Union

Inside Doop: Andre Blake's huge game spoiled in Union's 2nd straight loss

Inside Doop: Andre Blake's huge game spoiled in Union's 2nd straight loss

It looks like the Union’s big turnaround has been put on hold.

After starting the season on an eight-game winless streak and then following that with a club-record four-game winning streak, the Union lost their second game in a row over the weekend.

What went wrong in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to New York City FC? And how can the Union regroup during the league’s international break? Here’s a look in this week’s Inside Doop.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. Almost two months ago, David Villa embarrassed Union goalie Andre Blake with a goal from practically midfield. This time around, Blake showed Villa — who Union head coach Jim Curtin called the best player to ever play in MLS — that he’s got some magic in him too, making a handful of incredible saves and visibly frustrating the Spanish legend. Blake’s heroics even caught the eye of New York City FC coach Patrick Vieira, who said the Union goalie was “fantastic.” So the fact that it wasn’t enough for the Union to squeak out a road point must have been hard for them to swallow.

2. A couple of old problems from seasons past came back to haunt the Union in this one as they allowed two late goals to blow a lead, both of which were offset pieces. The Union had been much more organized in this regard in recent weeks but were forced to switch their center back duo because of injuries with Richie Marquez coming in for Oguchi Onyewu and Joshua Yaro coming in for Warren Creavalle with Jack Elliot then shifting to the midfield. It’s hard to pin too much blame on Marquez and Yaro since coming off the bench is never easy (especially in Yaro’s case since it was his season debut). But it’s certainly fair to think that the result would have been different if Onyewu and Elliott had been able to remain in their spots all game.

3. As far as storylines go, Fafa Picault scoring the Union’s only goal was a pretty cool one. Born in Manhattan to Haitian parents, Picault said that this was the first time playing a professional match in his home city and that it was the first time that his grandfather — who once played for the Haitian national team — got to see him play live. The fact that his family then saw him score shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise though. Picault has now scored in three of his last five games — which could be even better if he wasn’t robbed last week. If you look at the way Picault has been playing, along with fellow newcomers Onyewu and Haris Medunjanin, suddenly sporting director Earnie Stewart’s offseason looks a lot better than it did a few weeks ago.

Three questions for the week(s) ahead
1. The Union have been dealing with all sorts of international call-ups of late with Alejandro Bedoya missing Saturday’s game to be with the U.S. national team and Medunjanin, wearing the captain’s armband in Bedoya’s place, leaving afterward to meet up with his Bosnia teammates before a World Cup qualifier. Then there are youngsters Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty who will be returning to the team after the U.S. Under-20’s World Cup run ended with a loss to Venezuela in the quarterfinals Sunday. And finally, we also learned Sunday that striker C.J. Sapong and winger Chris Pontius will be joining Bedoya on Bruce Arena’s preliminary Gold Cup roster for a USMNT training camp later this month. These are all good things but it certainly makes Curtin’s day-to-day duties a little more challenging this time of year.

2. Because of the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, the Union are off until their U.S. Open Cup opener against the Harrisburg City Islanders on June 14, followed by a nationally televised home showdown vs. the rival New York Red Bulls on June 18. Getting four days in between those two games rather than three is a big deal and could mean Curtin won’t be afraid to have a lot of guys go the full 90 minutes in both, especially since he values the Open Cup. Or will Curtin instead opt to throw all his eggs into the Red Bull basket and hope some of the younger backups can prove their mettle against the lower-division City Islanders?

3. Will Curtin and the coaching staff also take this opportunity to reevaluate the backline? It had seemed likely, even with the current group playing so well, that Marquez, Yaro and Keegan Rosenberry would eventually regain their starting spots. But after Saturday’s game, is it fair to say that Onyewu and Elliott are simply better than Marquez and Yaro at this point? And will Rosenberry ever be able to take back his job with Ray Gaddis playing mistake-free soccer? It would be understandable if Curtin sticks with what’s working but it’s also understandable to ask what then happens to Marquez, Yaro and Rosenberry? Will they simply turn into three more once-hyped Union prospects who saw their development stalled and career trajectories altered?

Quote of the week
“Overall, a good performance that gets wasted without any points.” — Union head coach Jim Curtin

Stat of the week
The 14 saves Blake has made in the past two games matches his highest total in any two straight games with the Union.

Player of the week
Blake has had a lot of terrific games for the Union but Saturday’s performance at Yankee Stadium may have been one of his best.

Playoff-clinching Union pass on celebration because 'they're not satisfied'

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USA Today Images

Playoff-clinching Union pass on celebration because 'they're not satisfied'

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Celebratory beers sat mostly untouched in the Union locker room.

Following a 5-1 playoff-clinching win over Minnesota United on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium (see observations), the players had reason to celebrate. Instead, they were jovial but subdued. With two matches remaining and first-round home-field advantage in play, the reason was made clear. 

“They’re not satisfied,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club can finish as high as third in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. “We have a very humble and hungry locker room.”

It’s just the third time the Union have clinched a playoff berth, and nearly a decade since they did so with confidence. Curtin’s club limped into the postseason in 2016 riding a bevy of losses, only to be dismantled by Toronto FC when it got there. 

“We had just backed in, we weren’t in good form going into that game against Toronto,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya. “This feels a lot better.”

It also feels different. 

“You learn the most about your group in the hard moments,” said Curtin, who transformed his struggling club into an Eastern Conference player. “Not only did they pass, but they did so with style.”

With the win on Saturday, the Union, who already demolished a franchise record with 15 wins, surpassed the 2011 team for the franchise-high point total with 50. But what seemed like a true departure from past Union teams, is with a chance to take the easy road with a victory against a non-playoff team at home — they took it with authority. 

“I’ve been here for a while, I’ve seen it all,” Union goalkeeper Andre Blake said. “I’ve seen this team grow a lot. We’ve learned to close games out, we’ve learned to dominate when we need to. Tough times can make you or break you and it’s been making us.” 

Led by Fafa Picault’s two, the Union scored four first-half goals and toyed with Minnesota throughout. At times it felt more like an early-round U.S. Open Cup match than a late-season MLS tilt. Credit goes to the Union for living up to the moment and seizing opportunity. 

“We don’t suck,” Picault said. “We’re doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve been through the hard times together and the good ones. It’s important we continue to do that. We’re not going to get overly confident and overhype the situation.”

The Union are now staring down New York City FC at the No. 3 spot in the East. With the win on Saturday, the Union jumped over the Columbus Crew (48 points) to claim the fourth spot. The Union face NYCFC on the road in the season finale. 

“We want to climb the table as high as we can,” Picault said. “We’re trying to get third or fourth place. The job is not done, but tonight we’re happy with what we’ve done on the field and we want to keep that going into the next two games.” 

Union clinch playoff berth with 5-1 drubbing of Minnesota

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USA Today Images

Union clinch playoff berth with 5-1 drubbing of Minnesota

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — The Union have clinched a playoff berth. 

Scoring four first-half goals, the red-hot club steamrolled Minnesota United, 5-1, on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium to claim the franchise's third-ever shot at the MLS postseason.

Now, it’s about seeding and hosting an elimination postseason game. With the victory, the Union, currently 15-12-5, leap over the Columbus Crew for fourth in the Eastern Conference. The Union are also three points behind New York City FC for the No. 3 spot with two matches remaining.

• It took just eight minutes for the Union to take the lead. Bullying his way to possession at the top of the box, Cory Burke, ahead of the pack, out-muscled his defender in a 1-on-1 situation. Once on the ball, he placed a perfect low shot that beat Bobby Shuttleworth to the left post for the 1-0 Union lead.

It was Burke’s ninth of the season and first in three games. The Union have not lost a game this season when Burke scores a goal, which shows just how important he is to the team’s success.

• Less than 10 minutes later, the Union doubled their lead. Keegan Rosenberry laced a pass to Alejandro Bedoya, who earned the inside track on his defender, allowing him to redirect it past Shuttleworth. 

• Borek Dockal earned the primary assist on the first goal and secondary on the second, giving him 17 on the season. Not only did he pass Cristian Maidana for the Union franchise assist record, but he also took the MLS assist lead over D.C. United’s Luciano Acosta.

• The Minnesota massacre continued in the 23rd, when Rosenberry split the Minnesota defense with a pass to Fafa Picault for the goal. It’s been a good couple days for Picault, who was recently invited to join the U.S. men’s national team for a series of friendlies.

• Picault scored his second of the game and 10th of the season in the 44th when he confidently fired a curling shot off a fast break. Shuttleworth didn’t even move. 

• Minnesota clawed one back in the 54th with Darwin Quintero’s goal. But the Union were just too good. Ilsinho entered the game for C.J. Sapong in the 61st and scored in the 80th on a booming shot from outside the box for the 5-1 lead.

• Prior to the match, the Union announced that forward David Accam will undergo sports hernia surgery, which will likely put a merciful end to his poor season. After signing a DP contract with the Union this offseason, the attacker scored one goal in 23 games — the lowest output of his MLS career. 

• With an international break upcoming, the Union will have off until Oct. 21, when they host the New York Red Bulls. If the club really wants to know where it stands in the East, facing one of the league’s best will be a nice test.