C.J. Sapong

Inside Doop: Union stuck in neutral after another draw with expansion team

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Inside Doop: Union stuck in neutral after another draw with expansion team

For the second straight game, the Union played an expansion team. And for the second straight game, the Union walked away from the game with a point.

In this week's Inside Doop, we'll take a closer look at Saturday's 1-1 road draw with Minnesota United and what lies ahead with six games left in this disappointing season.

Three thoughts about Saturday's game
1. Compared to their expansion brethren, Minnesota is not a particularly dangerous team, built more for the future than Atlanta's expensive roster. But the Union were fortunate to escape TCF Bank Stadium with a point after a penalty on Oguchi Onyewu was overturned by video review because of a foul on Michael Boxall right before the hand ball. How big was that for the Union? Not only did they avoid facing a penalty kick in a tie game, but Onyewu also got to stay on the field after his second yellow card was rescinded. Considering the Union also had a big video review go their way vs. Dallas a few weeks ago, it's fair to say they're loving the new system — for now. It should also maybe make fans nervous that the club is enjoying some good fortune while still falling in the standings.

2. For the first 15 minutes of Saturday's game, the Union looked ready to coast to a victory. The first goal — in the 5th minute — showed off Fafa Picault's speed and CJ Sapong's precision as Picault set up Sapong's 13th goal of the season — one shy of the club's single-season record. But, aside from Andre Blake's making a huge save, the team had little to hang their hats on after that as the Loons tied the game on a Union defensive collapse and mostly took control of the game from there. That kind of inconsistency is maddening but not surprising at this point of the season for a club that's winless in its last five and has won only one road game all year.

3. With Alejandro Bedoya suspended for the game, the Union turned to Warren Creavalle to start in his place. And while Creavalle played fine, the fact that Derrick Jones didn't get a chance to take the field was somewhat alarming. Their top homegrown prospect, Jones has mostly fallen off the map since a strong start to the season and a promising performance at the U-20 World Cup. At this point, the 20-year-old midfielder may just need an offseason to rest and a preseason to regain his mojo. Still, with the Union essentially out of the playoff race, it seems silly not to throw Jones and other young guys out there for the final few games.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The schedule only gets tougher from here for the Union, who travel to a place they rarely win, Red Bull Arena, to play a nationally televised game vs. the rival Red Bulls on Sunday, before tough games against Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle and Chicago again. How many points will the Union gain from this stretch heading into their season finale vs. Orlando? It's certainly possible they won't get many and will end up finishing with one of the league's worst records. And adding insult to injury there, their first-round draft pick belongs to New England from the trade that brought in Charlie Davies, who played (less than) one minute on Saturday, upping his total to 25 minutes on the year.

2. It's another week so it must be time for another Maurice Edu question. The Designated Player recently returned to full health but is trying to get his fitness back up through rehab appearances with affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC. At the very least, you'd think he could be ready for a 20-30 minute assignment this coming week or the week after. But then the question is what that does for the Union, who are deep at his position and don't really need a boost for the playoff push since there likely won't be one. They could throw him out there to see if they'd be interested in bringing him back next year (on a much cheaper contract), or they could just want to do him a favor by letting him show other potential bidders something leading into the offseason.

3. Speaking of veteran defensive midfielders, what about Brian Carroll? One of the league's longest-tenured players hasn't logged an MLS minute all season and appears close to retirement, whether by choice or not. An all-time good guy, Carroll could be in line for a job in the Union organization if he so chooses. But it might be nice for the 36-year-old to get back on the field at least once more for some type of farewell.

Stat of the week
With his 13th goal, Sapong passed three players who had previously scored 12 in a Union season: Jack McInerney in 2013, Sebastien Le Toux in 2014 and Chris Pontius in 2016. The all-time record was set in the Union's expansion season of 2010 when Le Toux scored 14 in 2,520 minutes. Sapong currently has 13 in 2,263 minutes with six games left to tie or break the mark.

