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."

Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

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Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

CHESTER, Pa. — When Saturday’s game ended, Union midfielder Borek Dockal told head coach Jim Curtin two things: that his body felt fine and that he knows he can play a lot better.

That’s probably just about all Union fans need to hear.

Sure, it was a mostly uneventful and somewhat disappointing MLS debut for the team’s new Designated Player in a scoreless draw with Columbus Crew SC (see observations). But it’s also a long season and Dockal is still trying to mesh with his teammates and get his fitness up after dealing with a preseason ankle injury.

“I think he had some good moments,” Curtin said. “I think you can see his quality and how comfortable he is on the ball. He can pass and he looks forward. … [But] it’s been a week where he’s really trained with the group, so you see a ball played behind when he’s looking to play through. It’s going to take a little bit of time. But overall [I’m] happy with the amount of minutes he was able to push.”

Dockal, signed only three days before the start of the 2018 season, was a tougher critic on himself after sometimes struggling to connect passes and move to the right spot in his 77 minutes of action. But the Czech playmaker also acknowledged that he needs more time to adapt to MLS and learn his teammates’ tendencies.

“For me, it was the first game so it was a little bit about how to find my space on the field, to see how my teammates are moving, which kind of positions should I be in the most to help them,” said Dockal, who sat out the Union’s first game — a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution. “So I just have to learn from this first game and be better the next game.”

Expectations will certainly be raised when the Union play their next game, in two weeks, on the road against the Colorado Rapids. But expectations are already high for Dockal, who has experience in the Champions League and with the Czech Republic national team.

Along with fellow newcomer David Accam — who he said the team needs to find more on the wing — Dockal is filling in what was a major position of need last year and should provide a major offensive punch in the midfield, playing in front of veterans Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin.

It just hasn’t happened yet.

“My performance definitely can be better,” Dockal said. “But I have to start at some point so it would actually be a miracle if I played an excellent game today.”

“Overall, it’s a first step and nothing replicates these games,” Curtin said. “We didn’t put him on the ball as much as we would have liked. ... But he's an incredibly talented guy."

Union lifeless in draw with Crew

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Union lifeless in draw with Crew

CHESTER, Pa. — In a matchup of two teams with perfect records, it ended up being a stalemate.

On Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union and Columbus Crew SC fought to a scoreless draw as goalkeepers Andre Blake and Zack Steffen finished with three saves apiece.

The Union move to 1-0-1 on the season while the Crew, who entered the day in first place in the Eastern Conference, sit at 2-0-1.

• With the Union coming off a weird early bye week, the game lacked fluidity for much of the first half as both teams only put one shot on target before halftime. 

• Borek Dockal, the Union’s new Designated Player, made his MLS debut after sitting out the opener. The Czech playmaker looked tentative early in the match and had some giveaways in the second half before coming out in the 77th minute. It’s too early, of course, to make any judgements but that probably wasn’t the kind of debut head coach Jim Curtin hoped to see.

• David Accam, the team’s other prized newcomer, enjoyed good start to the second half and was active throughout in his second game in Philly. It shouldn’t be long before he opens his account for the Union.

• Steffen came through with a couple of big saves early in the second half for Columbus. It might be hard for some Philly fans to see the Downingtown native and former Union academy player on the visiting side, even if they do get to cheer for a star ’keeper of their own in Blake.

• CJ Sapong, fresh off signing a new contract, couldn’t get on the ball much or even get any shots off. The Union striker had three goals and three assists in seven previous meetings against the Crew.

• On the other end of the field, Gyasi Zardes was held in check after scoring three goals in his first two games for Columbus following a trade from the LA Galaxy. That’s a good sign for the progress of Philly’s young center backs, Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty.

• Ray Gaddis entered the game as a halftime sub for Fabinho, who left with a leg injury. Fabinho and Gaddis are both two of the club’s longest-tenured players, and Gaddis being able to play as both a left back and right back is a nice luxury to have off the bench.

• Despite an announced attendance of 15,323, the crowd at Talen Energy Stadium looked smaller than usual — and with less energy. A lot of that probably has to do with the on-field play but in general, the Union seem to have a better home-field advantage during night games, when the atmosphere is more electric.

• A shoutout to the Sons of Ben, though, for unveiling some cool Philly tifo before kickoff — a “cheesesteak shark” preying on a boat of Crew rowers underneath the word “Jawns.” 

• The Union — who are 4-1-1 in their last six meetings with the Crew — are off again next weekend before before facing Colorado on March 31 in their first road game of 2018.