Ilsinho

C.J. Sapong, Union roll over shorthanded Crew

C.J. Sapong, Union roll over shorthanded Crew

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Led by an offensive explosion from C.J. Sapong, the Union rode the early lead and man advantage to easily defeat the Columbus Crew, 3-0, on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

“One of our hopes is to be in the playoffs and our home games are most important,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “Hopefully this gets some momentum going. I told them it was imperative that we win this game.” 

Avenging last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to the Crew, who are now 10-11-1, the Union snapped a two-game losing streak to keep pace in the Eastern Conference. Five points behind the Crew for the final playoff spot, the Union desperately needed a positive result to move to 7-9-5 on the season.

“We had a bad taste in our mouth,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I think the guys really responded tonight.”

John McCarthy completed the two-save shutout.

That desperation was on display early as the Union capitalized off some in-box confusion and an impressive pass from Sapong in the 20th minute. Jumping on an errant clear by the Crew, Sapong completed a bicycle kick centering pass to Ilsinho, who placed his rocket shot past Downingtown, Pennsylvania, native Zack Steffen for the 1-0 Union lead.

The match drastically changed in the Union’s favor in the 35th minute.

Causing a Justin Meram turnover in the defensive zone, Haris Medunjanin played the ball ahead to Ilsinho, who skillfully found Roland Alberg streaking down the right side. With his head up and the defense outnumbered, the midfielder played a perfect lead pass that broke Sapong in alone on goal. But Sapong was immediately hauled down from behind by Jonathan Mensah to earn the Crew player a straight red card and the Union a penalty kick.

Crew manager Gregg Berhalter was not happy with the call.

“We’re putting the result away,” he said. “I already told the guys after the game, we didn’t get beat by Philadelphia tonight, we got beat by the three men in red. We’re OK. We’ll regroup. We’re gonna be fine. The morale’s gonna be fine.”

Yet, the Union were unable to capitalize right away. Alberg and Sapong were caught in a heated conversation over who takes the shot with Alberg eventually lining up, despite a strong protest from his teammate. The gamble wouldn’t pay off for Alberg as his shot found the hands of Steffen and the crossbar to stay out.

“I had the ball and was thinking I was going to score today,” Alberg said. “I missed, but last year and this year, I took a lot of PKs and didn’t miss. It was a chance for me to score but sometimes it happens and you miss. It’s unlucky, but the most important thing is three points today.” 

Playing a type of half-court offense as a result of total possession, the Union pressed for the second goal. But it took until the 66th minute for them to get it. Off a lofted pass from Giliano Wijnaldum, Sapong headed the ball off the right post and back to himself for the unconventional goal and 2-0 Union advantage. 

It was Sapong’s career-high 10th goal of the season.

“I think in the moment it meant more for me than I would’ve thought,” Sapong said of his 10th. “It’s always good to break any barriers. But again, that’s still just a stat. I want to continue to keep helping my team. This next half of the season, I need to keep performing and producing to help my team.”

Things unraveled further for the Crew in the 76th minute when Lalas Abubakar received a straight red for what referee Ismail Elfath deemed violent contact in a collision with Ilsinho. With room to run, Marcus Epps scored his first MLS goal in the 81st minute off a pass from Sapong and Ilsinho. The rookie finished with eight shots on goal.

“I was getting frustrated for a minute but my mindset from the beginning of the game was to get shots off and be aggressive,” Epps said. “So I’m just happy one of them went in the net.”

Inside Doop: Absences, losses continue to pile up for Union

Inside Doop: Absences, losses continue to pile up for Union

The Union gave us a glimpse into their future as two rookies made their first MLS starts over the weekend. But, in the end, a slew of key veteran absences were too much to overcome as the Union lost their second straight to fall further out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Here’s a closer look at the rough past few days and what lies ahead during another busy week that, if they don't turn things around, could sink their playoff hopes.

Three thoughts about the past week
1. The biggest surprise Saturday may have come before the game in Columbus even began — when the lineups revealed the Union’s attacking four consisted of two rookies making their first career starts (Adam Najem and Marcus Epps), their backup striker (Jay Simpson) and a winger who’s been mostly deployed centrally of late (Ilsinho). That’s because regular starters Chris Pontius, Fafa Picault, C.J. Sapong and Roland Alberg, among others, were all absent due to injury, suspension or Gold Cup duty. And, well, it showed. While Najem did look comfortable on the ball at times, the chemistry was lacking up top, the team strung together very few passes moving forward, and they finished with a grand total of zero shots on target in a 1-0 loss to the Crew. Head coach Jim Curtin likes to talk about his team’s improved depth but there’s only so much you can overcome on the road.

2. Although he’s yet to win in three starts since replacing Andre Blake, who’s currently at the Gold Cup, John McCarthy has looked sharp in net. And in Columbus, he made a couple of big-time saves to keep his team in the game. Now, the Union will need him once again Wednesday when they face Columbus in the second half of a home-and-home series. That’s because Blake continued his stirring run in the Gold Cup by leading Jamaica to a huge 1-0 upset of Mexico on Sunday night and into the title game vs. the U.S. You could say that’s a tough break for the Union in the short term — Curtin has admitted part of him has been rooting for Jamaica to lose so he can get Blake back sooner — but having a player shine on such a national stage could end up being one of the high points of the year for Philly, especially given the current trajectory of the club.

