D.C. United

Andre Blake's shutout helps give Union life with slump-busting win over D.C. United

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Andre Blake's shutout helps give Union life with slump-busting win over D.C. United

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union have life.

Fafa Picault netted his fourth of the season and Andre Blake cleaned up the rest as the Union snapped a three-game losing streak by defeating D.C. United, 1-0, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

“It was a much needed three points, especially after the last two games,” Union center back Oguchi Onyewu said. “I feel that despite the previous games, despite losing, we haven’t lost the spirit, we haven’t lost the camaraderie, we haven’t lost the fight. That was visual in our gameplay tonight.”

Picault brought Talen Energy Stadium to life in the 31st minute with a highlight reel goal.

From the midfield line, Ray Gaddis pushed the ball down the right side to Alejandro Bedoya into D.C. United territory. With possession on the fast break, Bedoya, who made his return after missing two games with a hamstring injury, launched a lofty cross that seemed to surprise the defenders, who failed to track trailing Picault’s one-hit drive that beat Bill Hamid for the 1-0 Union lead.

“In those cases, you just track it,” Picault said. “When the ball’s put in, our jobs as attackers if the ball is played off the right side, CJ has to be there and me coming off the left side, try to make a run in. It ended up falling onto my left foot. I think either of us would’ve put it in, but it came to me and I had to put a strong one on to put it on target and give it a chance to go in.

Then it was Blake’s turn to play the hero. 

In the 69th minute, Union center back Oguchi Onyewu was called for a handball in the box. Lining up for the kick, Lamar Neagle fired off a strong shot to the left that was stopped confidently by diving Blake, keeping the Union’s lead alive.

“I decided I was gonna go to my right,” Blake said. “I saw a few cues from him and I made up my mind. I went there and I made the save.” 

Blake would punish Neagle again with another eye-popping save in the 90th minute. The goalkeeper brought the crowd to its feet with a leaping stop off a point-blank header from the top of the crease. 

“We created a penalty kick, plenty of looks, bunch of service in the second half,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “We revved them up a little at halftime. We had more life from the get-go but they made the play.”

Blake would finish with the four-save shutout.

“Incredible,” Picault said of Blake. “He’s for me by far the best goalie in the league. I’m really happy to have him on our side. Every week, week in and week out, he’s shown great performances. It’s emotional for me during the games to watch that. It gives me a lot of motivation to keep going. Especially on that PK stop.”

But the match wasn’t without referee drama. With the Union, now 5-7-4, in full control late in the second half, referee Sorin Stoica handed United midfielder Luciano Acosta a straight red for taking down and kicking Haris Medunjanin. However, the card was completely rescinded moments later.

Why? Medunjanin came clean that Acosta didn’t kick him after the play.

“I do commend him and give him credit,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Crazy situation because all of us on the sidelines were not sure what was going on. I never have seen a red card and then it rescinded. We couldn’t figure out what was happening on our end. Very noble and honorable thing to do for Haris.”

Union-D.C. United 5 things: Slumping Union look to end slide against D.C. United

Union-D.C. United 5 things: Slumping Union look to end slide against D.C. United

Union vs. D.C. United 
7:00 p.m. on 6ABC
 
Looking to avoid four-straight losses for the second time this season, the last-place Union (4-7-4) aim to prey on vulnerable D.C. United (5-8-3) in a battle at the bottom of the Eastern Conference Saturday night (7:00 p.m., 6ABC) at Talen Energy Stadium.
 
Here are five things to know:
 
1. Back to slump-busting
The Union are a streaky team. After losing four-straight matches earlier this season, the club claimed two draws then went on a four-game winning streak. Things were looking up until the Union stumbled again and dropped their last three matches, including a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls last Sunday.
 
“We had a tough start, a hot run and a little bit of a dip,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We can not allow this to be a long-term thing.”
 
Although the potential of another four-game losing streak will loom large over Saturday’s match, the Union will have to shrug it off if they want to turn their season around. The weekend tilt features the two lowest ranked teams in the Eastern Conference. 
 
“It’s a weird run of form,” said Curtin, who pointed out the Union’s recent losing streak was more about bad luck than poor play. “Streaks get longer and can get problematic or we can step up on Saturday night and put an end to it.”
 
To do that, the Union need more on both sides of the ball. Over that four-game winning run, the Curtin’s outscored their competition 11-1. They took the lead and locked the game down.
 
