Union

Union's Jay Simpson touts 'love at first sight' with his new city

Union's Jay Simpson touts 'love at first sight' with his new city

Jay Simpson is in love.

“Chris Albright invited me over to see the facilities and the city and I loved it,” said Simpson, who was wooed by the Union technical director. “I loved it at first sight. I’m excited to come over, grateful for the opportunity.”

Signed in early January, the 28-year-old Union forward just recently met up with his new club at its preseason facility in Clearwater, Florida, after spending three years with Leyton Orient of England’s League Two.

So far, the impression has been good.

“I’ve got to say that the dressing room that they have here is very impressive,” he said. “It’s rare when you’re going into a place where everyone is so welcoming toward you. It’s a great bunch of boys here and everyone gets on really well here together. It’s kind of like one unit, and from my early impressions like a family.” 

Despite Simpson’s optimism, significant playing time isn’t a given. Although he said he’s played everything from playmaking midfielder to both wings, Simpson, an Arsenal academy product, is expected to be a primary forward in the Union’s typical 4-2-3-1 formation, where he would compete with C.J. Sapong and Charlie Davies for playing time.

“He’s a guy who scored goals everywhere he's been, all stages of his career,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We know if we get service in the box he can finish. Between him, C.J. and Charlie Davies, we have three good forwards that can push each other in the right way. Each has a different skillset. Jay's a guy who, character-wise, fits into the group. I'm really excited to get to work with him.”

Taking a new role as one of the Union's veteran leaders, Sapong also welcomes the challenge. 

“We’re in it to win it,” said Sapong, who had seven goals last season. “I want to be on the field, but at the same time, if a player is producing more than I am at that moment, I’m going to back them. I’m going to try to push them in training, making them better and bettering myself for whenever I get that opportunity again.”

Although he wasn’t a lights-out scorer with Leyton Orient, notching 33 goals in 87 games, the Union were attracted to Simpson by his style of play and experience. Union sporting director Earnie Stewart saw a connection between the gritty and physical style of play in England and MLS. 

“He played at lower-division teams in England known for scrappy football,” Stewart said. “I think that fits well with what we do here. You need to be an athlete to be in this league; it’s not an easy league to play in. I think that's been shown and proven. We think with the athleticism Jay has and the background he has, he's a good fit for us.”

Simpson agrees. 

“In England, it’s very physical and very direct,” he said. “It’s very physical. In MLS, they try to keep the ball on the ground in games that I’ve watched. They’re tactical players with good technique, so I’m looking forward to getting started over here.” 

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.