Inside Doop: Blowing a lead ahead of toughest game of the season

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Inside Doop: Blowing a lead ahead of toughest game of the season

The Union traveled all the way across the country, scored a couple of goals, and came within seconds of pulling off a huge win over a team that rarely loses at home.

In the end, of course, that will only make Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes even more frustrating as Union coaches and players are well aware that stringing together wins is the only way to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive.

In this week’s Inside Doop, we’ll take a look at how a win turned into a draw and the brutally tough week that lies ahead.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. Anyone who’s watched the Union for the last eight seasons knows one-goal leads are never safe in the final minutes, especially on the road. And in San Jose, some of those old ghosts came back to haunt the Union again as a late penalty called on Josh Yaro allowed Chris Wondolowski’s 95th-minute PK to tie the game and spoil an otherwise positive performance. Afterwards, Haris Medunjanin threw his arms up in the air and stormed off the field, the team’s first-year midfielder perhaps learning some of the many frustrations that comes along with being a Union player.

2. Yaro has now made critical mistakes in each of his last three starts, all filling in for Oguchi Onyewu. That’s surely a tough thing for Union fans to swallow considering Yaro was the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft and is not really progressing as well as he should be, injuries aside. Contrast that, meanwhile, with Jack Elliott, the 77th pick in the 2017 draft. Elliott continued to build his case for Rookie of the Year with maybe his pest performance yet, scoring his first MLS goal and looking far more comfortable defensively than Yaro, his center back partner.

3. Questions certainly remain about Roland Alberg’s consistency and chemistry with teammates, but we can’t forget that he’s one of the better ball strikers this team has ever had. He showed that again Saturday with a very nice goal that put the Union ahead 2-1 early in the second half. With Ilsinho hurt, some may have thought promising rookie Adam Najem would assume the No. 10 role. But until the team is eliminated from the playoff contention, Alberg will likely still get the chance to show just how dangerous he can be and perhaps keep racking up the goals.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. Any time a team has to play games Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday, it’s a rough stretch. This one is even harder for the Union considering they had to fly back to Philly from San Jose before they quickly turn around to head to Toronto and face the league’s best team Wednesday, and then come back home to host upstart expansion side Atlanta United FC on Saturday. As always, there will be questions as how head coach Jim Curtin deals with minute management to keep everyone fresh. It might be especially interesting to see if he’d consider resting anyone in Toronto considering even a full-strength Union team has little chance of knocking off Toronto FC, who are currently 9-0-3 at home and maybe even one of the best MLS teams ever assembled. That said, if the Union can pull off the upset, it would be a huge boost toward their playoff push and a moment they’ll remember for a long time.

2. Remember Maurice Edu? The Union midfielder hasn’t played an MLS minute in nearly two years but suited up for USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel on Sunday, playing just over 30 minutes vs. Louisville City. Does that mean he’s ready to play for the Union? Not necessarily. Last year, he made three rehab appearances with Bethlehem, before then getting hurt as he was set to play for the Union. So the coaches may still want to give it a bit more time with the Steel, meaning a trip to Toronto is unlikely.

3. Another player who’s probably closer to returning is Andre Blake, who’s now missed eight straight games because of the Gold Cup and hurting his hand in the tournament final. John McCarthy continues to play well in his absence, but getting Blake back in time to face a star-studded Toronto attack could make a huge difference north of the border.

Stat of the week
With his goal Saturday, Alberg is tied for second on the team in goals this season with five. He also finished second on the team last season in that category, and his 14 total goals in nearly two seasons ranks fifth all time.

Quote of the week
“Both teams needed three points to be honest, so a tie kind of doesn’t do much for either of us at this stage.”

— Union head coach Jim Curtin, after Saturday’s 2-2 draw

Player of the week
On top of his goal, Elliott also helped set up the team’s second goal and made a couple of huge clearances in the box. The rookie was, by far, the team’s best player on the night.

Union squander late lead in San Jose, finish with draw against Earthquakes

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Union squander late lead in San Jose, finish with draw against Earthquakes

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Chris Wondolowski scored on a penalty kick in stoppage time to give the San Jose Earthquakes a 2-2 tie with the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night.

Shea Salinas drew a foul on Joshua Yaro in the penalty area to set up the penalty kick in the 95th minute. With his 10th goal, Wondolowski became the first player in MLS history with eight straight double-digit seasons.

Roland Alberg scored in the 55th to put Philadelphia (8-11-6) up 2-1.

Valeri Qazaishvili scored three minutes for San Joe (9-10-6). He eluded two defenders before punching it between two more defenders.

Jack Elliott tied it in the 35th with his first goal of the season, knocking the ball in on the left side of the net.

