Union

Inside Doop: How a record win streak came to an end

Inside Doop: How a record win streak came to an end

Over the course of a long season, there are forgettable games where few things — or players — stand out.

Saturday night’s Union game out in Salt Lake City seemed like one of those — but will still be remembered for the fact that it ended a record winning streak.

Here’s a closer look at the 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake that snapped Philly’s four-game winning and six-game unbeaten streaks, as well as a look ahead for a team that will now look to start another one.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. There was one play early in the game that could have been exceptional as Haris Medunjanin lofted a pinpoint over-the-top pass from midfield to Fafa Picault, who got behind the defense and controlled it perfectly. But Picault’s first attempt and his follow-up were both saved — the second on a goal-line clearance from defender Aaron Maund — and the Union had few other good chances as their offense dried up. That was perhaps, bound to happen, after the team, led in part by the strong play of newcomers Medunjanin and Picault, scored multiple goals in every other game this month.

2. While Nick Rimando showed why he’s the most accomplished MLS goalie ever by earning the shutout, Andre Blake showed why he’s the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year with even better saves, including a few spectacular diving and leaping ones. Blake certainly wasn’t to blame for the Union’s eight-game winless streak to start the season but he also wasn’t making the kind of game-changing saves Philly fans grew accustomed to last year. Now that he is, it’s one of the big reasons why the Union are back in the playoff race, despite Saturday’s loss. 

3. Although it didn’t really show earlier in the season, one of the Union’s biggest strengths is depth at the winger position as they have four players — Picault, Chris Pontius, Ilsinho and Fabian Herbers — who are capable MLS starters. But with Herbers injured and Ilsinho sliding over to the central midfield, head coach Jim Curtin needed to call upon rookie Marcus Epps as his first winger off the bench. It was a difficult MLS debut playing on the road, across the country, with the team pushing for a late goal. But Curtin likes throwing guys into the fire to see what they’re made of, and will likely use Epps’ minutes in Utah as a springboard moving forward.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The Union had a busy end of the month, flying out to Salt Lake City a few days after a three-games-in-eight-day stretch. But they also have 15 days between MLS games following Saturday’s contest vs. New York City FC at Yankee Stadium (1:00, 6ABC). So does Curtin opt to give guys some rest because of the former or trot out the same lineup because of the latter? There are also other things to consider, including the fact that the Union will open U.S. Open Cup play on June 14 — often an ideal time to give minutes to younger guys and backups.

2. One particular position to watch is the No. 10 attacking midfield spot. Ilsinho had filled in beautifully there in place of the injured Roland Alberg, particularly during a 2-0 win over Houston on May 17. But he was mostly invisible vs. RSL, a game in which Alberg returned from a three-game absence. Considering both have never really been 90-minute players and have similar playmaking abilities, could Curtin consider a platoon with Alberg and Ilsinho? Or will Ilsinho return to the wing, at least until Herbers returns from his injury?

3. Another spot to watch is the backline, which had been mostly kept intact during the team’s six-game unbeaten run. But now that the team lost, will Curtin go back to starters Keegan Rosenberry and/or Richie Marquez? What about Josh Yaro, who’s on the mend from shoulder surgery? The makeshift group that included Jack Elliott, Oguchi Onyewu, and Ray Gaddis should be commended for changing the course of the season, but it seems unlikely that Rosenberry and Marquez will remain on the bench must longer considering they were two of the team’s most promising players last year.

Stat of the week
Fabinho played his 100th MLS game Saturday. The only other players to surpass 100 games for the Union have been Sebastien Le Toux, Brian Carroll, Sheanon Williams, Gaddis and Amobi Okugo.  

Quote of the week
“A good run of six games comes to an end for us now. We’ll have to look forward to starting a new streak as we go away to New York City next week.”

— Union manager Jim Curtin 

Player of the week
Andre Blake got the loss but still had one of his best games of the season, wowing the crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium on more than one occasion.

Forgotten Marcus Epps makes most of rare opportunity in Union win

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USA Today Images

Forgotten Marcus Epps makes most of rare opportunity in Union win

CHESTER, Pa. — He isn't the big-money, veteran scorer the Union expected to lead them out of their offensive rut, but 23-year-old Marcus Epps was exactly what the Union needed Saturday night.

"It's definitely a process," said Epps, who had a goal and two assists in the Union's 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake at Talen Energy Stadium. "You've just gotta keep your head down and keep working. And when you get moments like this, you've just gotta capitalize."

