Union

Union-D.C. United 5 things: Looking to roll confidence over for win No. 2

Union-D.C. United 5 things: Looking to roll confidence over for win No. 2

Union at D.C. United
7 p.m. on TCN

With a rejuvenated spirit and first win of 2017 in the bag, red-hot C.J. Sapong and the Union (1-4-4) look to continue their Eastern Conference upswing when they travel to RFK Stadium to face Sebastien Le Toux and D.C. United (3-4-2) on Saturday.

Here are five things to know:

1. Victory spark
For the first time since summer 2016, the Union won a game. The struggling club, which is still hanging at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, used a second-half push to dismantle the New York Red Bulls, 3-0, last weekend.

"It was something to build on as we look forward to D.C.," said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club has a three-game point streak. "The result at home, as good as it was at 3-0, doesn't mean a heck of a lot if we don't follow it up with another good performance."

But that win was more than three points in the standings. As Curtin put it, the lopsided victory injected the Union with newfound confidence. 

"Confidence is everything, it goes a long way," he said. "You see a little extra bounce in their step, a little more smiling in the weight room. A victory gives confidence. We were able to stick together and you see a little momentum on our side. Guys are excited to get back on the field."

With a side of confidence, the Union also feel relieved. According to Sapong, the winless run was a storm they were stuck in. And that storm has passed. 

"We handled the adversity well and stayed loose in the locker room," he said. "Getting three points is something we worked very hard to and expected to have it before this point in the season but it adds a little bit of a story to everything. Going through this adversity in the beginning of the season will help throughout the season."

2. Surging Sapong
Despite the Union's troubled season, Sapong has shined bright.

"C.J. is obviously very hot right now," Curtin said following the Union's win.

Sapong carried the Union to their first win of the season with a stellar three-goal show in the win over the Red Bulls. Along with the victory, the veteran forward tied the league lead in goals with seven. But according to him, goals aren't the focus.

"I'm always trying to create space for myself but I feel where I provide the most impact is being a hassle for the defenders to play against," Sapong said. "Holding the ball up for my team and being tough on defense as well. I want to get the goals but I have to focus on the things that I do that help my team."

United have taken notice of Sapong's recent output. The Union will lean on the forward even more with the probable absence of attacking midfielder Roland Alberg, who suffered a hamstring injury last weekend and is questionable for Saturday.

"Sapong is playing really well right now," United striker Patrick Mullins said. "He's someone we are aware of."

3. United rebound
Although D.C. United are coming off a 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact, their second in four games, manager Ben Olsen isn't worried. His club is still one point out of playoff position.

"We all have to be on a certain level to succeed," he said. "If four or five players turn it down just a bit, that's enough. I'm not overly concerned, I believe this group has a response in it. We're not in the worst spot in the table, we just have to focus on the next two games and get the points we need."

While United are looking for points, the Union will look to turn up the emotion.

"This game is about us," Curtin said. "It's about us continuing to build on the past couple good results. We're going to go on the road against the rival who we've had some heated games with in the past. This won't be any different."

For the home team, Saturday's match is about respecting the Union but controlling the tempo. 

"It's a team that shouldn't be overlooked," Mullins said of the Union. "They just got their first win but that could have come a while back for them. They have dangerous players, the onus is for us to respond, be on the offensive and take on the opponent when they come in this weekend."

4. Keep an eye on …
Union: Though Sapong is on a tear, the key to Saturday's match could be young Adam Najem. The 22-year-old is the only natural No. 10 on the roster as Alberg may miss the contest with a hamstring injury. "We want to give guys opportunities," Curtin said. "We would be more than willing to plug him in."

D.C. United: As a result of United injuries, former Union man Le Toux has made three consecutive starts for his new club. He's rewarded Olsen with two goals over that span. "He does exactly what Seba does," Curtin said. "He runs the line and gets behind defenders. He's injected life into their offense."

5. This and that
• The Union are 7-8-4 against United all-time, which includes a Union road loss, 2-1, on April 1. Sapong scored the only goal for the Union.

• Le Toux currently ranks second on United with two goals, while Luciano Acosta leads the club with three.

• With a pair of assists last weekend, Chris Pontius tied Haris Medunjanin for the Union team lead in assists with three.

• The Union will be without Josh Yaro (shoulder), Maurice Edu (knee), while Alberg is questionable. For United, Patrick Nyarko (hamstring) and Nick DeLeon (lower ab strain) are out, with Steve Birnbaum (concussion), Bill Hamid (groin) and Julian Buescher (IT band irritation) are questionable. 

• With Derrick Jones on international duty and Ray Gaddis banged up from last weekend, the Union could tap Keegan Rosenberry and Warren Creavalle for big minutes against United. Creavalle has yet to play this season, while Rosenberry started on the bench in the team's last three matches.

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

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USA Today Images

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.

Union see U.S. winning 2026 World Cup bid as 'inflection point' of American soccer

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Union see U.S. winning 2026 World Cup bid as 'inflection point' of American soccer

CHESTER, Pa. — For Jim Curtin, Alejandro Bedoya and everyone else associated with American soccer, the pain of missing the World Cup remains fresh, especially as the tournament kicks off this week.

But Wednesday’s announcement that the United States, in a joint bid with North American neighbors Canada and Mexico, won the vote to host the 2026 World Cup not only eased a lot of that pain but also gave them a whole lot of hope for the future of the sport.

“Obviously this year everybody talks about the big setback and the generation of kids that can’t turn on the TV this go-round and watch the U.S.,” Curtin said during the Union coach’s weekly press conference. “It does hurt the game a bit, for sure, but to now have the World Cup in our home country is something that I think is incredible to grow the game. There’s nothing quite like seeing a World Cup match live. I think that will be a great experience for young kids, a great experience for our country.”

As for Bedoya, the Union captain will probably never get over the U.S. national team’s recent World Cup failure, especially since he played a prominent role at the 2014 World Cup and during this past qualifying cycle before watching from the bench in horror as the Americans were stunned by Trinidad and Tobago last October to miss out on Russia 2018. 

And given his age, the 31-year-old midfielder will be past his prime for the next World Cup in Qatar, and possibly retired when the World Cup comes to North America in eight years. Even still, it’s nice to think about what hosting the 2026 World Cup could mean for the growth of the sport he loves.

“Hopefully by that time, 2026, it’s like the inflection point of soccer in our country,” Bedoya said. “The sport keeps growing, the league keeps getting better. From my time in Europe, I know all of the European guys would love to play in this league, live in America and play here. It’s only a matter of time before soccer continues to take over, let’s say, hockey in the ratings and viewership and attendance. So it’s a big moment we officially got it for our country.”

Curtin agrees the sport has already grown a lot since the last time the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, pointing to increased television coverage of MLS and the big European leagues as well as, more locally, the kids he spots in his Philadelphia neighborhood wearing Bedoya or Lionel Messi jerseys.

He can only imagine how much bigger it will get if Lincoln Financial Field is selected as one of the venues for the 2026 World Cup — and also what that would mean for Philly, a city that he says has a “lot of buzz” right now in a lot of different ways.

“Specifically to Philadelphia, this is a soccer town,” the Union coach said. “There’s a rich history here. It’s tough to predict what 2026 will look like, but to think a team could be using this campus down here [in Chester] as kind of their home base, whether it’s Argentina or Spain or who knows what country, that’s a really good thing to envision.

“It’s great for the game. There’s a lot of happy faces throughout soccer in our country right now.”