Quote of the week
"I guess it felt OK to still get on the field despite everything else that's going on back home. Now I get to go back and see my parents and play the waiting game." — Fafa Picault, putting things in perspective after Saturday's 1-1 draw.

Earlier in the week, his parents evacuated their home in Miami due to Hurricane Irma, making a 27-hour drive to stay with Picault in Philly.

Player of the week
Sapong's the choice here as his career year continues — though he's probably kicking himself for not scoring a second after coming inches away.

Skillful display from Ilsinho, C.J. Sapong helps Union stun FC Dallas

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Skillful display from Ilsinho, C.J. Sapong helps Union stun FC Dallas

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Ilsinho and the Union put on a show.

With a goal and two eye-popping assists, the skillful Brazilian led the inspired Union past a stunned FC Dallas club, 3-1, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

“It’s amazing, it felt amazing,” said Ilsinho, who has four goals and three assists on the season. “It’s not about the goal or assists, it’s about a big win. We got a big win. We did a very good job. Everyone was on the same page and everybody did a great job.”

The lopsided victory was the first ever for the Union over FC Dallas, which falls to 9-5-7. The win also pushes the Union’s record to 8-10-5. It was just the club’s second win in their last six matches. 

“It’s a great win for us, I don’t understand why we don’t play away like this,” said Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin, lamenting the Union’s poor road record.”We beat a top team in the West, so we can play against everybody. We still believe in the playoffs, so this game is important for us.” 

The fireworks started early. Medunjanin, Ilsinho and C.J. Sapong brought the house down in the 17th minute with one of the nicer goals in Union history. Breaking down the middle, Medunjanin slid a short pass to covered Ilsinho, who then tapped a spinning back-heel pass back to streaking Medunjanin to complete the give-and-go. With space, the Bosnian found Sapong across the box for the easy goal. 

“Not only is it just easier all around, but it’s fun as well,” Sapong said about connecting on the goal as a team. “The little kid comes out of you on the field. That’s always a beautiful thing to win that way. We just have to keep it up moving forward. It’s about being consistent and continuing to play at this level.” 

Less than five minutes later, the Union received more brilliance from Ilsinho. Chris Pontius’ lofty throw-in was cleared by Ryan Hollingshead to just outside the top of the box. But the ball fell perfectly to Ilsinho for the one-timed rocket that beat Chris Seitz low and to the left post for the 2-0 Union advantage.

“[Union sporting director Earnie Stewart] and I have encouraged him to shoot more and more because he does hit such a heavy ball,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “And he’s starting to do that. It was a really good performance from him, not just offensively but defensively. He dominated the game tonight.”

The heroics continued into the second half for Ilsinho and the Union. In the 68th minute, Sapong sprung Ilsinho on the right side of the box, where the Brazilian took a strong shot into the gut of Seitz, who bobbled the rebound. Ilsinho chipped the loose ball over to Sapong for the open-net goal. 

It was Sapong’s 12th of the season and marked his second multi-goal effort of the year.

The match saw a taste of the future in the 79th minute when a goal by FC Dallas’ Max Urruti was waved off following a review from newly implemented VAR system, the league’s new video review process. On the initial shot, in alone on John McCarthy, Cristian Colman clipped the goalkeeper in the ribs, buckling him to the grass. The rebound sat waiting for Urruti. 

Upon review, Colman was called for the foul, disallowing the goal. 

“I don’t think you needed to use the video because everybody saw it," Medunjanin said. "It was a mistake from this guy, he put his leg in, he touched him and that’s why Johnny could not get the rebound."

It was the first usage of video review in MLS history and would prove important, as FC Dallas’ Michael Barrios would snap the Union’s shutout in stoppage time with his second of the season.

“We were lucky to be on the end of the first review ever in the league’s history and on the good side of it,” Curtin said. “I think it accomplished its goal, and now we move on to the next game."

