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.”

Union's U.S. Open Cup dominance continues against Red Bulls

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Union's U.S. Open Cup dominance continues against Red Bulls

CHESTER, Pa. — Alejandro Bedoya and Cory Burke led the way Saturday night, as the Union eliminated the New York Red Bulls from the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 win at Talen Energy Stadium in the Round of 16.

"It was a very good win against a very good team," said Union manager Jim Curtin. "Survive and advance mentality. We’re three wins away from a trophy, which is something to be proud of."

After taking down the Richmond Kickers to open the tournament, the Union’s victory Saturday sends them to the quarterfinals on July 18, where they will host either regional foes DC United or Orlando City.

• The win was a continuation of an eye-popping 12-match Open Cup unbeaten streak for the Union, who haven’t suffered a regulation loss since 2014. When it comes to the Open Cup, the Union are hard to beat, which they showed against the Red Bulls. 

• Despite it being an Open Cup game, the match had MLS regular-season flavor. The Red Bulls hit the field with a strong starting lineup that included Tyler Adams, Kaku and Luis Robles. In return, the Union dressed Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, Andre Blake and Ilsinho.

• Those lineup decisions made for an exciting but fruitless opening half. Both teams worked to strike on the counter by using pressure to jar the ball loose. Led by Fafa Picault, the back-and-forth equalled 17 total shots, with the Union claiming eight of their 11 attempts from inside the box. 

• Eventually, the Union those attempts would begin going in. In the 52nd minute, the Union took the 1-0 lead, when working down the right side into Red Bulls territory, Bedoya cut to the middle and slid possession over to Medunjanin. The veteran faked out his defender and ripped a shot that appeared to deflect and beat Robles.

• The goal seemed to unlock something in the Union. Nearly 10-minutes later, Burke made it 2-0 when a Bedoya pass found him between two defenders. Burke, who had been on the doorstep of a goal all night, broke away and slipped his shot to the right. Bedoya finished with two assists. 

"He’s playing at his highest level for us," Curtin said. "He’s taken a bigger leadership role and tonight was an excellent game from him. Our team will go as our central midfield goes." 

• To catch up, the Red Bulls called on some heavy artillery. In the 60th minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips subbed in for Daniel Royer. He scored in the 77th minute, cutting the Union’s defense, then the lead, in half.

• The Union look to carry Open Cup momentum into the MLS regular season, when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps on June 23 at Talen Energy Stadium.

Union see U.S. winning 2026 World Cup bid as 'inflection point' of American soccer

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Union see U.S. winning 2026 World Cup bid as 'inflection point' of American soccer

CHESTER, Pa. — For Jim Curtin, Alejandro Bedoya and everyone else associated with American soccer, the pain of missing the World Cup remains fresh, especially as the tournament kicks off this week.

But Wednesday’s announcement that the United States, in a joint bid with North American neighbors Canada and Mexico, won the vote to host the 2026 World Cup not only eased a lot of that pain but also gave them a whole lot of hope for the future of the sport.

“Obviously this year everybody talks about the big setback and the generation of kids that can’t turn on the TV this go-round and watch the U.S.,” Curtin said during the Union coach’s weekly press conference. “It does hurt the game a bit, for sure, but to now have the World Cup in our home country is something that I think is incredible to grow the game. There’s nothing quite like seeing a World Cup match live. I think that will be a great experience for young kids, a great experience for our country.”

As for Bedoya, the Union captain will probably never get over the U.S. national team’s recent World Cup failure, especially since he played a prominent role at the 2014 World Cup and during this past qualifying cycle before watching from the bench in horror as the Americans were stunned by Trinidad and Tobago last October to miss out on Russia 2018. 

And given his age, the 31-year-old midfielder will be past his prime for the next World Cup in Qatar, and possibly retired when the World Cup comes to North America in eight years. Even still, it’s nice to think about what hosting the 2026 World Cup could mean for the growth of the sport he loves.

“Hopefully by that time, 2026, it’s like the inflection point of soccer in our country,” Bedoya said. “The sport keeps growing, the league keeps getting better. From my time in Europe, I know all of the European guys would love to play in this league, live in America and play here. It’s only a matter of time before soccer continues to take over, let’s say, hockey in the ratings and viewership and attendance. So it’s a big moment we officially got it for our country.”

Curtin agrees the sport has already grown a lot since the last time the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, pointing to increased television coverage of MLS and the big European leagues as well as, more locally, the kids he spots in his Philadelphia neighborhood wearing Bedoya or Lionel Messi jerseys.

He can only imagine how much bigger it will get if Lincoln Financial Field is selected as one of the venues for the 2026 World Cup — and also what that would mean for Philly, a city that he says has a “lot of buzz” right now in a lot of different ways.

“Specifically to Philadelphia, this is a soccer town,” the Union coach said. “There’s a rich history here. It’s tough to predict what 2026 will look like, but to think a team could be using this campus down here [in Chester] as kind of their home base, whether it’s Argentina or Spain or who knows what country, that’s a really good thing to envision.

“It’s great for the game. There’s a lot of happy faces throughout soccer in our country right now.”