The Union are still in very good shape to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. But after a disappointing loss to one of the league’s worst teams, things may have gotten just a little hairier with six games left in the regular season.
What were the biggest factors that played into a 3-0 loss to the last-place Chicago Fire on Saturday? And is a certain Union captain finally set to provide some much-needed reinforcements for the stretch run? We’ll take a look in this week’s Inside Doop.
Three thoughts from the weekend
1. Union head coach Jim Curtin didn’t want to make any excuses but it was clear the Union’s international absences played a role in the loss as two of the team’s top players — midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and goalkeeper Andre Blake — were away with their respective national teams.
With Bedoya missing, Curtin started Roland Alberg and Tranquillo Barnetta together in the midfield, a duo that has not always yielded great results since both are offensive-minded players. Alberg, to his credit, tracked back well defensively and did some of the “dirty running” Curtin likes to harp on. But unfortunately for him, one of those defensive plays led to an unlucky own goal that gave the Fire a lead they would not relinquish.
2. The own goal was just one of the few luckless moments for John McCarthy, who got his first start of the season in place of Blake. The second-year Philly native out of La Salle actually had to make a diving stop to prevent another potential own goal. And another one of his nice saves came just before the Fire pounced on a rebound to make it 2-0. All in all, it was a tough-luck night for a reserve player who likely won’t play again this season.
3. The weekend wasn’t a total loss for the Union as captain Maurice Edu played his first live game minutes of the year Sunday on a rehab assignment with Union affiliate, Bethlehem Steel FC. Edu put in an aggressive 32-minute shift, perhaps setting the stage for him to make his MLS debut this Saturday after missing the first six months of the regular season with a stress fracture. Stay tuned.
Three questions for the week ahead
1. If Edu is ready to go Saturday when the Union host the Montreal Impact (7 p.m., TCN), it will be interesting to see how he fits in. In many cases, a player returning for only the final six games of a 34-game season could be tricky, but Curtin has insisted the transition should be smooth considering Edu has been a big part of the locker room for the last three years. The natural thing will be for him to slide into the defensive midfield role that’s been shared by Brian Carroll and Warren Creavalle and partner with his good friend and fellow Designated Player Alejandro Bedoya.
But Creavalle has done well holding down the spot over the past month and Carroll, now recovered from a recent injury, was enjoying a terrific season before that. How Curtin manages the midfield — and Edu, Carroll and Creavalle in particular — will certainly be something to watch over the final two months, especially with Edu’s minutes likely being limited at first.
2. Another player to miss Saturday’s game in Chicago was Joshua Yaro, and it wasn’t because of injury and international duty. Very sadly, Yaro’s mother passed away and he was in Africa for her funeral. The rookie center back is expected back in training this week and you can be sure a big family guy with Curtin will help him cope with such a tragic loss. It remains to be seen, though, if he’ll return to the starting lineup after starting the previous two games — both Union wins.
3. In an interesting quirk to the schedule, Saturday’s meeting with Montreal will be the Union’s last at home until Oct. 16, before they close the regular season with two home games. Will that add some pressure on them to get a full three points? Curtin and the players may not say so directly but the last thing they’ll want is to go on a three-game road trip — against three very good teams — riding a two-game losing streak.
Stat of the week
The Union are 4-7-1 in games in which Alberg has started, including three straight losses. They’re 7-3-6 in all other games, three of which Alberg has come off the bench to score.
Quote of the week
“Every point matters now down the stretch. We’re still in a good spot but we need to have a real good response after a disappointing performance.” — Union head coach Jim Curtin
Player of the week
No one on the Union played particularly well but Chris Pontius should have had a goal, if not for an absurd save from Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson.