John McCarthy

1st VAR ruling writes Union into MLS history book

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1st VAR ruling writes Union into MLS history book

CHESTER, Pa. — On Saturday night, the Union were written into the MLS history books.

The event occurred with 11 minutes remaining at Talen Energy Stadium when Union goalkeeper John McCarthy took a Cristian Colman cleat to a sensitive area. Although McCarthy made the initial save on the FC Dallas attempt, he was hobbled by the collision and unable to reach the rebound, which was pounded home by Max Urruti. 

It was ruled a good goal until the VAR referee contacted head referee Ricardo Salazar.

“Once they decided to go to the video review, it’s almost very NFL-like,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “It has that feel where everyone is on the edge of their seat waiting, waiting, waiting, talking, you’re asking the fourth official, he’s saying. ‘I’ve got nothing, I can’t hear anything.’”

After that brief moment of suspense, the goal was overturned by Salazar as a result of Colman’s foul on McCarthy. Although it was inconsequential in the eventual 3-1 victory for the Union, it was the first use of VAR in MLS history and first time VAR changed an on-field call. 

“The ultimate goal is to get calls right and it succeeded tonight,” Curtin said. “That’s what you want. 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. I think it accomplished its goal.”

McCarthy also felt vindicated.

“I would have been pissed,” he said. “I would have been so mad, he kicked the hell out of me.”

VAR, or video assistant referee, was introduced to MLS this week after a period of testing. It involves one extra referee not at field level and two booths, loaded with monitors, on either side of the field. Implemented for the first time Saturday, the VAR referee saw the foul, called down to the field and Salazar made the change.

“It was interesting to be a part of that,” said Union forward C.J. Sapong, who had two goals on the night. “We’re all going to look back at that and say all right, that’s the first time in MLS history that a play actually got right. That’s something we want in this game and it was pretty cool to be a part of it.”

But not everyone was a fan of the new system. FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja accepted the decision but wasn’t pleased about being on the losing end.

“I have to say that it generates a lot of doubts in the system,” he said. “But we respect it. I have to be honest and say that if the referee had a chance to review it with the VAR and have time to make the decision, I have to assume that is correct. But when you go and see it, because we have the right to see it after the game, we may differ on opinions.”

Ultimately, the midseason change will be an upgrade for a league plagued by inconsistent officiating. But it’s still going to be a culture shock for traditionalists and those accustomed to human error as part of the game.

“It’s definitely different,” McCarthy said. “We joked about how it’s like American football, let me go to the booth and check this out like someone threw a challenge flag. It’s definitely a weird situation to be in but if it makes the game better and helps you out, you’re not going to argue it one bit.”

Union-FC Dallas 5 things: Time running out on playoff dreams

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CSN

Union-FC Dallas 5 things: Time running out on playoff dreams

Union vs. FC Dallas
7 p.m. on TCN

With three losses in their last four matches, the stumbling Union (7-10-5) look to activate home-field advantage and kick their slide against Western Conference powerhouse FC Dallas (9-4-7) on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know:

1. Running out of time
With 12 games remaining, the Union’s postseason hope is up against the clock. 

“Six home, six away left. There’s lots of soccer out there,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We recognize our margin for error is a small one now. We’ve done that to ourselves, but we have a good group.” 

As it stands, the Union are six points out from the final playoff position, but are in a battle with the Columbus Crew, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution and Orlando City to get in. To make matters worse, the Union can’t string together victories. The club has one win in its last five matches.

“There are four to five teams that have their eye on that spot and we all play each other a bunch down the stretch and those games are huge,” Curtin said. “It’s not an area you want to be in but at the same time, it’s a situation we put ourselves in. Things can change fast in this league. It starts with getting on a run and getting above that red line. It’s not going to be easy.”

That run could start on Saturday. Though the Union are playing one of the best in MLS in FC Dallas, they are at home. The Union are 6-3-2 at Talen Energy Stadium and have scored 20 of their 29 total goals there this season. 

“You have to find ways to win your home games in this league,” Curtin said. “Our road total in points is not good enough. It’s something we have to rectify. It’s going to take more than last year’s point total, so we have our work cut out for us but it’s not impossible. 

“We’ve been solid at home and we need to continue that.”

2. Without Blake
If the Union want a positive result against FC Dallas, they’ll likely have to do it without Andre Blake, who sliced his hand open in the Gold Cup final game against the U.S. men’s national team and still hasn’t fully recovered.

“Andre is still healing, he still has the stitches in,” Curtin said. “He ended up with seven stitches that go from one side to the other. We’re hopeful for the weekend. He’s been able to do technical exercises with the group, working on his footwork and staying active. We need to get clearance from the doctors that he won’t do further damage.”

Curtin then sounded more cautious on Blake’s return. The goalkeeper, who is tied for second in MLS shutouts with seven, missed the Union’s last five matches. 

“We’re following the medical side on this one,” the manager said. “There’s a chance but probably unlikely.” 

But fortunately for the Union, they have a backup plan. The Union expect backup keeper, John McCarthy, who has opened eyes since taking over for Blake (see story), to continue filling the shoes of the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.

“Johnny has done a really good job stepping up his game in a tough spot,” Curtin said. “For him to have the success he’s had speaks to all the hard work he’s put in. He’s stepped up in a big way and has done a great job.” 

3. Redemption Dallas
FC Dallas enters Saturday’s match with a bad taste in its mouth. 

“After our last result at home, [these are] points that we need to take,” FC Dallas center back Walker Zimmerman said. “Points that will put us back in the Supporters’ Shield race. We’ve had a very successful run the last few games, we just need to keep that going.”

The club, which will be without suspended midfielders Atiba Harris and Carlos Gruezo, hit an irregular bump in the road last week against the Vancouver Whitecaps, dropping the match, 4-0. The home loss snapped a five-game unbeaten streak and three-game winning run.

