Union

Is it time to reshuffle the Union's back line?

Is it time to reshuffle the Union's back line?

On Tuesday night, the Union's promising back four of Giliano Wijnaldum, Joshua Yaro, Richie Marquez and Keegan Rosenberry all took the field together and led their team to a shutout.

The only problem: that team was the Union's USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel FC. And they did it at a baseball complex in Harrisburg.

How did it happen that such a talented group of young MLS players have essentially been relegated to the minor leagues to get game minutes? It was only last season, after all, that Rosenberry was the MLS Rookie of the Year Runner-Up, Marquez was being viewed as a potential US national team center back, and Yaro was perhaps the best player in the entire 2016 draft. And adding some offseason pop, Wijnaldum was certainly an intriguing left back prospect from the Netherlands.

But what looked to be the Union’s starting defense in the preseason is now Bethlehem’s starting defense as Ray Gaddis, Oguchi Onyewu and Jack Elliott charged their way into the lineup a few weeks back while Fabinho has refused to let go of his long-standing left back role.

And the backline may not be changing anytime soon, even as the Union’s three-game losing streak has sent them tumbling to the bottom of the Eastern Conference ahead of Saturday’s game vs. rival D.C. United at Talen Energy Stadium (6ABC, 7 p.m.).

“I don’t think we have a back four issue,” Union head coach Jim Curtin insisted during his weekly press conference. “We have a team that needs to do a little bit better offensively and be a little bit cleaner with some defensive issues as well. But overall I don’t think there’s a real problem with us conceding a ton of goals.”

As proof, Curtin pointed to the fact the Union have allowed only six goals in their last eight league games, four of which have come over the last two contests with influential midfielder Alejandro Bedoya out of the lineup (and two coming in last week’s loss to the Red Bulls while the Union were down a man).

One of the big reasons for the team’s stinginess has been the surprisingly steady play of Elliott, a rookie from England who in the past few months has gone from late-round draft pick to preseason afterthought to stalwart starter.

And he’s well aware that two of the team’s most hyped prospects — Marquez and Yaro — are waiting in the wings behind him, ready to take their jobs back.

“That doesn’t add pressure,” Elliott said. “It’s good to have that competition there to always keep you on the top of your game. It’s the same with all of the center backs here. We all push each other to be better players and we just have to keep the team going. We know if one of us went down, another one can step in.”

Injuries did in fact force Marquez and Yaro to enter the game on June 3 at New York City FC, but Elliott and Onyewu regained their spots the following game vs. the Red Bulls.

It’s a unique pairing with an unheralded rookie (Elliott) teaming up with a one-time American soccer legend creeping up in age (Onyewu), but it has been working well.

“We have a good understanding of how each other plays and our strengths,” Elliott said. “We’ve played a good seven, eight games together and we found a balance. You see over the last eight games, we haven’t conceded many.”

While the Onyewu-Elliott pairing certainly has been effective, it always seemed like a short-term fix to help stabilize a defense that got off to a rough start this year. The same can be said with Gaddis supplanting Rosenberry, who brings more of an attacking presence to the flank.

So even though the back four as currently constructed might not be the team’s biggest issue at the moment, it’s fair to ask why they’d get the benefit of the doubt when at least some may not be a big part of the team’s future? If three straight losses don't put the team’s top young players back into the lineup, what will? And how will continuing to come off the bench or play in Bethlehem affect their development?

For now, it seems, like Curtin is putting everyone on equal footing, regardless of age, where they were drafted, or which guys were the most hyped last year.

“I don’t think there’s a big drop-off or difference with all eight [defenders], to be honest,” the Union coach said. “It’s good to have these issues, to have a lot of good players to draw from. We had a hard film session but concluded in our last eight, we’ve given up six goals. We can build on that.

“And it does start with defense in this league. You look at teams at the top of the standings in each conference and they defend their butts off for 90 minutes. We’ve been able to do it in patches in games but we’ve just been too inconsistent.”

Maybe, then, it’s time for another change.

Alejandro Bedoya's early strike puts Union in U.S. Open Cup semifinals

uspresswire-union-alejandro-bedoya.jpg
USA Today Images

Alejandro Bedoya's early strike puts Union in U.S. Open Cup semifinals

CHESTER, Pa. — Alejandro Bedoya scored in the fourth minute and the Union didn’t look back, easily eliminating Orlando City SC, 1-0, in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium. 

With the win, the Union advance to their third semifinals appearance in five years, where they will face the winner of Louisville FC and Chicago Fire. The priority location draw for the semifinals and finals will take place on Thursday. The semifinals will begin on Aug. 8. 

“In four years in this competition with this group, we haven’t been beaten in regulation, in 90 minutes,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We’re a tough out in this competition. Hopefully we get another couple home games and get a break in that regard. Two wins from lifting our first trophy as a club.” 

• Bedoya made it look easy. Off a short corner, Haris Medunjanin’s cross was headed on goal by Fafa Picault. Earl Edwards Jr. made the initial save but it bounced out to the captain, who roofed it from the crease for the 1-0 Union lead and eventual win. 

• Orlando City SC, which entered the match with nine losses in its last 10 MLS games, defeated D.C. United in penalty kicks to reach the quarterfinals. The Union topped the Richmond Kickers and New York Red Bulls on the way to Wednesday’s match.

• Orlando looked like a team that had lost nine straight recently, though the Union couldn’t put the struggling visitors away. The Union finished the match with 53.9 percent possession and 18 shots. Still, it was another game in which the club lacked killer instinct despite territorial domination, resulting in only one goal.

• That domination was powered by the play of Picault, who was the Union’s offensive engine. Late in the second half, Picault beat his man in the box but placed his shot just wide of the right post. It was one of four shot attempts for Picault.

• Despite playing hero on Saturday against the Fire, David Accam struggled on Wednesday. He was active but had little effect, and was replaced in the 60th minute by Marcus Epps. Accam finished with one total shot. 

• It should be noted that Mark McKenzie, a rookie, pocketed Orlando forward Dom Dwyer for the entire match. Dwyer, who couldn’t gain an inch in possession, was forced into trying to draw calls. He was held without a shot attempt. 

“He was a beast,” Curtin said of McKenzie. “He’s a big reason we got a shutout tonight.”

• With the help of that effort from McKenzie, Andre Blake earned the four-save shutout. He wasn’t tested much, but was good when he needed to be.

Union stun Fire in 95th minute on David Occam's buzzer-beater

usa-union-david-accam.jpg
USA Today Images

Union stun Fire in 95th minute on David Occam's buzzer-beater

BOX SCORE

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- David Accam scored in the 95th minute, and Cory Burke had two goals to help the Philadelphia Union beat the Chicago Fire 4-3 on Wednesday night.

Accam dribbled through a pair of Chicago defenders and sent home a right-footed shot just inside the left post for his first goal of the season. His game-winner came a minute after the Fire appeared to have salvaged a draw with Bastian Schweinsteiger heading home Diego Campos' corner.

Burke scored on a rebound in the 73rd minute that made it 3-2 for the Union (7-9-3) and a header at the end of first-half stoppage time that made it 2-1.

Aleksandar Katai made it 2-all for the Fire (6-9-5) in the 69th minute with a low hard shot that skipped twice into the far corner.

Nemanja Nikolic tied it at 1 for Chicago in the 39th minute, powering a penalty kick past goalkeeper Andre Blake. Mark McKenzie brought Katai down at the left corner of the penalty area to send Nikolic to the spot.

Haris Medunjanin opened the scoring for Philadelphia in the 31st minute, pouncing on a defensive miscue and finishing with the outside of his foot.