring three goals in his first two games for Columbus following a trade from the LA Galaxy. That’s a good sign for the progress of Philly’s young center backs, Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty.

• Ray Gaddis entered the game as a halftime sub for Fabinho, who left with a leg injury. Fabinho and Gaddis are both two of the club’s longest-tenured players, and Gaddis being able to play as both a left back and right back is a nice luxury to have off the bench.

• Despite an announced attendance of 15,323, the crowd at Talen Energy Stadium looked smaller than usual — and with less energy. A lot of that probably has to do with the on-field play but in general, the Union seem to have a better home-field advantage during night games, when the atmosphere is more electric.

• A shoutout to the Sons of Ben, though, for unveiling some cool Philly tifo before kickoff — a “cheesesteak shark” preying on a boat of Crew rowers underneath the word “Jawns.” 

• The Union — who are 4-1-1 in their last six meetings with the Crew — are off again next weekend before before facing Colorado on March 31 in their first road game of 2018.