3. While the Union’s offense was virtually nonexistent in Columbus, they did have a glimmer of life four days earlier in Montreal when Fafa Picault scored his fifth goal of the season. But even that moment was marred by the fact that Alberg and Ilsinho appeared not to want to celebrate with him. Afterward, Curtin revealed that there was a heated discussion at halftime with those players angry that Picault didn’t square a ball for Ilsinho that would have likely resulted in a tap-in goal. Curtin said he didn’t mind hearing that but you have to wonder if there may be some rifts growing in certain corners of the locker room.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. It’s something of a bizarre scheduling quirk that the Union meet the same Crew team Wednesday that they just played four days ago on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium. But Curtin will hope that the game — and Philly’s lineup too — will look a lot different. Although Pontius and Blake will still be gone, squaring off in the U.S. vs. Jamaica Gold Cup final across on the same night, Picault and Sapong could return from their minor injuries and Alberg's set to come back from his one-game suspension. Of course, the Crew could also get some reinforcements with star playmaker Federico Higuain working to recover from a right knee sprain.

2. Even if the Union weren’t missing guys anyway, Curtin might still tinker with the lineups during a four-game-in-11-days stretch; after Wednesday’s matchup vs. the Crew, they travel to New England to take on the Revolution on Saturday. Veteran center back Oguchi Onyewu will likely be plugged back into the lineup after he was given a rest this past weekend and his fill-in, Josh Yaro, had what basically amounted to an own goal in the loss. Will Curtin opt to give any other guys a rest in either of the next two games?

3. Almost lost in the storylines of Saturday’s game was the return of captain Alejandro Bedoya, who had missed the three previous contests due to captaining the U.S. national team at the Gold Cup group stages and the birth of his second child. The true test now for the Union captain will be to see if he and fellow veteran central midfielder Haris Medunjanin can right the ship before it’s too late.

Stat of the week
With his season debut in Columbus, Charlie Davies became the 23rd Union player to play in a league game this year.

Quote of the week
“It feels amazing. As a kid when you dream of playing professional soccer in front of big crowds and stuff, it’s great to have that first start and put it in the books.”

— Union winger Marcus Epps

Player of the week
John McCarthy was one of the only bright spots in Columbus, making the kind of saves that would make Andre Blake proud.

Streaking Union dominate Dynamo at home in 3rd straight shutout win

Streaking Union dominate Dynamo at home in 3rd straight shutout win

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — They did it again. 

With a two-goal burst in the first half and a four-save Andre Blake shutout, the Union rattled off their third consecutive win with a 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

"It's not like a no-hitter where we're not talking about it," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "We're talking about it a lot and the guys are really taking pride in it."

After going winless in their first eight games of the season, the rejuvenated Union had outscored their opponents 7-0 in the last three matches prior to Wednesday. And that dominance continued over the Dynamo.

"We weren't an 0-4-4 team," Union veteran Chris Pontius said. "I've been on a bad team. I know what a bad team feels like. This wasn't a bad team, so I knew we weren't an 0-4-4 team. We just kept plugging away. We didn't change much. We showed up to work, rolled up our sleeves and got the job done. Credit to the guys for keeping their head on straight and getting the job done."

In the 17th minute, the host's newfound confidence translated into a goal spawning from a beautiful combination between Ilsinho, Pontius and Fafa Picault. With the ball at the key, Ilsinho laced a right-flank pass to a wide open Pontius, who immediately lofted a high ball to the left for Picault. From there, the diminutive speedster lifted himself over the Dynamo defense to head the ball off the crossbar and in for the 1-0 Union lead.

"It was a good cross by Chris," Picault said. "I can jump, so I just jumped and knocked it in."

The goal was Picault's second of the season.

"We kind of put them in a situation that they weren't comfortable with and that was crucial for us," Pontius said. 

With ease, the Union struck again in the 38th minute, when C.J. Sapong pushed the ball right to Pontius in possession. Tying a career high with his sixth assist of the year, the veteran found Ilsinho with a centering pass that allowed the Brazilian to easily hit a seam and the goal, doubling the Union lead.

"The move starts with Chris and three guys inside the box," Ilsinho said. "I'm behind C.J. and just said, 'Leave, leave, leave.' And he left it for me."

It was Ilsinho's first of the season.

"Ilsinho is a great player," Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. "I think he's the real No. 10. He can hold the ball. He can move between the lines. Like you saw the first half, when we have the ball and we know how to play, he's such an important player for us. He makes the run, he sees the ball, he knows where he needs to play."

Entering the second half, the league's leading scorer Cubo Torres and the 6-4-1 Dynamo weren't able to crack the Union defense, which has posted four straight shutouts. Curtin, whose club is now a respectable 3-4-4, tapped Jack Elliott and Oguchi Onyewu in the middle with Ray Gaddis and Fabinho on the flanks of his back line.

"That's a testament to the quality we do have on the back line," Gaddis said. "I feel like the whole team did well collectively at defending tonight. That's what it's going to take."