Union

Chris Pontius, Keegan Rosenberry ready to make an impression at USMNT camp

Chris Pontius, Keegan Rosenberry ready to make an impression at USMNT camp

Seven years ago, Chris Pontius and Alejandro Bedoya were young players sharing a room together during their first U.S. national team camp.

Since then, Bedoya has become a mainstay on the USMNT, while Pontius fell off the national team radar as he dealt with a rash of injuries.

But in a couple of days, both players will depart for another U.S. national team January camp together, along with their Union teammate Keegan Rosenberry, who got his first call-up.

“It’s awesome,” said Bedoya, who’s made 55 appearances for the USMNT and was a starter at the 2014 World Cup. “I think it’s great for the club. I’m very happy for Chris Pontius to get the call-up because I remember playing with him at my first January camp. Through all this time, he suffered through injuries and mishaps, so to see him fight through all that and have such a great season last year and get a call-up is well deserved and a great achievement for him. 

“And with Keegan, to see a rookie play every minute, I’m very happy for him. He has great potential. … Three [Union] players representing the U.S. national team is something to be proud of and I’m looking forward to playing with them.”

Considering that Rosenberry was the MLS Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2016 while Pontius scored 12 goals in his first season in Philly, it’s not a huge surprise both got the call from U.S. head coach Bruce Arena, especially because the January camp is traditionally a time to look at new MLS players (since the USMNT players who play overseas are in the middle of their seasons).

But both are looking for a lot more than just exposure and are hoping to impress Arena (who none of them know particularly well) and use the camp as a springboard to earn their first-ever appearances in a USMNT game.

The U.S. plays Serbia in a friendly Jan. 29 and Jamaica five days later, before World Cup qualifying resumes in March in the first games since Jurgen Klinsmann was fired and replaced by Arena.

“It’s still a lot of hard work,” Pontius said. “It’s not a guarantee just getting called into the camp. There’s a lot of hard work ahead, and I’ve got to play well to prove myself.”

If anyone knows that nothing is guaranteed it's Pontius, who last got a U.S. call-up in 2012, but couldn’t go because of an injury. That’s been something of a theme for the 29-year-old winger, who looked to be one of the best American prospects in 2012 before injuries slowed his career progression.

But now that he’s healthy and enjoyed a breakout season in Philly in 2016, he feels more ready than ever to show what he can do at the international level.

“I’m less nervous, certainly,” he said. “I was very, very nervous in those first few camps and I think I’m a more confident player and more confident in my capabilities and know how to go about these camps in a different way. I think that just comes with eight-plus years of playing now as a pro. Learn your body, learn how to deal with these camps. It’s kind of like going into preseason. Like a rookie, it’s like going into camp and trying to impress.”

Rosenberry certainly knows what it’s like to impress as a rookie, locking down Philly’s right back spot after a strong preseason and leading MLS in minutes played in his first season. But going into this camp, which opens Tuesday in Carson, California and features 32 MLS players, he’s trying his best to act more like a seasoned veteran than a wide-eyed rookie — even if that means not asking too many questions to Bedoya and Pontius.

“I think when I get out there, I’ll talk to those guys a little bit,” Rosenberry said. “You don’t want to seem like too much of a young guy. You don’t want to show your ignorance, if you will. You try and play it cool as best you can until you get out there. I’m looking forward to seeing those guys.”

For what it’s worth, Pontius doesn’t think he needs much guidance.

“He doesn’t act like a rookie,” Pontius said. “He doesn’t approach things like a rookie. He’s a pretty bright kid, and if he has any questions, I’m there for him. But I’m sure Keegan will perform well.”

Still, for all three Union players, it’s fair to say that going with a couple of teammates should only make a great experience even better.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” Rosenberry said. “Having a couple of teammates out there just means the world.” 

“I was ecstatic to get called back in,” Pontius added. “If anyone isn’t striving to be on the national team, then I think there’s something wrong with that. As an American player, that’s the ultimate prize for us.”

Union squander opportunities but still earn another road point

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Union squander opportunities but still earn another road point

BOX SCORE

HARRISON, N.J. — Goalkeeper Luis Robles was honored in a pregame ceremony for the conclusion of the longest Ironman streak in MLS history and the New York Red Bulls and the Philadelphia Union both had their winning streaks snapped as they played to a scoreless draw Saturday night.

Robles sat out due to a knee injury he suffered in the final minutes of a win at Colorado a week ago, ending his streak of 183 games dating to September 2012.

Backup goalkeeper Ryan Meara had two saves to record the shutout in Robles' absence. Philadelphia's Andre Blake preserved his shutout with four saves, including a leaping grab in the 13th minute.

The Red Bulls (7-3-1) had their four-game win streak snapped. It was New York's second loss in its last 14 home matches.

Philadelphia (4-5-2) had its two-game win streak snapped. The Union have just one win in their last 17 road games.

CJ Sapong, who led Philadelphia with 16 goals last season, missed a penalty kick wide right in the 53rd minute after New York's Kemar Lawrence was called for a handball in the box.

Earnie Stewart speculation no distraction for 'focused' Union

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Earnie Stewart speculation no distraction for 'focused' Union

With the Union on a two-game winning streak and facing the talented New York Red Bulls Saturday, talk around MLS should be about the team's opportunity to become a factor in the Eastern Conference.

Instead, the attention has been on sporting director Earnie Stewart.

“The club’s made a statement regarding Earnie,” Union manager Jim Curtin said during Thursday’s press conference at Talen Energy Stadium. “We’re incredibly fortunate to have him here.”

Stewart, 49, who is in his third season at the Union helm and has 101 caps for the U.S. men’s national team, has been a known candidate for the national squad’s open general manager position. But on Wednesday, New York's Metro reported that Stewart is the “likely favorite” and "in negotiations" for the role.

The team’s statement was roughly, “No comment.”

“For him to be in the conversation with U.S. soccer speaks to the pedigree and quality that he has,” Curtin said. “I can’t speculate or talk about what if this happens or this. I try to stay in the moment. Earnie is our leader and a guy who is focused on us beating the Red Bulls. That’s where we stand.”

With 23 games left in the season, news of Stewart’s potential departure is a surprising turn of events for the Union, who have just recently witnessed success by claiming back-to-back wins following a lengthy winless streak. 

Still, the 4-5-2 club is on pace for its third consecutive 11-14-9 season. Under Stewart, the Union are a paltry 26-33-20, with one playoff appearance. But despite news breaking prior to the important match against the 7-3-0 Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena, Curtin waved off any potential distraction.

“Conversations come up all the time during the course of the year,” he said. “There’s always reports and talented people get talked about a lot in the soccer world. Earnie is no different. He’s very good at what he does and with that brings attention from other areas."

If Stewart, who played in three World Cups for the U.S., were offered and accepts the USMNT GM position, it would be a natural fit. The Dutch-American midfielder left a personnel position at AZ Alkmaar, and likely turned down opportunities in Europe, to join the Union, where he was able to get his foot in the door of American soccer.

Now it appears like the top of the nation's soccer mountain is within his grasp. 

"That’s pro sports," Curtin said. "People who have a lot to offer are hot commodities and Earnie is one because he’s very good at what he does.”