Union-Crew 5 things: Curtin expects reinforcements for crucial match

Union-Crew 5 things: Curtin expects reinforcements for crucial match

Union (6-9-5) vs. Columbus Crew (10-10-1)
7:30 p.m. on TCN

Feeling the sting of a punchless effort and defeat last Saturday, the hobbled Union return home Wednesday with revenge on their mind as they face the Columbus Crew at Talen Energy Stadium in the second half of a crucial Eastern Conference home-and-home series. 

Here are five things to know.

1. Quick recovery
After a season of relative health and fortune, the Union’s roster has taken a hit. The club lost Chris Pontius and Andre Blake to international duty, and spent Saturday without suspended Roland Alberg and injured Fafa Picault and C.J. Sapong.

The result? One goal and back-to-back losses. 

“At the midway point we had hoped to have everyone in the group back and clicking on all cylinders,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “For a variety of reasons we weren’t really together. Whether it was suspensions, injuries, the birth of a child, international call-ups, we had some tough variables to overcome and we didn’t pass the test on the road.”

Overall, the defense hasn’t been an issue for the Union, as they only allowed three goals over the last two games on the road. It’s the attack that is limping, a fact highlighted by the shot-less performance in their 1-0 loss to the Crew over the weekend. 

“Columbus did defend well but at the same time to not have a shot on goal is inexcusable,” Curtin, who expects to have Sapong back with Alberg in the attack, said. “It’s not a good indication of us. We are missing our front four in the game and it looked that way. We need to step up as a group and recognize we weren’t decisive enough, not good enough on attack and didn’t create enough chances.”

As a way to re-charge that offense Wednesday, the Union, who have scored 17 of their 26 goals this season at Talen Energy Stadium, will try to utilize that home field advantage. 

“The good news is we get to regroup quickly and I'm very confident in our group that we’ll have a good response on our home field against a Crew team we’re very familiar with,” Curtin said. “It’s a chance to get things right in our home building with our fans behind us.” 

2. Sold on McCarthy
While there hasn’t been much to celebrate for the Union over the last two games, there has been a lone bright spot that Curtin can look to.

“As disappointed as we are as a club over the last two games, the one thing we really learned is John McCarthy, across the board, has raised the bar in terms of where we view him,” the manager said. “He’s been excellent.” 

The third year backup goalkeeper has made 13 saves in his last three matches and is set to make his fourth start of the season Wednesday. Firmly planted behind starter Andre Blake, who has established himself as the star of the Gold Cup while captaining Jamaica, McCarthy kept the listless Union in games they otherwise shouldn’t have been.

“He’s shown he can start in this league,” Curtin said. “He makes you feel comfortable, he's done a great job and that’s something that maybe gets lost. We are still doing good defensive work, need to get a little sharper on offense but Johnny has really turned the head of the coaching staff in the last three games.” 

Thanks to Blake’s success, McCarthy will get another chance to impress Wednesday.

“[The Crew] is a team we’re real familiar with,” the goalkeeper said. “We have to get points at home, we need a big win here and take care of business.”

3. Stingy Crew
Coming off back-to-back shutout wins, including one of the Union, manager Gregg Berhalter, and the Crew are feeling confident entering Wednesday’s rematch.

“It gave us confidence,” he said. “It was a total team performance and it gives us confidence that we can break through and keep going. It was more about team defending than individuals, it was a really good compact unit and I thought we made it very difficult for them.”

Curtin didn’t disagree. With playmaker Federico Higuain likely out again for the Crew with a knee sprain, Berhalter could return to the efficient 3-4-3 formation that dominated the Union on Saturday.

“We didn’t do a good job against their three center backs, we really made it easy for them,” Curtin said. “They had a comfortable day and they basically stayed in the width of the center circle, we never pulled them out and made it uncomfortable for them.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Roland Alberg: After serving a one game suspension, Alberg will return to the Union on Wednesday. Expected at the No. 10 spot, the goal scorer will be the host’s desperately-needed offensive catalyst. “This will be an opportunity for Roland tomorrow to play another 90 minutes,” Curtin said.

Justin Meram: The midfielder leads the Crew in goals with nine and assists with six. If the Union want to keep a clean sheet at home, they’ll have to stop Meram.

5. This and that
• Union right back Ray Gaddis was a late arrival to the MLS injury report, listed as questionable with a hamstring strain. If Gaddis can’t play, Keegan Rosenberry would make his first start since April 14. 

• Along with Gaddis, Picault, who missed the match Saturday because of a hamstring strain, is questionable again for Wednesday. Forward Jay Simpson has a lower-body injury but is off the injury report. “Jay has the injury from the tackle, he might be able to go,” Curtin said. “Fafa did stuff on the side, he said it feels a lot better today.”

• The Union are 7-11-1 against the Crew all time and 5-4-0 at home.

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.