The kids are finally all right for Union in season-opening win

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The kids are finally all right for Union in season-opening win


CHESTER, Pa. — For years, the Union have yelled from the rooftops about their youth-first mentality and plan to win through player development.

On Saturday night, that plan finally came to fruition.

"It's a big step for us," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "The fact that some homegrowns weren't just on the field but left huge impacts on the game, it's special."

Anthony Fontana, 18, Auston Trusty, 19, and Derrick Jones, 21, all put their stamp on the Union's 2-0 season-opening win over the Revolution.

Fontana, hailing from Newark, Delaware, and who played 66 minutes at attacking midfield, opened up his MLS account in the 43rd minute when he gathered a tipped ball from C.J. Sapong and placed a confident shot past Matt Turner. 

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play here at this club,” Fontana said. “To be able to actually help the team today feels good.”

His teammates also couldn’t be happier. That includes Union and former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Alejandro Bedoya, who took Fontana under his wing throughout the preseason.

“I’m so happy for him,” Bedoya said. “He’s a good player so I hope he takes a good step this season. Not a bad way to start his debut, to score a goal. It’s just the beginning for him, he’s got a bright future.”

For Trusty, it was all about the clean sheet. Pairing with Jack Elliott on the left side of the Union defensive line, Trusty had the unenviable job of shutting down the Revs’ most potent option, Juan Agudelo. 

“It means a lot, but it’s also the challenge,” Trusty said. “The coach put me up to it and our organization put me up to it and they believe I can do it. I just set out to fulfill my role, do my task and keep the clean sheet and just play my role on the team.”

At one point in the first half, Agudelo beat Trusty and moved in on a breakaway, only for the rookie to catch up and steal the ball back.

“He made a couple key tackles in the box, won a lot of aerial duels in the box, did a lot of the things that don’t show up in the stat sheet for center backs,” Curtin said. “But the thing that makes me most proud is there was a zero at the end of the day. That’s what is most important. That means Auston did the job.” 

And while the win was a productive introduction for the Union’s crop of talented prospects, it was also an unforgettable experience for the local kids.

“It’s amazing,” Trusty said. “Imagine growing up in the Philadelphia area, being a little kid and coming to see these guys play, to be on the same field. I remember buying a ticket and coming to see these guys play and always dreamed of playing for the Union. For it to actually happen is amazing. It’s very humbling. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Union couldn't have asked for better season opener

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Union couldn't have asked for better season opener


CHESTER, Pa. — Delaware product Anthony Fontana opened his club’s 2018 account and C.J. Sapong piled on, as the Union rolled over the shorthanded New England Revolution, 2-0, on a frigid Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

The lopsided victory, in which the Union played up a man for much of the match, was just the club’s second opening-day win in nine tries. The Union beat the Houston Dynamo off a Danny Califf goal in 2011. They are now 2-4-3 all-time in openers.

The Union improve to 1-0-0, while the Revolution fall to 0-1-0.

• Fontana, a Union youth player-turn-pro, made his first-ever appearance with the Union Saturday. After earning the starting job during the preseason, the Newark, Delaware, native lined up at the No. 10 in place of newly signed designated player, Borek Dockal, who wasn’t quite ready to make the 18.

• Fontana, who is just 18, made the most of that opportunity in the 42nd minute when he placed home a ball from Sapong, who knocked down an Alejandro Bedoya cross. It was Fontana’s first MLS goal to put the Union up 1-0 at the half. The youngster, who showed a good feel for getting open, left the game in the 65th minute for Jay Simpson but left his stamp on the contest.

• The opening goal was set up by Sapong in more than one way. In the 24th minute, the forward launched ahead on a pseudo breakaway off a simple long ball. Just outside the box, outmatched Revs defender Antonio Mlinar Delamea flagrantly grabbed Sapong from behind to earn the easy red card ejection, putting the Union up a player.

• Looking for the elusive second goal, Union manager Jim Curtin went forward heavy. Very forward heavy. The manager pulled Fontana and Herbers out for forwards Simpson and Corey Burke in the 66th minute.

• Three minutes later, the aggressive move paid dividends. Burke beat his man on the right side of the box and slipped a light pass to Sapong for his first of the season and 2-0 Union lead.

• It was a red-card kind of night for the Revs, who suffered another one in the 86th minute. Claude Dielna simply couldn’t catch up to Corey Burke and hauled the Union forward down for his second yellow of the night. 

• It was a night of firsts for a handful of Union players. Along with Fontana, the match was first for Burke and Auston Trusty’s MLS debut.

• The Union outshot the Revs, 21-5, while Andre Blake earned the three-save shutout. It was the 18th of his career.

Union predictions — Biggest controversy; path to playoffs

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Union predictions — Biggest controversy; path to playoffs

Part 2 of our Union season predictions.

Part 1 can be found here.

Biggest controversy

DZ: Right back competition
The top battle in the preseason was between Ray Gaddis and Keegan Rosenberry for the starting right back spot, and as recently as Wednesday, Jim Curtin wasn't tipping his hand about who would get the opening-day start. The longest-tenured player on the squad, Gaddis is solid and well-liked. But Rosenberry has the kind of star potential Union fans crave. If Rosenberry spends much of the season on the bench again, as he did last year after his Rookie of the Year runner-up campaign in 2016, it could spell trouble — both for his development and fans' angst.

RB: Jim Curtin's job security
With the Union utilizing youth on defense and at depth positions, Curtin is going to feel every growing pain his club suffers through. Barring a hot start, the manager, who missed the playoffs last season and stumbled into them in 2016, will be on the hot seat throughout. It might not be fair, but it could be the biggest fan fight of 2018.

They'll make the playoffs if …

DZ: Young center backs Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty can avoid rookie mistakes and lean on the veterans in front of them, Borek Dockal gives them the same kind of value at the No. 10 spot as Tranquillo Barnetta did two years ago, and CJ Sapong remains one of the league's top goal-scoring threats.

RB: Dockal is the team MVP and Trusty can match Oguchi Oneywu's 2017 performance on the back line. If Dockal produces, the Union will be an offensive heavyweight in the conference. But that won't mean a thing if Trusty is overmatched and can't gel with Jack Elliott to form a playoff-caliber defensive line.

They'll miss the playoffs if …

DZ: The young backline implodes early to cause a freefall from which they can't recover, Accam and Dockal struggle to adapt to their new city and new team, and the Union continue to drop points on the road at an alarming rate.

RB: Things play out as you'd expect. Even if Trusty eases into his role and Dockal acclimates to his teammates, the Union are still facing a grueling Eastern Conference field. Surprises aside, the Union are doomed from the start.

Predicted finish

DZ: The Union have a better roster than they did last year and their patient build under Curtin and sporting director Earnie Stewart could soon pay big dividends. The biggest problem is that the Eastern Conference is loaded. Toronto FC, Atlanta and New York City FC arguably have more talent than anyone in the league, and Orlando and even Chicago may not be far behind. I think the Union make the playoffs but sneak in as the No. 5 or No. 6 seed, before losing their knockout-round game and having to wait at least one more year to finally win a postseason contest.

RB: As tough as it may be to watch, the Union season goes nowhere and they finish ninth in the East. But not all is lost. Stewart and Curtin finally rely on the kids, which gives fans hope for the future as well as a finish ahead of the New England Revolution and Montreal Impact in 2018.