Union

Inside Doop: Don't look now but the Union are suddenly surging

Inside Doop: Don't look now but the Union are suddenly surging

Wait, who are these guys?

For the second straight game, the suddenly resurgent Union obliterated a rival, rolling to a 4-0 road rout of D.C. United a week after walloping the New York Red Bulls, 3-0.

Before that, you might recall, the Union were winless in a whopping 15 straight games dating back to last season. So what changed? And can the Union continue to streak in this direction? Let’s take a look in this week’s Inside Doop.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. The only thing more unlikely than the Union's winning 4-0 was four different players scoring their first goals of the season — and three of them scoring the first goals of their MLS careers. But it may not have been surprising to sporting director Earnie Stewart and head coach Jim Curtin, who have insisted there is quality depth up and down the roster. Perhaps they have a point. Fafa Picault and Fabian Herbers, two wingers who have battled for minutes, scored terrific goals; Oguchi Onyewu, who had lost his place in the starting lineup as recently as two weeks ago, scored his first goal of any kind since 2014; and Haris Medunjanin, a deep-lying midfielder who specializes in passing, opened his own MLS account with a rocket from distance. If the Union can continue to get this kind of offensive production from wingers, defenders and defensive midfielders to help out top scorer C.J. Sapong and others, they’ll continue their charge up the Eastern Conference table.

2. Speaking of Onyewu, it was quite the way to ring in his 35th birthday as his nice header that found the back of the net helped the Union begin to run away from 10-man D.C. United. Perhaps more importantly, he had another good game anchoring a backline that also features rookie Jack Elliott and fullbacks Ray Gaddis and Fabinho as the Union picked up their third straight shutout, matching a club record. Considering Richie Marquez and Keegan Rosenberry — their two top defenders last season and probably two of the most important pieces for the club’s future — were on the bench, the shutout streak is a surprising one. But even if Marquez and Rosenberry — and another potential rising star in Joshua Yaro — eventually make their way back into the lineup, veterans Gaddis and Onyewu deserve a lot of credit for steadying a leaking ship and Elliott for not playing anything like a rookie.

3. As good a night as Onyewu had, no one was better than Medunjanin, who shredded through D.C. United even before they went down a man and added two assists on top of his goal. The Bosnian World Cup veteran had shown glimpses of potential before but had yet to put together a complete game like this since arriving in Philly in the offseason. And while the Union will still have questions behind him and in front of him, the partnership of Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya in the defensive midfield may yet turn out to be one of the league’s best.

Three questions about the week ahead
1. Don’t look now but the Union, once on the verge of a historic winless streak, can finish the week with a not-too-shabby 4-4-4 record, which would put them right back in the thick of a playoff race. More than anything else, that shows the parity that exists in MLS, as well as the fact that too many teams probably make the postseason. Regardless, if the Union can win two straight home games — against surging Houston on Wednesday and struggling Colorado on Saturday — all the talk of Curtin’s job security will go out the window and the club will suddenly be one of the hottest in the league.

2. Playing three games in eight days is never easy, of course, and all eyes will be on Curtin to see what kind of moves he’ll make to keep guys fresh. He probably won’t want to change the backline considering they’re coming off a shutout, nor will he want to mess with the Bedoya-Medunjanin midfield combo. That leaves the attack, where reserves like Herbers and Jay Simpson could make a claim to start one of the two games. And then there’s the question about who starts as the attacking midfielder, which we’ll get to below ...

3. With Roland Alberg out injured last week, Curtin made the somewhat surprising decision to start Ilsinho at the No. 10. attacking midfield spot. And the crafty Brazilian, to his credit, was on the ball a lot and made some nice plays to kickstart the attack. Considering the Union are looking strong on the wing with Herbers, Picault and Chris Pontius, could Ilsinho remain in a more central role, perhaps in a platoon with Roland Alberg? Or will Curtin use this week as an opportunity to throw rookie Adam Najem, who he called a “true No. 10” last week, into the fire? The third option of signing a big-name No. 10 this summer may be the best one, but let’s not rain on the Union’s parade too much right now.

Stat of the week
Saturday marked the first time the Union have had three players score their first MLS goal in the same game.

Quote of the week
“When I saw it go in the back of the net, just emotions took over me. At first I think I was calm, and then it just hit me. And I was like, ‘Alright, let me just run around like a little boy, like I was back to being 23.’” — Union defender Oguchi Onyewu

Player of the week
A lot of guys played well but Medunjanin, whom Curtin called “the best passer” he’s ever been around, is still an easy choice.

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

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USA Today Images

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.”