Union

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

The Union left the country for a big game over the weekend and did not return to the United States with a win as they hoped.

But they did come back with a hard-earned point against the top team in the conference as well as the first MLS goal from their marquee summer signing, while inching closer to the playoffs. Here’s a look at Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Toronto FC and what lies ahead with three regular-season games left.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. It took Alejandro Bedoya almost two months to score his first MLS goal … but what a goal it was. After collecting a pass from Fabian Herbers midway through the first half (just barely avoiding being offside), the U.S. national team starter took one dribble and fooled goalkeeper Clint Irwin with a clever chip over his head and into the net. You don’t see those kind of chip goals often and when you do, they’re usually delivered by big-time playmakers — the kind of guys the Union don’t usually have but do now with Bedoya. Head coach Jim Curtin’s decision to play Bedoya at the No. 10 attacking midfield spot with Tranquillo Barnetta injured also paid big dividends and showed the Union have more midfield options going into the playoffs … and into next season.

2. Coming into the game, a big storyline centered around center back Ken Tribbett, who got the start at center back about a month after getting pulled at halftime vs. Toronto. Another centered around right back Keegan Rosenberry, who was trying to bounce back from a rare off game in Portland the previous week. But, in the end, both players had some very good moments and helped limit the Toronto attack for much of the game, especially in the first half. Much of that had to do with another Curtin lineup decision as the Union head coach put two defensive-minded midfielders in front of the backline: Warren Creavalle, who also had a great hustle play that nearly led to a second goal right before halftime, and Brian Carroll, who’s now made two straight starts after missing six straight games with Plantar fasciitis.

3. Saturday’s game didn’t end without some late fireworks from the league’s hottest player, Jozy Altidore. Riding an eight-goals-in-nine-games streak coming in, the U.S. national team star struck the post in the 87th minute and was taken down in the box by C.J. Sapong in stoppage time on what initially looked to be a clear penalty. If you look at the replay from Sapong’s perspective, however, you could probably make the case that Sapong was going for the ball before getting impeded by Altidore. Either way, the idea of a ref not making a call that would likely decide a game (on a play that wasn’t a real goal-scoring opportunity) took some guts, especially as he got lambasted from the home team and its fans.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The brutal three-game road trip ends Saturday as the Union, after a loss in Portland and tie in Toronto, take on the rival New York Red Bulls (7 p.m., The Comcast Network). As conservative as it might sound, another point would probably make it a mildly successful trip considering the caliber of opponent. Either way, the Union’s playoff hopes and seeding will likely come down to their final two home games against Orlando and the Red Bulls. At this point, the best they can likely hope for is to hold off Montreal, D.C. United and New England for the No. 4 seed in the East, which would ensure them an opening-round home game. Luckily for them, Montreal and New England both lost this weekend, and although D.C. picked up a big win, they did so against another team in the playoff hunt in Orlando.

2. Another week means another question about captain Maurice Edu’s health. It’s now been more than two months since he returned to the practice field and almost a month since he started playing rehab games with the Bethlehem Steel. With only three games left in the season, it’s hard to see him becoming a starter after being out so long with a stress fracture. It also doesn’t help his case that Carroll and Creavalle are both playing well at his position. But if Edu’s healthy, there’s no sense not utilizing him as a midfield reserve or even as an emergency defensive replacement. The question, as always: is this the week he finally makes his season debut?

3. While Curtin’s lineup decisions played well in Toronto, one interesting one was not playing Roland Alberg. With Barnetta out, many Union fans probably expected Alberg to start at the No. 10 position — or, at the very least, come off the bench. But with the Union never falling behind, Curtin probably didn’t feel the need to bring in such an offensive-minded player. It was an understandable move considering the context but one that was surely disappointing for Alberg, who despite having nine goals in just over 1,000 minutes, has played only 19 minutes over the last three games and has started only once since the beginning of August. By now, you have to wonder what role the dynamic Dutchman will have in the playoffs — if he has one at all.

Stat of the week
With his seventh assist, the rookie Herbers moved into the top 10 in franchise history in career assists. He’s tied for ninth all time with Barnetta, Alejandro Moreno and Conor Casey.

Quote of the week
“I kind of even surprised myself.”

— Alejandro Bedoya, on his first MLS goal

Player of the week
Gotta give it to the guy who scored one of the best goals of the Union’s season, right? The Union now hope there’s more to come from Bedoya during the final stretch of the 2016 season.

