Portland Timbers

Pressure growing as losses continue to mount for Union

Pressure growing as losses continue to mount for Union

CHESTER, Pa. -- Answers are evading the Union.

"Right now, it's the moment for each individual in the organization to take a look in the mirror and dig deep down and try to find an answer within themselves," said Union veteran Oguchi Onyewu following a 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium. "Because personally, I feel we have the clientele to get wins."

But those wins haven't shown up. Saturday's defeat, albeit to the top team in the Western Conference, was a low point for the Union, who are 0-3-2 on the season and one of only two MLS teams without a win in 2017. It marked the club's third consecutive loss.

"It's not the moment to put our heads down right now," Onyewu said. "It's a moment for everybody to be pissed off, be upset and to dig deep to rectify this and get a result."

The lack of winning has pressure mounting on manager Jim Curtin. Including a first-round playoff loss, the Union finished the 2016 season riding an eight-game winless run and four straight defeats. Add that to the Union's 2017 start, and the club has been defeated in seven of its last nine games and is winless in its last 13 dating back to Aug. 27, 2016.

"It's fine, I'm a big boy, I can answer that," said Curtin, when asked about his job security. "There's pressure in pro sports. Our players recognize that I recognize that, I feel that. I'm not scared of it because I still believe in the team. You can put it on me, that's fine. I take the blame."

So if Curtin is to blame, how does he fix it? It could be as simple as fighting off soft goals.

"We're not giving up a ton of shots on goal, but we are giving up big chances and we are giving up goals," Curtin said. "And it's a problem."

The players believe this is fixable, and that this issue does not stem from a roster or lack of quality, but rather a unique combination of making, and not taking advantage of, unforced errors.

"We gift goals," said Onyewu, whose club has allowed seven goals in their last three games. "We seem to be getting punished for mistakes. We haven’t been punishing the adversaries when they make mistakes, we haven't been scoring when we have our opportunities."

But despite the on-field issues plaguing the Union, the toughest adversary right now might be low morale. Even a tight-knit locker room could crack under losing pressure.

"To be honest, it's something we can't get too worked over because that's when chemistry falls off. That's when things really start going bad," Union center back Richie Marquez said. "We have to keep our heads up and continue to work."

Union remain winless after surrendering 3 unanswered in loss to Timbers

Union remain winless after surrendering 3 unanswered in loss to Timbers

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- Coming home after playing three of their first four games on the road was supposed to be performance therapy for the winless Union. Instead, it was more of the same.

Richie Marquez gave the hosts hope but the Portland Timbers countered with three unanswered goals to take down the befuddled Union, 3-1, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

"It's a tough time right now," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "We have to find a way to fight and stick together and turn things around. It takes one win to get back on track. We have quality in our group. There is belief in our group and it's just a tough time right now, we have to turn it around."

It was the Union's third-consecutive defeat, keeping them at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The Union are also now winless in their last 13 games dating back to Aug. 27, 2016, when they defeated Sporting Kansas City. Jim Curtin's club moves to 0-3-2 on the season, while the Timbers move to an impressive 4-1-1.

"I'm not scared of it because I still believe in the team," Curtin said when asked about his job security. "I believe in the group. You can put it on me, that's fine. I take the blame. It's our job to stick together as a team, continue to work hard and bounce back from this. The only way you get out of it is to win a game."

The situation was optimistic for the Union early in the first half. Earning a corner in the 26th minute, Haris Medunjanin's line drive cleared a mass of bodies before finding the head of Marquez for the 1-0 Union advantage.

Marquez, who suffered a concussion last weekend against D.C. United, was questionable for the match. It was his first goal of the season.

"It was a credit to Haris' ball," Marquez said. "It was a great ball into the box and I was just able to get there and head it in."

However, that optimism was short-lived. Darlington Nagbe tied the game at one less than 10 minutes later when he moved through multiple defenders before surprising Andre Blake with a savable outside-the-box shot that trickled inside the left post.

"Sometimes, bounces don't go your way," Union right back Keegan Rosenberry said. "They're one of the highest scoring teams in the league, they got a lot of good attacking pieces. We knew that going into it was gonna be a tough challenge to prevent them from scoring."

Owning momentum, the Timbers claimed the lead midway through the second half when a Diego Valeri free kick curled into the box and off the head of Roy Miller for the 2-1 advantage. Fanendo Adi scored a penalty kick in the waning minutes, silencing the already paltry Union home crowd to make it a 3-1 final.

"We have to stick together through the tough times," Curtin said. "Keeping shutouts at home is something we take up pride in and we came up small tonight in that regard. We're not giving up a ton of shots on goal, but we are giving up big chances and we are giving up goals and it’s a problem."

Union-Timbers 5 things: Desperate Union host best in West

Union-Timbers 5 things: Desperate Union host best in West

Union vs. Portland Timbers
7 p.m. on TCN

Reeling from back-to-back losses and two points through their first four games, the winless Union (0-2-2) return to Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday (7 p.m., TCN) to face the Western Conference-leading Portland Timbers (3-1-1) to kick off a crucial three-game homestand.

Here are five things to know.

1. Restarting the season
After dropping their second consecutive match, a 2-1 loss to D.C. United last weekend, the Union find themselves in the Eastern Conference basement. They are one of three MLS teams without a win through the first four games of the season. 

"There's a sense of urgency," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "If you look at the table, we're in a bad spot."

But there is hope. Beginning on Saturday against the Timbers, the Union kick off a three-game homestand that could revitalize their young season. 

"We've played three of four games away so we're definitely looking forward to a long streak of home games," Union defender Oguchi Onyewu said. "Hopefully we can start winning and get the points we feel is deserved from our work ethic on the field. Hopefully, we can turn things around right now."

Although it's early, this home set is crucial for the Union to remain competitive in an improved East. As it stands, the Union are four points out of the postseason picture. Curtin's club made the playoffs last season with 42 points, taking the tiebreaker winner over the New England Revolution.

"You don't want to fall too far behind," Curtin said. "The good news is only one team has three wins in the East right now so we're not too far off the pace. But there is a danger that if you don't take care of business at home, you can fall into a hole. It's a tough league to chase from behind."

Because of that, the pressure will be ramped up Saturday.

"We now have three at home and still have 30 games left of the season, so we have time to get things right," Curtin said. "But there's urgency. We've lost two games in a row and it doesn't taste good to anybody and we're not happy with that."

2. Union center back shuffle
If the Union want to revitalize their season Saturday, they might have to do it with a rookie at center back. Jack Elliott, a 6-foot-5 defender drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, teamed up with center back Oguchi Onyewu when one of the club's most valuable players, Richie Marquez, suffered a concussion at D.C. United last weekend. 

"Jack came into the game in a tough spot," Curtin said. "I thought he passed the ball very well. D.C. was sitting back a little bit but he was good positionally in stopping counters. We're happy with how he played."

Marquez, who wasn't able to practice with the team all week, is expected to be cleared by Saturday but would be a coach's decision after that. Marquez has played 58 games over the last three seasons for the Union.

"There will be a tough decision to make," Curtin said. "We're confident in both guys, we're confident in Jack to play in MLS. He has the size, the feet, the passing ability to play in the league. He showed that against D.C. United, it was a good performance."

3. Slowing the Timbers
The Timbers enter Saturday's match tied for the MLS lead with 10 points. And it's easy to see why, as the club is armed with players like Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco, Fanendo Adi and Darlington Nagbe.

"They are dangerous, there's no question about it," Curtin said. "They are fluid in their attack, great in possession. You have to be decisive against them in transition because they recover so quickly with the speed that they have. They present a lot of problems and can beat you a lot of different ways."

But while his team is more individually skilled, Timbers manager Caleb Porter knows his club is facing a wounded animal in the Union. He's coming prepared.

"They'll definitely play in a way they are desperate for a win," Porter said. "That could be tough to deal with but also maybe help us open up some opportunities. We're going to focus on what we want to do and respect the individuals and their team. It'll come down to the matchups and who executes.

"They are a lot better than their record, I think they are a dangerous team because they haven't won." 

4. Keep an eye on …
Diego Valeri: When it comes to the Timbers, Valeri is the player to stop. He's currently on pace for a career season, sitting second in MLS in goals with five, including two penalty kicks. He has 16 shots in five games.

C.J. Sapong: One of the few bright spots in the first four games, the Union forward is riding a three-game scoring streak while coming off the bench. "C.J. is giving us some life now," Curtin said.

5. This and that
* The Union are 1-3-3 against the Timbers all time but are 1-0-2 at Talen Energy Stadium in the series. 

* Despite the lopsided lifetime series, the Timbers haven't scored a goal on the road against the Union in three games. The Timbers were crushed, 3-0, in 2015, during their latest trip to Talen Energy Stadium.

* Union backup goalkeeper John McCarthy is still suffering a concussion and will be out for his second-consecutive game Saturday. He will be replaced by Jake McGuire.

* According to Opta, Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin leads MLS in chances created with 13. He has one assist on the season, however.