Union-Earthquakes 5 things: Desperate Union look for points in San Jose

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Union-Earthquakes 5 things: Desperate Union look for points in San Jose

Union vs. San Jose Earthquakes
10:30 p.m. on TCN

With the Union (8-11-5) now trailing in the race for the playoffs, the club, coming off a damaging loss to the Montreal Impact, must travel across the country to challenge Chris Wondolowski and the San Jose Earthquakes (9-10-5) on Saturday night at Avaya Stadium.

Here are five things to know.

1. Feeling the pain
The Union were devastated. With a chance to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race last weekend, the club was instead dispatched, 3-0, by the Impact, sinking to 10th.

“It was a tough spot and really hard result for our guys,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We’re upset in that regard but we have an opportunity to go on the road out to California, to San Jose and play against a revamped San Jose roster and try to get a result out there.”

It was a crushing defeat for the Union, who have just 10 games remaining and trail Atlanta United by six points for the final playoff spot in the East. Atlanta has two games in hand.

“It’s a hard loss to take for the guys because we knew a result there would put us back in the thick of things,” Curtin said. “Now we have to chase, which is tough.”

That tough endeavor begins Saturday against the Earthquakes, who are currently in a postseason position in a weaker Western Conference. The Earthquakes are 7-1-4 at home this season.

“We need a different mindset on the road,” Union attacker Chris Pontius said. “We’ve been tentative at times, it’s not easy playing away from home in this league but we need points now. We dropped three against Montreal so we need three against San Jose.”

2. Attack of the injury bug
Considering the Union’s current situation in the East, it’s a bad time for the club to get hit with injuries. But that’s exactly what has happened entering Saturday’s match.

Center back Oguchi Onyewu, playmaker Ilsinho, goalkeeper Andre Blake and midfielder Maurice Edu are all questionable for the game, with winger Fabian Herbers listed as out. Although the status of Edu, Blake and Herbers was expected, Onyewu, who missed last week’s match with a groin injury, hurts the Union most if he can’t make it Saturday.

“Gooch would have been in the starting lineup this past week,” Curtin said. “He’s done a really good job for us but a groin injury would have prevented him from playing. It’s just got a little too tough for him and we didn’t want to risk it.” 

Without Onyewu, the Union, like they did against the Impact, will be forced into using Josh Yaro at right center back, which would move Rookie of the Year contender Jack Elliott to his less natural left side. The scenario drew less than sterling results against the Impact, as Yaro struggled and Elliott appeared uncomfortable.

“We have decisions on the back line to make,” Curtin said.

The absence of Ilsinho, questionable with a right adductor strain, would also limit the Union’s lineup flexibility. Without the Brazilian, the Union will be forced into a combination of Roland Alberg or youngster Adam Najem at the No. 10 spot.

“He’s right in the discussion,” Curtin said of Najem. “Adam Najem is a good example of a guy who is pushing for minutes anyway, as is.”

3. Desperation Quakes
Holding the sixth spot in the Western Conference, the Earthquakes, led by Wondolowski’s nine goals and five assists, are hanging onto the playoffs by their fingernails. 

“We’re excited to be back at home,” said former Union man and current Earthquakes winger, Shea Salinas. “We’re playing well at home right now and we want to keep that momentum going.” 

Firing coach Dominic Kinnear in late June in favor of Chris Leitch, the Earthquakes have fared well of late, earning back-to-back wins before dropping a 3-0 decision to the Houston Dynamo last week.

“They’ve had an injection of life,” Curtin said. “They’re going to be an angry desperate team and we’re an angry desperate team, so you have two teams that need all three points at this stage, draws don’t do either of us any good right now. We’ll both have to be aggressive.” 

4. Keep an eye on
John McCarthy: With injured goalkeeper Blake expected to return to the lineup Wednesday against Toronto FC, Saturday could mark McCarthy’s last start of an eight game run. Despite the numbers and a 2-4-1 record, McCarthy has opened eyes with his stout play. He could make a statement against the Earthquakes. “He’s done a great job for us,” Curtin said.

Chris Wondolowski: His club’s leader in goals and assists, Wondolowski has three goals and eight shots on goal in his last seven matches. The crafty forward is the tip of the Earthquakes’ offensive spear.

5. This and that
• Between the Gold Cup and hand laceration, Blake is set to miss his eighth match Saturday. The goalkeeper did get his stitches out but remains questionable. “It’s still a noticeable cut,” Curtin said. “San Jose won’t be possible but Toronto is in the discussion for the target.” 

• The Union are 3-4-2 against the Earthquakes all-time and a respectable 1-2-1 in San Jose.

• The Union’s first-ever match in San Jose happened on Sept. 15, 2010, at Buck Shaw Stadium, which saw Wondolowski claim the game’s only goal past Brad Knighton with a header from Arturo Alvarez. Who else played in that match? New Earthquakes coach Leitch managed 90 minutes at right back.