Union-Sounders thoughts: Taking on the defending champs


Union-Sounders thoughts: Taking on the defending champs

Seattle Sounders (12-8-11) at Union (9-13-9)
1 p.m. on ESPN

CHESTER, Pa. — With three games left in the season, the Union are on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention.

But that won’t stop them from wanting to put on a good show for the home fans against Clint Dempsey and the reigning champs.

Here are some thoughts on the Union’s penultimate game at Talen Energy Stadium:

• The Union are coming off a 3-0 midweek loss in Atlanta, which dropped their road record to a dismal 1-9-6. But the team has been pretty good at home this season, sporting an 8-4-3 mark. If they can beat Seattle or Orlando in their home finale, they’d set a club record for most home wins in a season.

• Another record that could be set: the individual single-season scoring record. CJ Sapong is currently tied with Sebastien Le Toux for the most goals all-time with 14.

• The Union enter the weekend in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and could be eliminated from the playoff race before their kickoff if the New York Red Bulls beat Toronto on Saturday. If not, a loss or draw to Seattle would officially knock them out.

“We haven’t been mathematically eliminated yet but we are realistic in where we are in the table,” Curtin said. “All we can do is try to win our last three games and see what happens from there. Guys are playing for pride, they’re playing for our home fans, they’re playing to break a record, as small as it sounds, for most home wins. Little things like that can motivate guys.”

• The Sounders, winners of the 2016 MLS Cup, are fresh off a big 3-0 win over West-leading Vancouver and can clinch a playoff spot this weekend. Curtin said he isn’t sure if Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer will rest any players with the quick turnaround and cross-country flight but he said they’re preparing for “their best lineup.”

• While Jordan Morris, one of the best young American players, is out with a hamstring injury, the Union will likely see Dempsey, one of the best American players ever. Curtin said it’s a big deal any time a player of his stature comes to town, and he’s wary of the challenge Dempsey presents.

“He’s a guy they played as a No. 9 in their last game, which was something a little different,” the Union coach said. “But he still has the freedom to go all over the place. He’s not just gonna stand between the two center backs. So our challenge with Clint is his unpredictability — he pops out right, out left, he comes deep for the ball. So we’ll have our hands full.

“He’s a special player and they have some other special players around them in [Nicolas] Lodeiro and a core of good experienced defenders.”

• Dempsey and Union captain Alejandro Bedoya will likely join forces after the game for two massive U.S. national team games vs. Panama on Oct. 6 and Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10, with a trip to next summer’s World Cup on the line. The Union won’t have any games during the international break, next playing at Chicago on Oct. 15.

“You always want to have a good performance, to have a good taste in your mouth when going into a long break,” Curtin said.

• Although he’s been reluctant to play some of his more untested youngsters, even as the team has fallen out of the playoff race, Curtin said midfielders Derrick Jones and Adam Najem will be “in the discussion for this weekend, for sure” thanks to strong recent performances with USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC.

“It is likely they’ll be rewarded,” the Union coach said. “Maybe it’s being in the 18 and hopefully they can work their way into the starting lineup by the end of the year.”

• Two starters in Wednesday’s match vs. Atlanta are questionable after picking up injuries in the game: defensive midfielder Warren Creavalle (hamstring) and right back Keegan Rosenberry (ankle).

• The Union have an interesting history with Seattle, facing them in their first-ever game in 2010 (a loss in Seattle) and their first-ever game at Talen Energy Stadium a few months later (a win). They also met them in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup championship match — a thrilling game that ended in a heartbreaking extra-time loss for Philly with Dempsey netting the winning goal.

• Aside from the Open Cup loss, the Union are undefeated at home against Seattle, going 2-0-2 against them in league play at Talen Energy Stadium.

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.