Inside Doop: Questions mount as Union's road woes deepen

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Inside Doop: Questions mount as Union's road woes deepen

The Union know, that to have any shot of sneaking into the playoffs, they’ll need to find a way to pick off points on the road, especially against some of the league’s lower-tier teams.

Consider Saturday a lost opportunity, then.

After earning a good 3-0 home win over Columbus on Wednesday, the Union couldn’t keep it going with a disappointing 3-0 setback in New England over the weekend.

Here’s a closer look at the past week and what lies ahead for the Union as their playoff hopes grow dimmer.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. The Union had dominated the Revolution of late, winning their last three matchups by a combined score of 11-0 heading into Saturday’s game, including a 3-0 home win earlier in the month. But the Union’s road struggles were too much to overcome in this one as they fell to 1-7-3 away from home this season. And it’s not just that the Union are losing on the road; they often look punchless in the attack and lacking any sort of ideas. It’s a far cry from how they play at home, where they’re a healthy 6-3-2 and have generated some fun and exciting moments along the way.

2. It was another eventful week for Roland Alberg, who got into an argument with C.J. Sapong over who would take a penalty kick in Wednesday’s win a week after expressing displeasure at Fafa Picault on the field and getting suspended for a dangerous tackle. And while the Union downplayed the whole scene afterward, many wondered what kind of teammate Alberg might be. There’s no way to know for sure about his status in the locker room, but it is fair to say that his chemistry on the field, particularly with Sapong, has been lacking. So has his production as Alberg failed to impose his will on Saturday’s game from the vital No. 10 spot — a position that continues to be the team’s most glaring need, either now or in the offseason.

3. The good news for the Union’s future is that two of their 2017 draft picks — Marcus Epps and Jack Elliott — enjoyed good weeks with Epps scoring his first career goal Wednesday and Elliott making a phenomenal goal-line clearance, among other great defensive plays, Saturday. Considering both were picked after the first round, that’s some good bang for the Union’s buck. Of course, it makes sense why Philly fans may temper their expectations here considering the standout trio from the 2016 draft class — Joshua Yaro, Keegan Rosenberry and Fabian Herbers — followed promising rookie campaigns by being benched (either because of injury or inconsistent play) for most of 2017.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. After a brutal four-game-in-11-days stretch, the Union finally get a full week to prepare for their next one. Even more good news is that they get to play at home. The bad news is that the opponent is FC Dallas, one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Is it too soon to classify it as a “must win?” Perhaps. But considering how poor they’ve been on the road and how difficult their remaining schedule is, they really can’t afford to lose or draw at Talen Energy Stadium at this point in the season.

2. Will Andre Blake return? The star goalkeeper has now missed five straight Union games due to the Gold Cup and a hand injury he suffered in the Gold Cup final. And while backup John McCarthy has played well in his absence, it’s probably not a coincidence the Union are 1-3-1 in that stretch, given Blake’s unique ability to win his team points. There’s no sense rushing him back if he’s not ready, but Blake returning to face an excellent FC Dallas attack in front of the Sons of Ben would provide a nice bolt of energy to a fan base that certainly needs one right now.

3. Remember Rosenberry? The reigning MLS Rookie of the Year runner-up was supplanted as the team’s starting right back in April after playing every minute in 2016. And even the Union playing four games in 11 days wasn’t enough for head coach Jim Curtin to give Rosenberry any minutes over the past two weeks. Considering the second-year right back also isn’t getting time for affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC, it’s fair to wonder how these past few months may or may not stall his development — and whether he still remains as big of a piece to the club’s future as he seemed to be last year.

Stat of the week
In four road games in July — three losses and a draw — the Union finished with a combined eight shots on target.

Quote of the week
“For me, I think he’s been the Rookie of the Year.”

— Union head coach Jim Curtin on Jack Elliott after Saturday’s game.

Player of the week
Although he was kept off the scoresheet in New England, Sapong’s performance Wednesday was one of the best of any Union player this season as he scored his record 10th goal and added two fantastic assists.