'Exciting window' gives familiar Union a new look

'Exciting window' gives familiar Union a new look

Earnie Stewart and Chris Albright spent the last month giving the Union a fresh look.

Despite entering the season with 21 players from last year’s group, the sporting and technical director shook the foundation of the Union by adding Haris Medunjanin, Fafa Picault, Oguchi Onyewu and Jay Harris.

“It was an exciting window for us,” Union manager Jim Curtin said from training camp in Clearwater, Florida. “Great moves by Earnie and Chris Albright, who did a great job.

“We’re getting quality players, experienced guys that fill needs.”

The most impactful of the newcomers could be Medunjanin. In the mold of Vincent Nogueira, who left the Union midway through 2016, 6-foot-2 Medunjanin is a possession midfielder and adept playmaker. He’s expected to start right away at either defensive midfield or in more of a box-to-box role.

“Haris is a guy who can get on the ball, with pressure, with a guy on his back, he can slow the game down,” Curtin said about the Bosnia and Herzegovina national. “Has really good feet but also his ability to connect the back four to the attackers is incredible. These 40-yard balls on the balls that he plays between the lines are important and something that we think that we needed.”

Medunjanin’s skillset is exactly what the Union were looking for in their midfield. The plan is for the veteran to play alongside Alejandro Bedoya and one of Brian Carroll, Warren Creavalle or Maurice Edu. Where Medunjanin fits is something the club will test throughout the preseason.

The club plays its first official preseason game on Feb. 18 against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

“You can see Haris has played in the 4-2-3-1 system, he knows the role and responsibilities of the six (defensive midfielder) and eight (box-to-box midfielder), he can do both,” Curtin said. “He’s comfortable doing both.”

The Union attack has also been bolstered with the likes of Simpson and Picault. Simpson, a veteran, who popped in 33 goals over 87 matches for League Two side, Leyton Orient, will give the Union forward group some much-needed depth as he competes at the position with C.J. Sapong and Charlie Davies.

Meanwhile, 25-year-old Picault, out of St. Pauli in Germany’s second division, adds a dynamic element of speed and goal-scoring ability to the Union’s left-wing offense behind Chris Pontius.

“He has that ability to cut in on the right foot, use the defender as a screen and shoot from his right foot, curling the ball to the back post,” Curtin said. “Speed-wise, he gets to the end line whenever he wants, he is fast. He has a different level of speed that we haven’t had before.”

On the defensive end, where the Union struggled most last season, the club added a veteran center back in Onyewu. Though he hasn’t played significant minutes in two years, the former U.S. Men’s National Team player has opened eyes in Union camp.

“His soccer’s been excellent,” Curtin said. “He’s been playing center back at a very high level in the short time that we’ve been going. So he’s been above and beyond what I anticipated, I must say, and I’m happy with where he’s at right now.”

More importantly, Onyewu is fitting well with the club. Part of the 34-year-old’s responsibility is mentoring a young Union back line that features second-year players Josh Yaro, Ken Tribbett and 24-year-old Richie Marquez.

“The way Gooch is interacting with the group, how he puts his arm around our academy kids and how at every meal he sits with a different group. He’s fitting in with everybody," Curtin said. "He's been doing a ton for us in sharing that knowledge. He’s holding guys accountable in training, he’s getting on guys the right way with the right tone and getting a good response out of them. That part’s been good.”

But while the Union’s four high-profile additions are a welcome sight for the refreshed team, they won’t come without a few sleepless nights for Curtin. But that's not a bad thing for the fourth-year manager.

“We’ve got a lot of tough decisions,” he said. “It might look a little different when we’re at home and when we’re away in terms of personnel to choose from, but again, these are good problems to have.”

Reserve-heavy Union stun SKC with a shutout

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Reserve-heavy Union stun SKC with a shutout


CHESTER, Pa. — With the U.S. Open Cup championship match Wednesday in Houston, the Union showed extreme caution Sunday by leaning on a secondary squad to challenge one of the league’s best teams in Sporting Kansas City. 

They still came away with the win. 

Alejandro Bedoya assisted two Jay Simpson second-half goals as the Union defeated SKC, 2-0, at a rainy Talen Energy Stadium. In his first start of the season, John McCarthy earned the six-save shutout. 

• After a back-and-forth, and ultimately lifeless affair throughout the first half, the Union struck gold in the 71st minute. Auston Trusty’s lofty pass found the head of Bedoya, who beat his defender and directed the pop-up cross to Simpson, whose pinpoint one-timer beat Tim Melia for the 1-0 Union lead. 

• But the Englishman wasn’t done. For good measure, Simpson scored his second in the 89th minute, again from Bedoya, as the Union claimed the stunning 2-0 win. 

• The victory pushes the the Union six points over the Montreal Impact for the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference, and one behind the Columbus Crew for fourth at 14-12-4. SKC moves to 15-8-6 but retain control of the top spot in the West. 

• The goals were Simpson’s second and third in a Union uniform and opened his 2018 account. Saturday was just the forward’s fifth start in two seasons for the Union, but he made an impact. The two assists gave Bedoya six on the year. 

• With a match last week in Seattle, and the upcoming Open Cup title game scheduled for Wednesday, the Union started a unique lineup that included Oliver Mbaizo at right back, Fabinho at left back and Simpson at the lone forward position. 

• Borek Dockal, Mark McKenzie and Trusty were the only Union regular starters to begin the game against Sporting Kansas City’s top choice squad. If Union manager Jim Curtin was honest, he’d admit a draw would have been an acceptable result against one of the Western Conference top teams. 

• In the 55th minute, Curtin pulled Dockal for Bedoya. With Wednesday’s match looming, both players were on minute restrictions. The Union’s reserve No. 10 player, Anthony Fontana, played Friday for Bethlehem Steel and was unavailable. 

• More Union changes occurred in the 63rd, when Fafa Picault joined the match for Fabian Herbers. Picault was coming off a 93rd game-winning goal in the Union’s midweek surprise win over the Seattle Sounders. Keegan Rosenberry replaced Mbaizo, who was making his MLS debut, in the 85th minute.

Fafa Picault, Union halt Sounders' MLS-record 9-game win streak

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Fafa Picault, Union halt Sounders' MLS-record 9-game win streak


SEATTLE -- Fafa Picault scored in the third minute of second-half stoppage time Wednesday night, and the Philadelphia Union halted Seattle's MLS-record nine-game winning streak by beating the Sounders 1-0.

Goalkeeper Stefan Frei rolled a soft clearance pass out toward defender Gustav Svensson. But Picault got to the ball an instant before Svensson did and took it into the left side of the penalty area 1-on-1 against Frei. From 8 yards away, he drilled it into the back center of the net for his eighth goal of the season.

The Union (13-12-4) won for the fifth time in six games.

The Sounders (13-10-5) lost for the first time since dropping a 3-2 decision to Portland in Seattle on June 30. In addition to the nine straight wins, they had an overall unbeaten streak of 12 games during that stretch (10-0-2), just one shy of the club record.

Philadelphia thought it had gotten on the board in the 65th minute when a long through ball from Haris Medunjanin found Cory Burke streaking up the right wing side. Burke took the ball to the right side of the 6-yard box and sent a shallow shot across the goalmouth and into the far side of the net.

The Sounders were back at midfield preparing to kick off when the video review was called. After just a few seconds, referee Ismail Elfath walked away from the screen and waved off the goal, ruling that Burke had been offside.