“They are also coming off a disappointing result,” said Curtin, whose club lost to the Revolution, 3-0, last week. “We know they will be angry and eager to go.”

But even with that extra motivation, FC Dallas isn’t overlooking a desperate Union club.

“You can’t take any team in this league lightly,” FC Dallas midfielder Ryan Hollingshead said. “We’ll be looking for mounting back. It’s a big opportunity for us to get road points. We know Philadelphia has strengths and weaknesses and we’ll have to be ready for them.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: The Union’s leading scorer with 10 goals and five assists on the season, C.J. Sapong is the engine that makes the offense tick. In his last match at home, Sapong put up a goal and two helpers, setting a career high. Eight of Sapong’s 10 goals this season have happened at home.

FC Dallas: Tied for the league lead in assists with 10, Michael Barrios could be the key to unlocking the Union back line. 

5. This and that
• The Union have never defeated FC Dallas in MLS play, going 0-5-4 all-time and 0-1-3 at home.

• While FC Dallas has no listed injuries, the Union are limping a bit. Center back Oguchi Onyewu (groin strain) and Fafa Picault (hamstring strain) join Blake as questionable for Saturday.

• The first time FC Dallas visited Philadelphia was a heartbreaker for the Union. Amobi Okugo and Aaron Wheeler scored but Blas Perez’s 95th-minute goal ended the match, 2-2.

Hometown kid John McCarthy relishing time in spotlight for Union

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Hometown kid John McCarthy relishing time in spotlight for Union

CHESTER, Pa. — Before every Jamaica game in the Gold Cup, backup Union goalkeeper John McCarthy would send Andre Blake a text: “Good luck, my son.

Blake — the Union’s first-string goalie who had been with Jamaica on international duty for most of July — was quick to respond, just as he was quick to offer McCarthy luck before Union games. And he’d have no choice but to call McCarthy his “father,” as part of a very important deal they have.

“When we play ping pong, if you lose, you have to call the other person ‘father,’” McCarthy said with a laugh after Union practice Wednesday. “It’s good banter. It’s stuff like that that goes a long way. But we know we have each other’s backs.”

McCarthy may have the edge over his fellow ’keeper in ping pong of late but even he’d admit there’s no one better in goal than Blake.

That makes it more palatable for McCarthy to be the Union's backup, and it makes him hungry to try to live up to the team’s high goalkeeping standards when Blake’s away — which he mostly has over the last five games.

“Everyone wants to play,” McCarthy said. “Being a backup at any level is not fun. But I think I’m in a great situation, if not one of the best. I’m backing up the best goalkeeper in the league, and I get to train with him every day. And I try to take advantage of my opportunities when they do come.”

Although the results haven’t been there, with the team going 1-3-1 in the last five games with McCarthy starting, the Philly native certainly has made the most of his chance, making a handful of the kind of highlight-reel saves that fans are accustomed to seeing from Blake.

McCarthy — who may get his sixth straight start Saturday vs. FC Dallas if a hand injury Blake suffered in the Gold Cup final is not yet healed — said he felt like “overall it’s been a really good run,” pointing to his six-save effort in Kansas City on July 6 as “a special game” for him. 

And Union head coach Jim Curtin has been pleased to see McCarthy putting in strong performances — all while Blake emerged as one of the best players at the Gold Cup.

“Andre’s talent speaks for itself,” Curtin said. “He’s coming off an incredible Gold Cup performance. John’s done a really good job stepping up his game in a tough spot. It’s always hard to play behind someone, especially at the goalkeeper position because there’s always the waiting-your-turn aspect of it. For him to have the success he’s had speaks to all the hard work he’s put in and peaks to (goalkeeper coach) Oka Nikolov and the great work he’s done with all our goalkeepers. You’re happy for Johnny. He’s stepped up in a big way and has done a good job in the games he’s gotten.”

At one point during McCarthy’s run of games, Curtin even said the goalkeeper out of La Salle University had shown him that he can be a full-time starter in this league. And considering Blake is probably good enough to soon play in a top league in Europe, that means the Union may have their next (star?) goalie waiting patiently in the wings.

“That means a lot,” McCarthy said. “They see that I’m growing as a player. It definitely helps with the confidence when a coach gives you praise like that. At any level, that’s huge. I’m happy to hear that and I’m hoping I can keep making the coaching staff happy.”

Given Blake’s impending return to the lineup, McCarthy knows he may not get many more opportunities in games this season. But that doesn’t mean the 25-year-old can’t continue to showcase his growth and technique in practice, where he and Blake consistently offer each other friendly advice.

“Training with Andre every day is a great opportunity for me,” McCarthy said. “He was the best goalkeeper in the league last year and he might be the best goalkeeper in the league this year. … And we have no problem critiquing each other at any point in time. Even as he walks off the field, I’ll say something to him before anyone else does. It’s not like he takes it like, ‘Oh, he’s being a mean dude.’ No, we appreciate each other. It’s good because we have such a good relationship on the field.”

The two goalkeepers have such a good relationship, in fact, that when Blake returned from the Gold Cup, following his devastating injury exit from Jamaica’s title-game loss to the U.S., McCarthy “went right up to him and gave him a hug and said, ‘Dude, you deserved everything in that tournament, you were the best goalkeeper by far, man.’”

And McCarthy knows that Blake will be right there cheering him on if he gets the start vs. FC Dallas — along with many of his family members, old friends from Northeast Philly, and former teammates from La Salle. 

Just like they always do.

“It’s cool to see them all texting me, coming out to the games and really having my back, whether I’m playing or not,” McCarthy said. “Even though I’m the No. 2, I’m home.”