Union

Union-Orlando City thoughts: Aiming to end season, Brian Carroll's career with a win

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Union-Orlando City thoughts: Aiming to end season, Brian Carroll's career with a win

Orlando City (10-13-9) at Union (15-10-7)
4:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia+

After 33 games, the 2017 season finale is here as the Union return to Talen Energy Stadium for the last time on Sunday to host Orlando City. And although the match is relatively pointless for the two woeful clubs, both teams want to end with a win.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

•At this point, it’s all about pride. Coming off a horrendous regular season that includes just one road victory, a nine-game losing run to begin the campaign and no All-Stars, the Union want to bury their awful season with a win.

“It was a disappointing season,” said Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. “The aim right now is to finish the season on a high note at home. We want to give the fans something to cheer for.”

•With a win, the Union can finish the season with 42 points. That would match last year’s output, which was good enough for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Union are eight points out of the postseason prior to Sunday’s match.

•Brian Carroll will say goodbye to the Union and professional soccer on Sunday after announcing his retirement. The 15-year veteran, who played seven of those with the Union, will get on the field against Orlando City for one final run. Next up for the Virginia native? He’s moving to Indianapolis to begin a new career as a financial planner (see story). 

“There’s always a job here with the Philadelphia Union if he wants one,” Jim Curtin said.

•The quiet Carroll, who, at 36, hasn’t played a minute of MLS action this season, ends his career (not including Sunday’s match) fourth all-time in MLS with 370 appearances and sixth all-time in minutes played at 30,778. He’s won two MLS titles and four Supporters’ Shields.

He’s second on the Union’s franchise list for games played at 165, behind only Sebastien Le Toux. But Carroll owns the minutes played title at 13,818. Although it may not have shown through his quiet demeanor, he’s been a really good player for a long time.

•Though it’s the Union’s final match of the season, the club won’t dip into the youth pool. Curtin’s belief is that players who contributed minutes with the Steel throughout 2017 deserved to dress for the USL club’s first playoff game on the road against the Louisville City FC on Friday night.

If Curtin would have known the Steel would have been crushed, 4-0, things might have changed. Adam Najem, Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty made the start.

•One player who didn’t suit up for Steel but also won’t dress for the Union on Sunday is right back Keegan Rosenberry. Coming off a year in which he played every minute of the regular season and earned Rookie of the Year runner-up honors, Rosenberry was suspended by the Union for using social media to gripe about playing time.

The real issue was the timing. A subtle post, in which Rosenberry asked fans to caption an image of him on the bench with a disgusted look, came just hours prior to the Union’s match against the Chicago Fire last weekend. Curtin called it, “unprofessional” and “inappropriate.” Rosenberry ends his season with just 14 games played.

•Curtin and the Union can’t take much from the first time they saw Orlando City, a 2-1 loss on March 18. Cyle Larin, who probably won’t play for his team on Sunday, scored twice for Orlando, sandwiching a lone C.J. Sapong score. 

“That feels like forever ago,” said Curtin, whose club is 2-2-2 against Orlando City all time. “Both of our seasons have shifted, there’s been highs and lows.”

•As usual, Fabian Herbers, Maurice Edu, Josh Yaro and Ken Tribbett are out for Sunday. Right-winger Chris Pontius is questionable with an abdominal injury, which could open space for rookie Marcus Epps to earn significant playing time.

•If Orlando wants to take down the Union, it’ll have to do it without Kaka. It was announced by Orlando City that the legend, who isn’t renewing his contract, would not travel for the finale. So, if you wanted to see Kaka, you’ll have to go to Europe. 

•It may be meaningless for the Union and Orlando, but Sunday marks Decision Day around MLS, in which all 11 games are played at 4:00 p.m. In the Eastern Conference, four teams (New York City FC, Atlanta United, Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew) are eying a Knockout Round bye.

Alejandro Bedoya, CJ Sapong, Warren Creavalle called upon for international duty

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Alejandro Bedoya, CJ Sapong, Warren Creavalle called upon for international duty

A trio of Union players are being called upon for international duty.

Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and forward CJ Sapong have been named to the final U.S. Men's National Team roster for an upcoming international friendly against Portugal on Nov. 14 in Leiria, Portugal. 

Bedoya has earned 65 international caps for the USMNT including four World Cup appearances. Conversely, Sapong has earned just two caps, both in friendlies. However, Sapong recorded 16 goals this season, setting a career-high and a new franchise record. His 16 goals were tops among American players in MLS, one more that USMNT mainstay Jozy Altidore.

Union midfielder Warren Creavalle has also been called up by Guyana in their friendly against Trinidad and Tobago. Creavalle has earned three international caps. He played in 13 matches for his club team, his second most in a season since joining the Union in 2015.

Too many familiar chords for Union's Stewart in end-of-season address

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Too many familiar chords for Union's Stewart in end-of-season address

CHESTER, Pa. — Earnie Stewart has a lot of qualities you’d want in a sports executive.