'World-class' Zlatan Ibrahimovic leads Galaxy over Union

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USA Today Images

'World-class' Zlatan Ibrahimovic leads Galaxy over Union

BOX SCORE 

CHESTER, Pa. — For a little over 45 minutes, the Union, and their two teenage centerbacks, held the LA Galaxy and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in check. 

Then something changed. 

In a brief lapse, Ibrahimovic tied the game with a clutch assist to Ola Kamara in the 48th minute, then buried a goal in the 63rd minute for the lead. The Galaxy didn’t look back to take the 3-1 win on Saturday at a rainy Talen Energy Stadium.

“Up until that point, we did a good job with him,” said Union manager Jim Curtin. “But that is what world-class strikers do. They can pick their moments and dominate and win games. He is about as special a player as there is.” 

On his goal, Ibrahimovic accepted a short pass from Romain Alessandrini inside the Union box. The 6-foot-5, 36-year-old shuffled briefly, picked his head up and fired off a right-footed shot that thread between Union defenders and past Andre Blake. 

He was given space, and took every bit of it.

“He’s a world-class striker, one of the best players our league has ever seen and one of the best strikers are game has ever had,” Curtin said. “He’s less likely to dribble and run by you now, so we preached to get close. On that instance, I think we did give him a little bit too much space.”

The Union knew it could happen. Since signing with the Galaxy in late March, Ibrahimovic has 12 goals in 15 games. He put that skill on display Saturday. Despite the consistent downpour and wind, the Swedish legend was dangerous on the ball and threatened the Union at will. 

“I just keep doing my job,” said Ibrahimovic, who finished with six shots, three on net. “[MLS is] lucky I did not come 10 years ago because I would be the President.”

The would-be President still had good things to say about the Union. Despite padding the stat sheet, Ibrahimovic liked what he saw from the Union’s teenage centerback duo of Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie, who was born in 1999, the year Ibrahimovic turned pro. 

“I think they did a good job,” he said. “It’s not easy, two young guys, not so much experience and then the weather conditions were not the best. I think they did a good job.”

Union fall to LA Galaxy, Zlatan Ibrahimovic in rainy 3-1 loss

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USA Today Images

Union fall to LA Galaxy, Zlatan Ibrahimovic in rainy 3-1 loss

CHESTER, Pa. — They fought through heavy rain, wind and three days rest. But the Union couldn’t get past Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who netted a second-half goal and an assist to propel the LA Galaxy over the Union, 3-1, on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium. 

The defeat was the Union’s fifth loss in their last seven MLS games, to drop their record to 7-10-3. The Galaxy are unbeaten in their last seven games, moving to 9-7-4.

• Union defender Auston Trusty, who was born a year before Ibrahimovic went pro in 1999, drew primary defensive duty on the big attacker. For the first half, Trusty and the Union did well to slow him down. Then the second half began.
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• Down one, the Galaxy would tie the match when Alejandro Bedoya turned the ball over in the midfield and it ended up on the foot of Ibrahimovic. He absorbed enough defensive attention to slide the ball forward into open space for Ola Kamara, who scored the tying goal. 

• In the 63rd minute, Ibrahimovic would strike again. Romain Alessandrini beat his man on the left side before dishing to Ibrahimovic, who pulled it to his right foot and fired off a low shot that beat Blake for the 2-1 Galaxy lead. Michael Ciani added the insurance from Allessandrini for the 3-1 final score.

• The 36-year-old hasn’t lost a step. He now has 12 goals in 15 games for the Galaxy — seven more than anyone on the Union.

• But it wasn’t all bad. In the 29th minute, C.J. Sapong finally broke through. After 12 scoreless games, the forward, while falling down, redirected a low shot by Borek Dockal, causing the ball to bounce slowly past David Bingham for the 1-0 Union lead.

• It was just Sapong’s third goal of the season and first since April 28, but was a nice reward for an active game. He had a season-high three shots on goal. He was replaced by Cory Burke in the 68th minute.

• Saturday was a homecoming for two former Union players. Chris Pontius, who is having an excellent first season for his hometown team with five goals and four assists in 19 games played, made the start for the Galaxy. He was replaced by another former Union player, Sheanon Williams in the 79th minute.​​​​

• It's a quick turnaround for the Union, who will now travel to BBVA Compass Stadium to face the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday on the road, where the Union are 2-6-1 on the season.