Union

2 Union players hopeful for hardware

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2 Union players hopeful for hardware

For the second consecutive year, the Union are well represented in the MLS awards discussion. 

Announced by the league on Tuesday, Union goalkeeper and reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake has been named a finalist for the accolade, while rookie center back Jack Elliott follows teammate and 2016 nominee Keegan Rosenberry as a finalist for Rookie of the Year. 

Both Blake and Elliott were bright spots in the Union’s dreary season by solidifying a defensive corps that only allowed 47 goals in 34 games. The Eastern Conference average was 49.7. 

Blake, who has become a bonafide MLS star, ended the 2017 campaign with force, adding his usual acrobatic flair to 88 saves in 26 starts — good for ninth in MLS. He also finished with a career-high nine shutouts, tied for fifth, despite playing fewer games than nearly all of the league’s top goalkeepers. 

For Elliott, it was about consistency. The 6-foot-5 MLS newcomer out of London, England, was drafted from the University of West Virginia in the fourth round of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. Early injuries to Richie Marquez and Josh Yaro pushed Elliott into the fire early in 2017 and the 23-year-old didn’t look back. He made 29 starts and played in 30 games and scored one goal and one assist.

Yet, despite the production, neither Blake or Elliott is the favorite heading into the final selection, which will take place for rookies on Nov. 8 and goalkeepers on Nov. 16. Blake is up against Seattle Sounders’ Stefan Frei, who led MLS with 13 shutouts, and the favorite, Sporting Kansas City’s TIm Melia, who only allowed 24 goals in 31 games.

As a center back — a position that does not garner much attention in terms of individual awards — Elliott is at a disadvantage. He’s facing forward and 2017 first overall pick, Abu Danladi from Minnesota United, and attacking midfielder Julian Gressel from Atlanta United. Danladi finished with eight goals and three assists, while Gressel, the favorite to win, ended with five goals and nine assists.

MLS awards voting consists of total votes from selection media members, MLS players and MLS team front office members.

Union dealing with all sorts of frustration after another home loss

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Union dealing with all sorts of frustration after another home loss

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — With four of their first five matches at home, the Union had an opportunity to get their season off to a positive start. But with a 1-2-2 record, capped off by a 2-0 loss to Orlando City on Friday night at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union are wondering what went wrong (see observations).

“I didn’t get the job done,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I take responsibility for the group. I know we have a really strong team. We’ve played good soccer at home, we just need to bury those chances.”

The poor results haven’t come from a lack of effort. The Union have outshot opponents, 87-48, this season, and are currently fifth in MLS in possession at 54.3 percent. But like Curtin said, it’s been about the finish. They’ve been outscored, 6-3, this season and are averaging just over a half goal per game.    

“The ball is not bouncing our way right now, it’s not going in the net,” Curtin said. “And with that, confidence drops. I understand the frustration from the fans. The players are frustrated, I’m frustrated and it’s difficult. We need to stick together in the hardest moments.“

According to midfielder Haris Medunjanin, the Union are pressing too hard to score. He said on Friday after the loss that the team was off in every facet, and that the lack of offense isn’t bad luck, but a patience issue.

“We need to keep the ball more,” he said of the midfielders. “We want to attack every attack and that’s not possible. You can’t attack every attack. That was our problem today. We were not patient, we attacked too quick. I think we need to learn from that and play as a team.” 

His frustration was palpable. 

“It’s about scoring goals,” he said. “If you have just one chance and you score a goal and it’s 1-0, it’s enough. It’s about winning games. It’s not about how many chances you create, it’s about scoring goals.”

Between David Accam, Borek Dockal, Fafa Picault and C.J. Sapong, the Union should have enough firepower to find the net. And though it’s not connecting right now, Curtin is confident his team will find that scoring groove. It just has to relax.

“We have quality attackers and they all want to contribute and help,” Curtin said. “Maybe sometimes they press and try to do too much. We have to find the balance. When our team is at its best, it’s Haris and (Alejandro) Bedoya controlling the tempo of the game. Right now, it isn’t clicking. At the same time, I know we have the possibility to break out.” 

Union lose to Orlando City as offense continues to flounder

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Union lose to Orlando City as offense continues to flounder

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Unfazed by the Union’s opening salvo, Orlando City held strong and punched back. Dom Dwyer and Chris Mueller scored first-half goals for the visitors, as they easily took down the floundering Union, 2-0, on Friday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

Joe Bendik claimed the six-save shutout.

With the loss, the Union fall to a paltry 1-2-2 on the season and a concerning 1-1-2 at home. Orlando City moves to 3-2-1. 

• It wasn’t all bad for the Union. During the first 20 minutes, the hosts fired off four corners, 10 total crosses and seven shots. But as usual, it didn’t amount to much. 

• David Accam nearly broke through in the 27th minute, when he torched his defender and broke in on a partial breakaway. However, his short-side shot hit the side of the net. Impressive work but Andrew Wenger-like finish. That’s a trend this season.

• That lack of finish would haunt the Union in the 38th minute, as Dwyer, kept onside by Matt Real, escaped coverage and accepted a pass from Sacha Kljestan for the easy dish past Andre Blake for the 1-0 lead. It deflated the Union.

• Orlando continued punishment delivery in the 45th, when Mueller claimed a loose ball in the box and walked in net for the 2-0 lead. It was miscommunication and fumble by Jack Elliott and Matt Real that caused the turnover. 

• And if you thought it couldn’t get worse for the Union, it did. Out of the gate in the second half, center back Elliott, arguably the Union’s best player this season, went down injured with what the team called a “right leg injury” and was replaced by rookie Homegrown Mark McKenzie.

• McKenzie, who made the roster over Josh Yaro, joined Real and Auston Trusty on the back line. It gave the Union three Homegrown players on defense alone. With 22-year-old Elliott, the club had the youngest defensive line in MLS history. Add in 19-year-old McKenzie, and the Union set another record. 

• Looking for anything to give his team life, Union manager Jim Curtin pulled Fafa Picault for Ilsinho in the 60th minute. It didn’t work. Picault finished with three shots.

• While the season is still young for the Union, losing at home is a concerning trend. With four of their first five matches at home, this was supposed to be a lucrative stretch. Instead, the club is stumbling into phase two, which features four of five on the road — including FC Dallas, Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Columbus Crew. Next up for the Union: FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium.