Union

C.J. Sapong's natural hat trick helps Union end long winless drought

C.J. Sapong's natural hat trick helps Union end long winless drought

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union can finally breathe.

With a three-goal burst in the second-half, C.J. Sapong and the Union stunned the New York Red Bulls, 3-0, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium, snapping the Union’s nine-match winless streak in 2017 and 16-game winless run dating back to Aug. 2016.

“You can’t put it into words,” said Sapong, whose club is now 1-4-4 on the season. “It’s been a long, hard working road for us to get this win. It’s a beautiful thing. We’re going to let this marinate, but then we still have a lot of climbing to do.” 

The hat trick was the first of Sapong’s career as he moved into a tie with Houston Dynamo’s Cubo Torres for the lead league with seven goals. Andre Blake earned the four-save shutout to claim back-to-back clean sheets. The Red Bulls move to 5-5-1.

“I’ve been adamant about keeping shutouts, being better defensively and giving us a chance to win games toward the end,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “Credit to the whole team. All 11 players, even guys who came in subs, playing together, sliding, shifting, doing all the hard work. C.J. does a lot up there and pays himself back with a hat trick.”

Despite holding 57.8 percent of the possession and playing generally well in the opening half, it was a vanilla stanza for both clubs. The Union, with Oguchi Onyewu in for the ill Richie Marquez and Ray Gaddis in for Keegan Rosenberry at right back, the hosts outshot the Red Bulls, 2-1 but couldn’t generate much else.

“I thought the first half was even the better half for us,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I thought we actually played great soccer with the ball, passed and made them run a little bit with the passes out of the back from the outside back to the opposite center back and made them work a lot.” 

But that changed in the 63rd minute, when Curtin made two tough substitutions, subbing Rosenberry, making his first appearance in three games, for injured Gaddis, while Derrick Jones also replaced hobbled Roland Alberg at the same time.

The moves began a momentum shift for the Union that came to a head in the 74th minute. On a fast break with Alejandro Bedoya, Sapong put the game on his shoulders and fired off a shot that deflected off the leg of Aaron Long and through Luis Robles for the 1-0 Union lead.

“The defender was doing well blocking off Ale,” Sapong said. “I knew I wouldn’t have too much space to get too far wide so I figured to just take a quick touch and shoot. I’ve been a little inconsistent sometimes, I’ll get four shots one game and no shots the next day. I just tried to keep it on goal, it’s a beautiful thing.” 

Sapong wasn’t finished. The forward put an exclamation point on the match in the 81st, when a ball placed across the box was headed down by Pontius and to Sapong at the top of the crease, where he easily placed it in. Sapong completed the hat trick in an 85th, capitalizing on a penalty kick to take the victory.

“I want to thank our fans, the ones that stuck with us now through this tough time,” Curtin said. “It’s difficult. Now you can see when a team has confidence, it’s pretty fun to watch. The building was loud. It was electric. And for the fans that have bailed on us, we understand and we will work hard to win you back. This is a good first step.”

“Relief,” Bedoya said. “It’s a big sigh of relief. Joy is finally back in here. It’s a good solid win against a rival. Red Bull is a good team. I think I can speak for everybody here: it’s a big weight off our shoulders. And smiles everywhere, which is good.”

Philadelphia Union officially welcome new part owner Kevin Durant

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Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia Union officially welcome new part owner Kevin Durant

The Philadelphia Union on Monday officially welcomed aboard their newest part owner/investor, Kevin Durant.

Durant purchased a 5% ownership stake in the Union with the option to purchase an additional 5% in the future.

Durant, a Maryland kid, had previously tried to buy a stake in the MLS' D.C. United before joining the Union.

“I’m excited to partner with the Philadelphia Union for years to come," Durant said in a statement released by the team. "My team and I connected instantly with the Union coaching staff and leadership, as well as the team’s story.

"Off the pitch, I’m looking forward to working in the Chester and Philadelphia communities and making an impact in the same way that the [Kevin Durant Charity Foundation] has been able to in my hometown of Prince George's County.”

The partnership with Durant also includes a partnership with Thirty Five Ventures, the company co-founded by Durant and his manager Rich Kleiman. The goal is to grow "the Union footprint in the sports world, working closely with the Union on marketing opportunities, and expanding the Union’s community outreach in conjunction with" Durant's charity.

In partnership with Thirty Five Ventures, the Union has committed to:

• Developing programs in the Chester and Philadelphia areas to empower Chester’s youth to tackle social and racial injustice in their community and beyond via social justice programs and resources. 

• Address needs related to COVID-19, with support for food banks and local small business recovery efforts. 

• Support youth sports programming and development in Chester and surrounding areas.

MLS is returning, announces tournament set at Walt Disney World

MLS is returning, announces tournament set at Walt Disney World

Major League Soccer is officially returning and is heading to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida as a way to resume play in 2020. 

The MLS is Back Tournament is the first time the league is slated to play since the season was suspended due to COVID-19 on March 12. It is set to kick off July 8 and will run until August 11. 

The entirety of this tournament will be held at ESPN Wide World of Sports, where there 54 matches (39 group stage, 15 knockout round) will be played. All 26 MLS teams will be participating in the event, where the minimum of matches per club is set at three and the maximum is seven per finalist. 

Teams will start arriving at the location on June 24, but the group stage will officially begin on July 8. After the initial stage, a round of 16 will follow suit that is set to take place July 25-28. Quarterfinals are slated from July 30-August 1, semifinals will be held August 5-6 and the tournament will conclude with their final game on August 11. 

According to MLS, “The tournament will feature a continuous schedule of matches nearly every day, with games beginning at 9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. EST, with the majority of matches to be played in the evening.” 

The full game schedule release will be following a tournament draw that is set to take place Thursday, June 11 at 3:30 p.m. EST. You can watch this live on MLSsoccer.com and other social platforms from the league. 

Now, while this will be separate from the regular season, play will still be factored in once the tournament wraps up. All 39 group stage games will be counted for points toward the regular season standings. Winner of the entire event will earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League — whether it be a U.S. of Canadian team. For the 2020 season, this will replace who is traditionally deemed the regular season conference leader. 

There is also an opportunity for players to earn additional bonuses as part of a $1.1 million price pool.

Following the conclusion of the MLS is Back Tournament, the league will continue its regular season. Though it will be a revised schedule set to be developed at a later date, it will ultimately lead to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and the 25th MLS Cup.

You can find more information on the rules and how the tournament will play out here

Health and safety protocols 

A medical department has been developed by the league and has been in consultation with infectious disease specialists, government officials and public health entities — all in an effort to focus on the safety of all who will be involved (players, coaches, officials and staff). 

Here are a few key points from MLS, breaking down protocols that must be followed:

  • All clubs must arrive no later than seven days before their first match
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests will be issued to all essential members of the tournament — this can detect an active COVID-19 infection. If a player or personnel test positive, they will not be allowed to travel and will be overseen by club medical staff. 
  • Only after receiving a negative test result, will players and staff be able to begin training. 
  • Tests will be given out every other day for the first 14 days following arrival to Orlando, in addition to self-temperature screenings and standardized screening questionnaires. 
  • Players, coaches and officials are asked to exercise care when spitting or clearing their nose.
  • Players, coaches and officials located on the bench or technical area are required to wear masks and practice social distancing.
  • During a game, players have been asked to not exchange jerseys or kiss the ball.

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