Union's early stumbles continue with 2-0 loss to New York City FC

Union's early stumbles continue with 2-0 loss to New York City FC


CHESTER, Pa. -- Make it four straight losses for the Union.

Although their performance was improved from last week's defeat, the Union weren't able to claim a result, as New York City FC walked away with the 2-0 win on Friday at Talen Energy Stadium.

"It's a very tough time right now," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "There's no question about that. It's difficult for us to get a result. The guys continue to work hard, they put a ton of effort into the week and we'll have to continue to do that. The only way to get out of this is to continue to work hard in training and eventually one of these results will go our way."

Still without a win this season, the Union suffered their fourth consecutive loss and 14th consecutive match without a win, a streak that dates back to August 2016. The Union are 0-4-2 on the season and remain in the Eastern Conference basement.

"There's no pressure," Union midfielder Roland Alberg said. "We're at the bottom of the table. But if you win a couple of times in a row, you can be at the top of the table. There is no stress. We have to stick together. The winning games are coming."

Following last week's 3-1 drubbing at the hands of the Portland Timbers, Curtin did make some roster changes, going with rookie center back Jack Elliott for Oguchi Onyewu and Alberg for Derrick Jones. 

And while the moves did improve the Union's possession, the club forced NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson to make only two saves, giving Jack Harrison an opening to break the game in the 52nd minute. The Union didn't register a shot on goal in the second half.

"I think it's just a final ball," Union forward C.J. Sapong said. "It's a game of inches. In our position right now, we feel like the inches haven't gone in our favor. It's definitely not indicative of what this team is capable of."

Off a turnover from the Union's Keegan Rosenberry, Ronald Matarrita found Harrison with a backdoor pass, giving the youngster the chance to slip his shot through Andre Blake for the 1-0 advantage.

"It was a brilliant ball by Mata," Harrison said. "I made the run hoping he would see me and I saw his eyes and he made a brilliant ball through. It was perfect. I just kind of hit it hoping for the best and luckily for us it went in."

The Union lack answers.

"You try to focus on the positives because there were some positives in the game," Curtin said. "It's challenging because we haven't had a complete 90 minutes yet this year. We're still in search of that. We've had good spurts. You work hard, you watch tape, you try to get better each week and try to put together a complete 90 minutes."

Despite loading up on the attack in the waning moments, the Union's pain would continue in stoppage time. NYCFC doubled its lead when David Villa launched a right-footed volley from midfield that floated over Blake and under the crossbar for the 2-0 victory (see video).

"I saw it was difficult for him to run," Villa said. "I didn't see the keeper but I expected that he was out of the box. You try all the time and today it was perfect."

Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

USA Today Images

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

USA Today Images

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.