Union

Union-Dynamo 5 things: Riding high into mid-week showdown

Union-Dynamo 5 things: Riding high into mid-week showdown

Union vs. Houston Dynamo
7:30 p.m. on TCN

Riding a four-game point streak and coming off back-to-back wins, the scorching Union (2-4-4) set to host potent Cubo Torres and the equally hot Houston Dynamo (6-3-1) in a rare mid-week tilt at Talen Energy Stadium on Wednesday night.

Here are five things to know:

1. Committing to Defense
The Union’s dramatic turnaround starts on the defensive side.

After giving up two-plus goals is six-straight games this season, the Union have rattled off three consecutive shutouts, outscoring their competition 7-0 over that span. It’s resulted in two wins and a road draw.

“The best defenders in the world can do nothing if there isn’t pressure to the ball,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “And that’s where we’ve been better. That makes everyone’s job across the back line a lot easier and more predictable. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. But it does give us a chance in all these games.”

While the team is scoring goals in droves, the players believe it’s a stronger commitment to defending that has the Union winning games. The club has won back-to-back games for the first time since Aug. 24 and Aug. 27, when they defeated the Columbus Crew and Sporting Kansas City.

"I think we're just working a little harder and everyone is committed to defending,” Union goalkeeper Andre Blake told reporters. “I think we all get that it's going to take 11 to defend. We all understand that there are no plays off and we've just got to work as hard as we can on the defensive side of things."

Blake, who had a rocky start to the season but is now tied for second in MLS with four shutouts on the season, wasn’t tested often, earning the one-save effort last Saturday. And even though it didn’t involve much work, the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year will take every clean sheet he can get.

"As a goalkeeper, I can take some of those nights,” he said. “If we have 35 games and I get zero shots and all shutouts, then I'll take that. The guys are doing very well and it's making my job easier, so I just need to make sure that whenever something is coming my way that I'm in the right mindset and ready to make a save."

2. Stopping Cubo
The Union’s defensive resurgence will be tested on Wednesday. With 21 goals on the season, the Dynamo, led by Torres’ league-leading eight goals, are atop the Western Conference in points and currently lead the league in scoring.

“We need to stay consistent and collectively defend from top to bottom, from C.J. Sapong to Andre Blake,” said Union defender Ray Gaddis. “We want to be a cohesive unit, do the dirty work and stay together. We know we are facing a good Houston team, we just need to stay together and focus on the task.”

That task includes stopping the league’s leading scorer. Facing the New York Red Bulls on May 6, the Union were able to stop Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips. Last Saturday, they completely shut out Luciano Acosta, frustrating the attacking midfielder into taking a red card.

“We’ve done a good job limiting the opponent's chances,” Curtin said. “The biggest thing with that is trying to cut out their key guys. We’ve done a good job of limiting touches, chances and played some decent soccer along the way as well.“

Next up: Torres.

“He’s clinical around the goal,” Curtin said of Torres, who earned four his eight goals from penalty kicks. “Their wingers are so dangerous, Alex is so dangerous on the dribble, it results in a lot of fouls around the box. I think they had six PKs, five scored, so we have to be smart because they are so dynamic.”

3. Dynamo’s Road Problem
Leading the Western Conference with 19 points in 10 games may be an impressive feat for the Dynamo. But it doesn’t mean they are perfect.

The Dynamo, who have played a large chunk of their home games early this season to avoid mid-summer heat in Houston, are 6-0-1 at home but a paltry 0-3-0 on the road.

“This is a test for us,”  Dynamo fullback DaMarcus Beasley said. “We don’t try to look too much in the future but eight of our next 11 are away from home.”

The goal for the Dynamo over that span, beginning on Wednesday, is transferring their impressive home play to the road. According to Beasley, that hasn’t been an easy process, leaving the club still trying to find themselves away from BBVA Compass Stadium.

“If we figured it out we’d be winning on the road,” Beasley joked with reporters. “There’s no secret. We have to think that we can win and be able to incorporate what we do at home on the road. So far we haven’t done that. I can’t pinpoint it but we’re working really hard to try and make that right.”

4. Keep an eye on
Dynamo: Leading MLS in goals, Cubo Torres has eight goals in eight starts this season. One of the more potent offensive forces in the league, he had a goal and four shots against the Vancouver Whitecaps last week.

Union: Defensive midfielder Haris Medunjanin broke out offensively last week by notching his first MLS goal and two assists. He now sits tied for third in MLS in helpers with five on the season.

5. This and that
• The Union are 4-6-4 against the Dynamo all-time.

• With four assists on the season, Chris Pontius is two off his career high in helpers. He earned six total in 2016.

• The Union will be without midfielder Roland Alberg (hamstring) and center back Josh Yaro (shoulder), while Dynamo forward

• Alberth Elis is questionable with a hamstring injury.

Forgotten Marcus Epps makes most of rare opportunity in Union win

usa_marcus_epps_union.jpg
USA Today Images

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

usa_borek_dockal_union.png
USA Today Images

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

BOX SCORE 

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.