He’s patient. He’s even-keeled. He’s endlessly positive. He always has a plan in mind, and he’s always thinking about the future.

If the Union sporting director has a fault, it may be that he doesn’t seem to have a great read on Philly sports fans, many of whom might have, let’s call it, different personality traits than him. But if Union supporters are feeling negative and impatient these days, it’s certainly for good reason.

The franchise has been floundering near the bottom of MLS since its inaugural season in 2010, while watching teams that entered the league around the same time (Toronto, Seattle, Portland) soar past it and more recent expansion clubs (New York City FC, Atlanta, Orlando) open their wallets for MVP-caliber players while drawing big crowds.

Stewart, meanwhile, has admitted the focus in Philly has been on building a foundation and committing to the franchise’s infrastructure through a new practice facility, a minor-league affiliate and an ever-improving youth academy. 

But even if the Union executes flawlessly in all of those aspects, it doesn’t necessarily give the team a competitive advantage over other MLS clubs, most of whom have the same things in place. Similarly, the rebuilding process won’t bear fruit in the way it does for teams in other leagues like the Sixers and Astros since the MLS draft isn’t a reliable mechanism to acquire foundational pieces.

Soon, the club’s youth academy, fueled by a partnership with Bethlehem Steel FC (where the top players can bypass college and get professional minutes) could very well lead to exciting things. But for a team that stresses development, developing young players has never been a particular strong suit — the regression of Keegan Rosenberry (along with the injuries to fellow 2016 standout rookies Josh Yaro and Fabian Herbers) serving as the latest, most glaring example.

Besides, focusing on development and infrastructure shouldn’t take away from building a team that can make the playoffs, which the Union failed to do in 2017 for the sixth time in the franchise’s eight-year history. Philly fans want a winner today, and seeing an expansion team like Atlanta roll into the playoffs behind star South American imports and record crowds has only made their frustration more pronounced.

Which brings us to Stewart’s end-of-season press conference Wednesday.

In his address with reporters, Stewart dove into many of the roster changes the team has made as it declined the options of several players. Still, it didn’t feel like very much will change at all.

For starters, he announced that Jim Curtin will be retained as head coach despite his 38-50-31 overall record. Second, he said that the team’s search for a new attacking midfielder would start in its “own backyard” and didn’t rule out bringing back Ilsinho, possibly in a reserve role, rather than wipe the slate clean after the 2016 season showed it’s the biggest position of need. And third, he hedged when asked if ownership would spend more money to keep up with other teams.

“We have those conversations and I have to say that our ownership group with [majority owner Jay Sugarman] leading that has been good,” Stewart said. “But we’ve also chosen a path that we have as a club, that we started at least since I’ve been here two years ago. That’s our pathway. That’s who we are, that’s who we want to be, and the most important part is we’ve got to come to grips with that.

“Can you spend like the Torontos? No, we can’t. It’s as simple as that. So we have to do it in a different way, and I think we’ve found that way. When you look around at what we have at the club and the facilities we have, we’re still building because a lot of times it’s only seen in player spending. But this is such a young club that there’s so much that needs to be built. You can bring in the best player you want but if you don’t have the infrastructure, it’s not going to work.”

The thing about this is no one is even asking them to spend like Toronto FC, who dishes out over $18 million a year to three star players: Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Clearly, it’s a strategy that works, as Toronto posted the best record in league history this season after advancing to the MLS Cup final a year ago. But at this point, Union fans would settle for bringing in just one difference-maker in the $2 million range (plus a transfer fee) — the kind of salary that lured star playmakers Miguel Almiron (Atlanta), Diego Valeri (Portland), Romain Allesandrini (LA Galaxy) and Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle) to MLS. 

Imagine one of those players behind striker CJ Sapong and in front of central midfielders Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. The Union could easily make the playoffs. Throw in a veteran defender and a quality winger and you could make the case they’re a title contender.

That’s the thing about MLS. There’s a lot talk about building a foundation and grooming young players but, in the end, your success boils down to how much you spend and whether or not you acquire the right players. 

Teams can literally scout anywhere in the world and the Union have had success mixing young Americans in with talented midfielders from France, Argentina and Bosnia, where Medunjanin — an excellent acquisition — hails. But Stewart has also had a lot of misses with his signings as Roland Alberg, Jay Simpson, Giliano Wijnaldum and others failed to make the kind of impact the club needed.

Stewart didn’t really accept much blame for any of those guys, saying Alberg actually had a “very good role” with the Union and that fellow Dutchman Wijnaldum was a “very talented kid” who simply struggled to adapt to a new country. He also didn’t appear to think the 2017 season was a particularly poor one, pointing to the fact that Union finished with same point total, with a better goal differential, as in 2016. Nor did he express any alarm over young players' development, noting that “every player developed this season, except the output wasn’t always the same on Saturday or Sunday.”

On it’s face, there’s nothing wrong with being this positive and Stewart very may well may have big things in store this offseason. But after hearing so much about progress for eight years without ever seeing very much of it, it’s easy to understand why Union fans might not share in his optimism.