The second-year winger did just that. Epps buried the Union's opening goal off a Fafa Picault pass, then added a pair of secondary assists for good measure. For a team that managed only eight goals in the 10 matches leading up to Saturday, Epps was a difference-maker.

"We see quality, we see a good kid that wants to get better," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "We get excited when he gets on the ball. You can see how uncomfortable he can make it for defenders. We're incredibly proud of his persistence, his ability to keep going. He learned some big lessons and he's now getting the benefit of scoring big goals in front of a great crowd tonight."

Doubling his career production in one night, Epps, who had two goals and an assist in 22 games entering Saturday, started the season as low as fifth on the depth chart behind David Accam, Ilsinho, Picault and Fabian Herbers. 

Coming off a poor preseason, he didn't make the 18-man roster in the club's first seven games. 

"I knew it would come," Epps said, discussing this opportunity. "The coaching staff, they hold all the wingers in high regard. You can only just work on your game and believe in yourself and believe the chances are gonna come."

Picked 25th in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, Epps earned his first start of the season last week in the form of a 75-minute, 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact. It was a roster rotation move for the Union, who were at the tail end of a three-game road swing. But against RSL, the coaches put faith in the youngster, starting him over Accam. 

"We had a long debate whether to stick with him or go back to David or Ilsinho, more experienced players," Curtin said. "But we believed in the kid, gave him an opportunity and he stepped up." 

Between his secondary assist on Borek Dockal's first-half score or his hold-up play that allowed Ilsinho to tap-in a second-half insurance tally, Epps made an impact at the perfect time for the Union. His teammates took notice. 

"I loved what I saw from him today," Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. "We talked all year about how we need to push everyone. No one is guaranteed a spot on this team, whether it's me as a captain or [Designated Player] or young guy. Everyone has to fight for a position. He's been knocking on the door all season and today he showed what he's capable of."

Union, Borek Dockal crush Real Salt Lake for 2nd straight win

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USA Today Images

Union, Borek Dockal crush Real Salt Lake for 2nd straight win

BOX SCORE 

CHESTER, Pa. — Make it two for the Union. 

With production from Borek Dockal and Marcus Epps, the Union claimed back-to-back wins for the first time this season by easily taking down Real Salt Lake, 4-1, on a foggy Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

Putting together one of their best efforts of the season, the Union move to 4-5-2, while Real Salt Lake falls to a paltry 4-6-1. 

It looked like one of those snakebitten games for the Union attack in the 20th, when they pressed furiously but were solved by Nick Rimando, who made a strong diving stop on Keegan Rosenberry and then an equally impressive save on Fafa Picault’s rebound volley. 

But despite the early heroics, Rimando wasn’t able to stop Epps just a minute later. The Union found a speed mismatch with Picault against Adam Henley on the left wing and took full advantage, as he gained the box and ripped a low cross that was cleanly finished by Epps for the 1-0 Union lead. 

Rimando was still the best player on the field for RSL despite giving up four goals. He finished with five stops, many of which were eye-popping. The mercy rule would have been enacted without him. 

The 21st minute goal was Epps’ first of the season and third of his MLS career. He made the start for struggling David Accam, who is still scoreless in 10 games this season. Epps captured two assists as well. 

Dockal kept the Union momentum rolling in the 34th, when, off the rush, he accepted a smooth lead pass from Alejandro Bedoya and gently lifted his top-of-the-box shot over Rimando to double the Union’s advantage. 

It was a deserved reward for Dockal, who was arguably the best Union player in the first half. It was his second goal in 10 games. He also added two assists for two goals and four helpers on the season. 

Despite being dominated early, RSL didn’t go home empty-handed. The visitors got one back in the 65th, when a scramble in the box allowed Sebastian Saucedo to find Damir Kreilach at the top of the box for the easy low-shot goal, to cut into the Union’s lead, 2-1.

But the Union didn’t panic. Off the rush in the 74th minute, Epps dropped a pass to Dockal that sprung the newcomer in alone with Rimando. Instead of ripping a shot, Dockal chipped a center pass to Ilsinho for the easy tap-in. It was his second of the season. 

Piling on, Rosenberry decided to show off in the 81st, when he fired off a golazo from way outside the box. The rocket shot slipped through defenders and beat Rimando clean for the 4-1 Union lead. It was Rosenberry’s first goal in his last 25 games.

While it was a convincing win, if the Union want three-in-a-row, it won’t come easy. The club hits the road once against on Saturday to take on the 6-3-0 New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena.