vancouver whitecaps

Inside Doop: Philly kid Derrick Jones enjoys memorable MLS debut

Inside Doop: Philly kid Derrick Jones enjoys memorable MLS debut

You could say the Union traveled a long way and spent a lot of time in Vancouver to end up playing in a game without any goals.

But there are still some exciting things the Union can take from their season-opening scoreless draw with the Whitecaps -- a very promising MLS debut from one Philly youngster at the top of the list.

In the first Inside Doop of the 2017 season, we'll take a look at that debut -- and a few others -- before peering ahead to the Union's challenging home opener.

Three thoughts about Sunday's game
1. Two years ago, head coach Jim Curtin decided to take a high school senior named Derrick Jones with the Union to preseason camp in Florida. From there, the skilled 6-foot-3 midfielder who emigrated to Philadelphia from Africa graduated from YSC Academy, signed with USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel as their first-ever player, signed a Homegrown contract with the Union last year, and on Sunday, was inserted into the starting lineup in his first MLS game. And, boy, did he deliver. The best thing you could say about his performance is he didn’t look like a kid who just turned 20; he looked like a seasoned pro putting out fires in the central midfield all night. The Union have had promising young players flame out in the past, but this one sure looks like he could be a bright star.

2. Jones wasn't the only Union player to make his league debut Sunday. Haris Medunjanin joined him in the midfield in front of veteran center back Oguchi Onyewu, while Jay Simpson started at striker and Fafa Picault came in on the wing. And all in all, the Union looked like a cohesive unit with all of those MLS newcomers playing key roles -- a testament, perhaps, to how Curtin ran the preseason. Onyewu and Medunjanin were especially effective in their roles and Picault showed the kind of speed that will make him a dangerous second-half sub. Simpson didn't do much but he also didn't really get many touches in the box, either.

3. Simpson wasn't the only player to fail to get going offensively. While the Union did put five shots on target (to Vancouver's one), they didn't look especially dangerous in front of goal, aside from a couple of Alejandro Bedoya shots. Because of that, some fans might question why offensive playmaker Roland Alberg didn't come in late to push for the game's first goal. But it was clear that Curtin and company were more than happy to stay compact defensively and leave Vancouver with a well-earned road point.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. Philly's defensive backline of Keegan Rosenberry, Onyewu, Richie Marquez and Fabinho had about as solid of an opening-day performance as you could expect. But things are about to get a lot tougher for them Saturday when the Union welcome star-studded Toronto FC to Talen Energy Stadium for their home opener (4:30 p.m., CSN). Will TFC's star strikers Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore continue to torch the Union as they did last season? Or will the Union find a measure of redemption after Toronto knocked them out of the 2016 playoffs?

2. As far as injuries go, Joshua Yaro and probably Maurice Edu aren't coming back soon. But a more pressing matter is the status of Ilsinho, the Brazilian midfielder who suffered a minor hamstring injury while in Vancouver and was held out of the match. Ilsinho was pushing Fabian Herbers for the team's starting spot on the right wing and had enjoyed a good preseason, so his absence could be a tough one if he's not ready in time for Toronto.

3. Now that he got his MLS debut out of the way, there are naturally more questions about Jones. Can he continue to be a 90-minute player, as he was on Sunday? Will he remain in the starting lineup ahead of the more seasoned Warren Creavalle, Brian Carroll and even Edu when everyone is healthy? How will he perform against Toronto captain Michael Bradley, one of the best American-born soccer midfielders ever?

Stat of the week
The Union are 1-4-3 in season openers and have been outscored, 11-4, in those eight games. They've been shut out in four season openers, including the last three.

Quote of the week
"My opinion may be biased but I thought he was the best player on the field, for both teams."

- Union head coach Curtin on Jones

Player of the week
See above. We'll agree with Curtin on this one.

Union-Whitecaps 5 things: Union embracing Vancouver challenge in opener

Union-Whitecaps 5 things: Union embracing Vancouver challenge in opener

Union vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
9:30 p.m. on TCN
 
Optimistic about building off their playoff-caliber season in 2016, the refreshed Union, led by Alejandro Bedoya, will take new weapons and the same young core to the West Coast, where they will open their 2017 account against Fredy Montero and the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday (9:30 p.m., TCN) at BC Place.
 
Here are five things to know.
 
1. New season, new expectations
Traveling across the country to challenge an out-of-conference opponent in its home opener isn't an ideal situation for the Union. But the players are ready for the test.

"We need to embrace the challenge," Union attacker Chris Pontius said. "It's the first game on the road, it's going to be a tough environment so we have to enjoy it and play our game."

Getting off a good start is paramount for a Union team returning much of its core from the 2016 season. Fresh in the club's memory is its disastrous end of season run that saw them go winless in their final seven games, not including a first-round playoff exit at the hands of Toronto FC.

"We want to advance further in the playoffs," Union right back Keegan Rosenberry said. "The second half of our year was a bit of a disappointment, we took a downward turn, so if we can be more consistent with the team performance and results as the year goes on, we'll all be happy with it."

To achieve that, the Union will try and bottle that first-game buzz.

"You can feel the excitement heading into the first week," Pontius said. "It's always a fun time of the year. We're looking to get off on the right note."

2. Midfield Power
To fulfill their playoff expectations this season and make a dent against the Whitecaps, the Union will need production from their midfield. That will have to come mainly from the duo of captain Alejandro Bedoya and newcomer Haris Medunjanin, who will face regular-season competition for the first time since Medunjanin was acquired in the late January.

"It's clear that Ale and Haris have a real understanding with each other and respect for each other," Curtin said. "They are internationals, they have played the game at the highest level at big clubs. Their experience speaks for itself, how to manage games, in the hard parts when the game gets sped up, they don't have any panic in them."  

Medunjanin, a Bosnian national, and Bedoya, a U.S. National Team starter, will be together in central midfield for the Union, with Bedoya at the No. 10 spot and Medunjanin at the No. 8 or No. 6 position.

"They are two of our best players, and you need your best players on the same page," Curtin said. "We will have them close to each other on the field, that's for sure. They will play off of each other in a positive way."

Another ingredient to watch in the Union midfield will be Derrick Jones. The 6-foot 3, 20-year-old Homegrown will make his first MLS start Sunday for the injured Warren Creavalle.

"Derrick has been excellent all preseason, he's the first true homegrown," Curtin said. "He played in our academy, did it with Bethlehem Steel and now he'll jump to our first team. We are perfectly comfortable putting Derrick out there. He'll be able to rise to the occasion."

3. Weary Whitecaps
While Sunday will be the first match of the season for the Union, the Whitecaps have been warming up with CONCACAF Champions League action. And that could be to the Union's benefit.

"Two games in three days is difficult," said Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson, whose club tied the New York Red Bulls, 1-1, and defeated them 2-0, in the home-and-home series that concluded Thursday. "We knew the start of the season would be difficult for us."

Even with the Whitecaps' possible fatigue and unknown personnel, Curtin is maintaining a particular game plan. He wants to the see his Union suffocate the game and win ugly.

"I don't want to say making the game a little bit ugly, but there will be moments where safety has to come first," he said. "If you have to, foul to stop a transition. They're certainly a team you want to do that against because they are organized and when they go to break out, they have real pace. They have a real dynamic group, they are a handful. Overall, it's a tough task."

Robinson, who hopes to have a more offensive team than the one last year that just missed the playoffs in a tough Western Conference, knows what the Union are bringing to BC Place.

"They are a good team and had a good season last year," he said. "They will be hard to break down, we know that. They like to play a certain way that we know. Jim has them very organized and they will be a dangerous team. But we're home and we need to make this a fortress this year."

4. Keep an eye on
Ilsinho: The Brazilian, in his second MLS season, is expected to play a larger role in the Union's offense and prove he's more than just a playmaking wing. Although Ilsinho possesses incredible ball skills, Curtin has instructed the veteran, who slimmed down this offseason, to shoot more. Because of that, expect him to make a goal-scoring impact.

Fredy Montero: The former Seattle Sounders forward is still acclimating himself to Vancouver since signing with the club in mid-February, but that doesn't make him any less dangerous. Montero buried his first goal during his club's CCL win over the Red Bulls on Thursday. "He adds something different this year that we've been missing the last three years," Robinson said.

5. This and that
• The Union are 2-3-2 all-time against the Whitecaps.

• Sunday will be the seventh season opener in Union history. The club is 1-4-1 in openers over that span but have been on the road for four of those six games.

• Playing in Vancouver will mark the third time in seven years the Union begin a season on the west coast. They faced the Sounders and Portland Timbers in 2010 and 2012.

'Silly goals' have Union defense searching for answers after loss to Whitecaps

'Silly goals' have Union defense searching for answers after loss to Whitecaps

CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union have a defensive problem.

It’s clear, following the club’s 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday (see story), that Jim Curtin’s once defensively stout team has sprung a leak. The Union have allowed nine goals in their last three MLS games.

“It’s a lot [of goals against] and I’m pissed about that,” Curtin, whose club is 1-2-0 since the Copa America break ended, said. “Don’t get me wrong, we’ll get it fixed, but it’s a lot of silly goals.”

The goals allowed, while plentiful, have been preventable. Like on Saturday, when Union goalkeeper Andre Blake bobbled a corner that ended up in his net. That was followed by a turnover in the midfield by Tranquillo Barnetta that left rookie Josh Yaro out to dry on a fast break in the open field.

“It’s preventable for us, as opposed to teams picking us apart with 20 passes at a time and a good finish,” Union full back Keegan Rosenberry said. “This is completely different.”

So, what's the root cause of these preventable goals? Is it the loss of Vincent Nogueira, who left the team three games ago because of health reasons? Is it Barnetta’s move to a more defensive midfield role shaking up the on-field chemistry?

“I probably can’t pinpoint one thing,” Blake said. “I think that some bounces aren’t going our way and the times we blocked the ball before, now we’re blocking and it’s going in. I think it’s one of those phases where you don’t want to think too much about it.”

Whether the Union want to think about it or not, the goals are pouring in. They allowed just 16 in 14 games prior to the Copa America break and nine in three since returning — not a healthy sign for a team clinging to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

“There’s no way we’re happy giving up this many goals,” Blake said. “I think we’re going through a phase and we have to hang tight, stick together and ride out the storm.”