Jim Curtin, Earnie Stewart reflect on bitter end to Union's 2016 season

Jim Curtin, Earnie Stewart reflect on bitter end to Union's 2016 season

With one week to stew over their playoff loss to Toronto FC and a season that slipped away, the Union were left cleaning out their lockers and looking for answers on Wednesday.

“We have something special,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Our group was truly a team in that everybody had to have a good game for us to get results and they all believed that. For a lot of the year, they did it.”

Under normal circumstances, the Union’s season, which culminated in making the playoffs for the first time since 2011, would have been viewed as an overwhelming success. Back in 2015, the club could only dream of the postseason as they stumbled to a near league-worst 10-17-7 record. Instead, it was somewhat bitter.

Union sporting director, Earnie Stewart, believes that grading the club’s season is a matter of perspective.

“Expectations changed over the season,” he said on Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium, in the team’s final press availability of the season. “We could have not done well to start the season and finished strong, then everybody would be very positive about it. But it works the other way around.”

The Union did start strong, punching through the U.S. Open Cup early rounds and even reaching the top of the Eastern Conference at one point. The club lost three of five games prior to the Crystal Palace friendly, which they followed by earning just three wins in the next 15 games to end the season.

Curtin admitted that the club didn’t have an answer to why it went on this steady decline. Both Stewart and Curtin denied that it was the midseason departure of Vincent Nogueira or the team’s daily two-a-days. 

“We are examining, trying to pinpoint what it is exactly,” he said. “The harder we search and the more that we look at the data, the analytics, the games, it comes back to a variety of things. Is it losing a player, a drop in confidence, the fact that the schedule gets a little harder? All these little variables do come in.”

The manager, who was delivered a strong vote of confidence by Stewart on Wednesday, even mentioned an unwanted tactical change by his players as the possible culprit. 

“We maybe got a little too direct and weren’t as confident and comfortable on the ball,” he said. “That led to creating fewer chances. It’s a combination of things, different variables that we continue to look at.”

Stewart mentioned that one factor was the club’s inability to score down the stretch, which exposed the team’s young back line to more pressure than it was ready for.

“We were a team that had to play well to score easy goals,” Stewart said, alluding to the Union being shutout three times in their last seven games. “When that happens, it places stress on the back line. In the beginning of the season, we scored a lot of goals.” 

But whatever the issues were, the Union are looking at what they gained. For Stewart, it was vital that his young club, with core players like Keegan Rosenberry, Richie Marquez and Fabian Herbers, experience the ups and downs, heartbreak and heroism of a long MLS season. 

“The good part is that everybody’s been through it now,” he said. “We can only gain from that experience as a young group to be better in the future.”

Union's Haris Medunjanin suspended 2 additional MLS games

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Union's Haris Medunjanin suspended 2 additional MLS games

CHESTER, Pa. — Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin only lost his mind for a few moments but the outburst will cost him a few weeks.

During his weekly press conference Wednesday, head coach Jim Curtin said Medunjanin will be suspended an additional two games for his vociferous arguments with the referee June 2 in a 3-1 loss in Atlanta.

Medunjanin only played 19 minutes that game before being ejected, and then served the normal one-game red-card suspension in a 2-0 loss to Toronto on June 8. Because of the severity of the offense, he’ll now also miss Saturday’s home tilt vs. Vancouver on Saturday (5 p.m., PHL17) as well as the Union’s first-ever trip to expansion Los Angeles FC the following week.

The league has not yet announced the three-game suspension but Curtin said the team “recently got word” that an appeal from the MLS Players Union was denied.

“I don’t agree with it but we have to live with it,” Curtin said. “I think for Haris, it’s the first red card in his career, which says a lot about who he is as a player.”

Curtin referenced an incident last June when Medunjanin showed his honesty by asking referee Sorin Stoica to rescind a red card handed to D.C. United’s Luciano Acosta. The Union midfielder claimed Acosta didn’t kick him and didn’t deserve to be sent off, even though the initial ruling would have significantly helped his own team. 

Perhaps that was one reason why Medunjanin blew up at the same referee who called a questionable penalty on Auston Trusty before showing Alejandro Bedoya his second yellow card for what appeared to be a minor dissent, effectively ruining the Union’s chances of winning in Atlanta.

“You can go through a lot of things to say it’s a little harsh to get three games,” Curtin said. “But we have to live with the decision and now we move on missing one of our best players. That’s challenging as a team but we’ll have to make up for it as we move forward.”

Medunjanin certainly showed his worth in this past Saturday’s 2-1 U.S. Open Cup win over the New York Red Bulls (MLS suspensions don’t carry over to the Open Cup), scoring a beautiful goal and adding a secondary assist.

Bedoya also had one of his better games vs. the Red Bulls, teaming well with Medunjanin in the central midfield to lead the Union into the Open Cup quarterfinals. Back from his own one-game suspension, the Philly captain will now likely partner with Warren Creavalle in the midfield for the next two games.

The 27-year-old Creavalle had played sparingly for much of the year before enjoying solid stints vs. Atlanta and Toronto. 

“He’s been playing very well in training,” Curtin said. “He’ll step up and do a good job. And obviously, Derrick [Jones] will be in the picture as well if we need to close out the game.”

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

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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.