“It’s a league of runs,” Curtin said. “The strong teams are the ones that aren’t conceding a lot of goals. If you start with that foundation, which is something we believe in and something we’ve improved on but that hasn’t been perfect, it at least gives you a chance to get results in every game. We showed glimpses of that through the four-game stretch of winning.” 
 
2. Looking for a fix
To get back to those winning ways, the Union need a quick fix. But as Curtin explained Wednesday, the defense, which has allowed five goals in its last three matches, has been unlucky rather than poor.
 
“If you look at our last eight games as a team defensively we’ve conceded six goals, which isn’t bad,” he said. “Four of them are without [Alejandro] Bedoya in the last two games. Two of the goals were down a man and two were on restarts. We have a team that needs to do a little better offensively and is a little cleaner defensively decisions as well. But overall I don’t think there’s a real problem with us conceding a ton of goals.” 
 
But while leaning away from putting all of the losing weight on his defense, which has recently included Ray Gaddis, Jack Elliott, Oguchi Onyewu and Fabinho, Curtin, a defender at heart, didn’t let his team’s defensive effort go unscathed. 
 
“We need to continue work on things, to build on that,” Curtin said. “It does start with defense in this league. If you at the team at the top of standings and they defend their butts on for 90 minutes. We’ve been able to do that in patches of games but it’s been too inconsistent.”
 
One solution? Score more. The Union have only managed one goal in their last three games. Curtin stated that it’s not for lack of chances but missing finish that has caused the trouble.
 
“You want to try to get into the situations where you get to [Chris] Pontius comes to life, that’s where [C.J.] Sapong comes to life. In short, we need more crosses.”
 
3. Basement battle
Although Saturday’s match against D.C. United is technically just another early-summer game, it will tell a lot about where the two clubs are headed. It’s a battle of teams trying to climb out of the East basement.
 
“If we can [get a win], we put ourselves in a good spot moving up the table,” D.C. United manager Ben Olsen said. “Philly is right around us so it’s an important match at this point in the season.” 
 
The Union are leaning on previous success against United as navigation through Saturday. On May 13, they dismantled their rivals, 4-0, at RFK Stadium.
 
“We were good with the ball, possession was strong,” Curtin said. “We were clinical with our finishing. When you take your chances in this league it’s everything. That day we finished everything and that’s what it comes down to. Hopefully, we have a sharp day in front of goal, we’ve proven we can do it.”
 
Olsen is expecting a familiar contest.
 
“We know them very well and they know us very well,” he said. “There will be no secrets on what our teams are about, it’s always a physical matchup, it’s a rivalry game for us. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s never an easy place to get points but we’ve done it before.” 
 
4. Keep an eye on
Deshorn Brown: The United newcomer, who was acquired this week from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, made his debut Wednesday for United and will likely play a factor on Saturday. He’s a speedster that the Union know well. “Tough timing,” Curtin said. “It’s speed, that’s what he is. He looks to get in behind, he’s a guy who creates chances and he’s dangerous. We’ll see him for sure. That’s my belief at least. I think we’ll see Deshorn one way or another. It was a good acquisition for them.”

Alejandro Bedoya: After missing two games with a lower-body injury, the midfielder is expected to return Saturday against United. That should give the Union a boost on both ends of the ball, as the club found chemistry and settled nicely with Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin working together in the center.

5. This and that
• The Union will be without Derrick Jones, who is suspended after receiving a red card last Sunday against the New York Red Bulls. It puts Curtin is a tough position as Warren Creavalle (out with a right hamstring strain) would be the primary depth behind Bedoya at the No. 8 spot.

• The Union will also be without Fabian Herbers and potentially Jay Simpson, who is questionable with a left hamstring strain. United will miss Nick DeLeon, Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin and Patrick Mullins. 

• The Union are 8-8-4 against D.C. United all time and 6-3-0 at home.

Union-D.C. United 5 things: Looking to roll confidence over for win No. 2

Union-D.C. United 5 things: Looking to roll confidence over for win No. 2

Union at D.C. United
7 p.m. on TCN

With a rejuvenated spirit and first win of 2017 in the bag, red-hot C.J. Sapong and the Union (1-4-4) look to continue their Eastern Conference upswing when they travel to RFK Stadium to face Sebastien Le Toux and D.C. United (3-4-2) on Saturday.

Here are five things to know:

1. Victory spark
For the first time since summer 2016, the Union won a game. The struggling club, which is still hanging at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, used a second-half push to dismantle the New York Red Bulls, 3-0, last weekend.

"It was something to build on as we look forward to D.C.," said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club has a three-game point streak. "The result at home, as good as it was at 3-0, doesn't mean a heck of a lot if we don't follow it up with another good performance."

But that win was more than three points in the standings. As Curtin put it, the lopsided victory injected the Union with newfound confidence. 

"Confidence is everything, it goes a long way," he said. "You see a little extra bounce in their step, a little more smiling in the weight room. A victory gives confidence. We were able to stick together and you see a little momentum on our side. Guys are excited to get back on the field."

With a side of confidence, the Union also feel relieved. According to Sapong, the winless run was a storm they were stuck in. And that storm has passed. 

"We handled the adversity well and stayed loose in the locker room," he said. "Getting three points is something we worked very hard to and expected to have it before this point in the season but it adds a little bit of a story to everything. Going through this adversity in the beginning of the season will help throughout the season."

2. Surging Sapong
Despite the Union's troubled season, Sapong has shined bright.

"C.J. is obviously very hot right now," Curtin said following the Union's win.

Sapong carried the Union to their first win of the season with a stellar three-goal show in the win over the Red Bulls. Along with the victory, the veteran forward tied the league lead in goals with seven. But according to him, goals aren't the focus.

"I'm always trying to create space for myself but I feel where I provide the most impact is being a hassle for the defenders to play against," Sapong said. "Holding the ball up for my team and being tough on defense as well. I want to get the goals but I have to focus on the things that I do that help my team."

United have taken notice of Sapong's recent output. The Union will lean on the forward even more with the probable absence of attacking midfielder Roland Alberg, who suffered a hamstring injury last weekend and is questionable for Saturday.

"Sapong is playing really well right now," United striker Patrick Mullins said. "He's someone we are aware of."

3. United rebound
Although D.C. United are coming off a 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact, their second in four games, manager Ben Olsen isn't worried. His club is still one point out of playoff position.

"We all have to be on a certain level to succeed," he said. "If four or five players turn it down just a bit, that's enough. I'm not overly concerned, I believe this group has a response in it. We're not in the worst spot in the table, we just have to focus on the next two games and get the points we need."

While United are looking for points, the Union will look to turn up the emotion.

"This game is about us," Curtin said. "It's about us continuing to build on the past couple good results. We're going to go on the road against the rival who we've had some heated games with in the past. This won't be any different."

For the home team, Saturday's match is about respecting the Union but controlling the tempo. 

"It's a team that shouldn't be overlooked," Mullins said of the Union. "They just got their first win but that could have come a while back for them. They have dangerous players, the onus is for us to respond, be on the offensive and take on the opponent when they come in this weekend."

4. Keep an eye on …
Union: Though Sapong is on a tear, the key to Saturday's match could be young Adam Najem. The 22-year-old is the only natural No. 10 on the roster as Alberg may miss the contest with a hamstring injury. "We want to give guys opportunities," Curtin said. "We would be more than willing to plug him in."

D.C. United: As a result of United injuries, former Union man Le Toux has made three consecutive starts for his new club. He's rewarded Olsen with two goals over that span. "He does exactly what Seba does," Curtin said. "He runs the line and gets behind defenders. He's injected life into their offense."

5. This and that
• The Union are 7-8-4 against United all-time, which includes a Union road loss, 2-1, on April 1. Sapong scored the only goal for the Union.

• Le Toux currently ranks second on United with two goals, while Luciano Acosta leads the club with three.

• With a pair of assists last weekend, Chris Pontius tied Haris Medunjanin for the Union team lead in assists with three.

• The Union will be without Josh Yaro (shoulder), Maurice Edu (knee), while Alberg is questionable. For United, Patrick Nyarko (hamstring) and Nick DeLeon (lower ab strain) are out, with Steve Birnbaum (concussion), Bill Hamid (groin) and Julian Buescher (IT band irritation) are questionable. 

• With Derrick Jones on international duty and Ray Gaddis banged up from last weekend, the Union could tap Keegan Rosenberry and Warren Creavalle for big minutes against United. Creavalle has yet to play this season, while Rosenberry started on the bench in the team's last three matches.