Union

Union-FC Dallas 5 things: Time running out on playoff dreams

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CSN

Union-FC Dallas 5 things: Time running out on playoff dreams

Union vs. FC Dallas
7 p.m. on TCN

With three losses in their last four matches, the stumbling Union (7-10-5) look to activate home-field advantage and kick their slide against Western Conference powerhouse FC Dallas (9-4-7) on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know:

1. Running out of time
With 12 games remaining, the Union’s postseason hope is up against the clock. 

“Six home, six away left. There’s lots of soccer out there,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We recognize our margin for error is a small one now. We’ve done that to ourselves, but we have a good group.” 

As it stands, the Union are six points out from the final playoff position, but are in a battle with the Columbus Crew, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution and Orlando City to get in. To make matters worse, the Union can’t string together victories. The club has one win in its last five matches.

“There are four to five teams that have their eye on that spot and we all play each other a bunch down the stretch and those games are huge,” Curtin said. “It’s not an area you want to be in but at the same time, it’s a situation we put ourselves in. Things can change fast in this league. It starts with getting on a run and getting above that red line. It’s not going to be easy.”

That run could start on Saturday. Though the Union are playing one of the best in MLS in FC Dallas, they are at home. The Union are 6-3-2 at Talen Energy Stadium and have scored 20 of their 29 total goals there this season. 

“You have to find ways to win your home games in this league,” Curtin said. “Our road total in points is not good enough. It’s something we have to rectify. It’s going to take more than last year’s point total, so we have our work cut out for us but it’s not impossible. 

“We’ve been solid at home and we need to continue that.”

2. Without Blake
If the Union want a positive result against FC Dallas, they’ll likely have to do it without Andre Blake, who sliced his hand open in the Gold Cup final game against the U.S. men’s national team and still hasn’t fully recovered.

“Andre is still healing, he still has the stitches in,” Curtin said. “He ended up with seven stitches that go from one side to the other. We’re hopeful for the weekend. He’s been able to do technical exercises with the group, working on his footwork and staying active. We need to get clearance from the doctors that he won’t do further damage.”

Curtin then sounded more cautious on Blake’s return. The goalkeeper, who is tied for second in MLS shutouts with seven, missed the Union’s last five matches. 

“We’re following the medical side on this one,” the manager said. “There’s a chance but probably unlikely.” 

But fortunately for the Union, they have a backup plan. The Union expect backup keeper, John McCarthy, who has opened eyes since taking over for Blake (see story), to continue filling the shoes of the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.

“Johnny has done a really good job stepping up his game in a tough spot,” Curtin said. “For him to have the success he’s had speaks to all the hard work he’s put in. He’s stepped up in a big way and has done a great job.” 

3. Redemption Dallas
FC Dallas enters Saturday’s match with a bad taste in its mouth. 

“After our last result at home, [these are] points that we need to take,” FC Dallas center back Walker Zimmerman said. “Points that will put us back in the Supporters’ Shield race. We’ve had a very successful run the last few games, we just need to keep that going.”

The club, which will be without suspended midfielders Atiba Harris and Carlos Gruezo, hit an irregular bump in the road last week against the Vancouver Whitecaps, dropping the match, 4-0. The home loss snapped a five-game unbeaten streak and three-game winning run.

“They are also coming off a disappointing result,” said Curtin, whose club lost to the Revolution, 3-0, last week. “We know they will be angry and eager to go.”

But even with that extra motivation, FC Dallas isn’t overlooking a desperate Union club.

“You can’t take any team in this league lightly,” FC Dallas midfielder Ryan Hollingshead said. “We’ll be looking for mounting back. It’s a big opportunity for us to get road points. We know Philadelphia has strengths and weaknesses and we’ll have to be ready for them.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: The Union’s leading scorer with 10 goals and five assists on the season, C.J. Sapong is the engine that makes the offense tick. In his last match at home, Sapong put up a goal and two helpers, setting a career high. Eight of Sapong’s 10 goals this season have happened at home.

FC Dallas: Tied for the league lead in assists with 10, Michael Barrios could be the key to unlocking the Union back line. 

5. This and that
• The Union have never defeated FC Dallas in MLS play, going 0-5-4 all-time and 0-1-3 at home.

• While FC Dallas has no listed injuries, the Union are limping a bit. Center back Oguchi Onyewu (groin strain) and Fafa Picault (hamstring strain) join Blake as questionable for Saturday.

• The first time FC Dallas visited Philadelphia was a heartbreaker for the Union. Amobi Okugo and Aaron Wheeler scored but Blas Perez’s 95th-minute goal ended the match, 2-2.

Forgotten Marcus Epps makes most of rare opportunity in Union win

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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

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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.