LOS ANGELES — The Union are trying to get to the point where they can attack anyone, even the league’s top teams, even when they’re on the road, even in the most daunting environments.
But it’s clear they’re not there yet, especially when the deck is stacked against them.
For Saturday’s game against expansion Los Angeles FC, the Union tried to make due without Borek Dockal, fresh off one of the best games a Union player has ever played in a 4-0 thrashing of the Vancouver Whitecaps last week. He stayed back in Philly due to family reasons, joining suspended Haris Medunjanin on the DNP list.
Without those two influential midfielders on the field, the Union never stood much of a chance against a star-studded team that’s still never lost at home, falling to the expansion club by a lopsided 4-1 margin in front of 20,000 fans at sparkling new Banc of California Stadium.
“Certainly missing Borek, our No. 10 that’s playing at a very high level, it hurt,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “But he had some personal issues back home he had to deal with. There are certain things that are bigger than soccer. I’ll always put family ahead of soccer and that’s the situation with Borek.”
Although Curtin didn’t have everyone at his disposal, he still opted to not just absorb pressure on the road or play for a draw, as some MLS teams do. And it looked like it could pay dividends as the Union got two of the best chances of the first part of the game. But they weren’t able to finish, with slumping striker C.J. Sapong bungling an early opportunity that could have perhaps altered the course of the contest.
“Look, we came out to Los Angeles not to put 10 guys behind the ball and sit back and just defend,” Curtin said. “I give our guys credit — we went for it. We had chances early. And we had some youthful mistakes but that is something we signed up for and we’re on board for because we still see a lot of progress with our young center backs.”
Those young center backs, teenagers Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie, certainly had a rough go of it as LAFC striker Adama Diamonda torched the Philly backline for three goals, making up for the absence of standout Designated Players Carlos Vela (World Cup duty) and Diego Rossi (hamstring).
Curtin, though, tried to take a bit of solace in the fact that the teenagers, quite simply, need to get through these kinds of games to turn into franchise pillars, as the Union hope.
“Those two guys, it needs to be said, they’re 19 years old and they’re having incredible seasons together,” the Union coach said. “But this is a learning experience for them.”
Union captain Alejandro Bedoya was also somewhat encouraged by the team’s first-ever game against LAFC, pointing out that the hosts didn’t look like a team that’s “4-1 better than us,” particularly in the first half when Philly had the better of the scoring opportunities and tried to retake the momentum with a Fafa Picault goal right before the break.
“We know we can create chances,” Bedoya said. “We know we can play with any team in this league. But in the final third, we’ve just got to be better.”
“Our guys were brave,” Curtin added. “We played some good soccer. We just ran into a team that took their chances today. … The atmosphere they have here is top notch. The stadium is beautiful, a nice place to play. But we didn’t come here for a vacation. We came to take points. It just wasn’t our night and we got punished.”