'Stars were in perfect alignment' for Sapong, Union in first win of season

'Stars were in perfect alignment' for Sapong, Union in first win of season

CHESTER, Pa. -- C.J. Sapong had a special night.

In 11 minutes Saturday, the Union forward claimed his first career hat trick and simultaneously sank the New York Red Bulls for the 3-0 win at Talen Energy Stadium (see story)

“To score [a hat trick] in that fashion, when you know you’re just trying to get into a zone, work together with my teammates, that’s the best way,” Sapong said. “You never go out and expect to score a hat trick. For me to know that I can have an impact on the team and hit a career milestone, I’m happy.”

But Sapong’s production didn’t come without a bout of fortune. His first goal happened at the 74-minute mark and was a shot off a fast break that deflected off of Aaron and bounced past Luis Robles. The second was a combination of volleys from Fabian Herbers and Chris Pontius that allowed Sapong an opportunity from the crease. 

“The stars were in perfect alignment for us,” Sapong said.

The third was a penalty kick from a Red Bulls' handball, which Sapong confidently finished to the right of Robles. The Union striker was surging.

“Haris [Medunjanin] tried to take the penalty but I was like, ‘No, no chance,’” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “It’s C.J.”

More than just a landmark effort from Sapong, it was a team slump-buster. With the victory, the Union snapped a 16-game winless streak dating back to last August. It was also their first win in 2017, pushing their record to 1-4-4. While it may not look it on paper, it was exactly what the club needed.

“Honestly, C.J. has been one of our bright spots this year and I think a lot of people have noticed that even with not many results going our way,” Keegan Rosenberry said. “For him to get the goals, and with us getting the win, is awesome for us and for him. Hopefully, we can keep him going, give him good service and keep him going in a good way.”

Rosenberry wasn’t the only teammate to remark on Sapong’s strong play. The forward entered Saturday’s game leading the Union with four goals and nearly doubled that late in the second half to tie Cubo Torres of the Houston Dynamo for the MLS lead in goals with seven.

“Look at him,” Bedoya said. “He wasn’t starting at the beginning of the season. But he’s mentally strong, and as a striker you also need service. So it’s up to us, the whole team, to get him those chances and he’s been putting them away. Credit to C.J. for being mentally strong and getting these goals.”

But he needs more, as the next step for the 29-year-old is a career season. He’s never scored more than nine goals in a given year but has seven already in 2017. And if the Union are going to pull out of the Eastern Conference basement, they’ll have to do it through their primary forward.

“The games just haven’t gone our way,” Sapong said. “We’re still at the bottom of the table right now. We still have a lot of climbing to do, but we have a little bit more incentive, inspiration and motivation to do that now."

Forgotten Marcus Epps makes most of rare opportunity in Union win

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


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.