Union

Union-Impact 5 things: Playoff-hungry teams face off in East showdown

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Union-Impact 5 things: Playoff-hungry teams face off in East showdown

Union vs. Montreal Impact
8:00 p.m. on CSN

Attempting to claw into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Union (8-10-5), coming off a dominating 3-1 win over FC Dallas last weekend, want to keep the momentum rolling as they host the Ignacio Piatti and the Montreal Impact (7-8-6) on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know:

1. Elliott’s rise
Jack Elliott has been a revelation for the Union. 

The quiet and unassuming fourth round selection in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft will make his 19th consecutive start at center back for the Union against the Impact. 

“Jack Elliott has been the Rookie of the Year,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “He’s been excellent.”

And that’s not just a coach spewing positives for an undeserving player, there’s momentum behind Elliott for Rookie of the Year. The Union, who are 8-10-5, are 8-7-3 with Elliott as a starter, including seven of the team’s eight shutouts.

“It’s good to see a young center back playing at the high level he is,” Curtin said of the 6-foot-5 standout. “It is my duty as a coach to get the word out for my guy and Jack has been exceptional.”

But despite his worthiness, Elliott might not stand a chance. As Curtin explained, and as the Union experienced in 2016 when Keegan Rosenberry lost out to Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris, goals open eyes. Currently, Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel, with three goals and six assists in 18 starts, may have the edge.

“I always want to be a voice for the defenders,” Curtin said. “When people start banging in goals, that’s what stays in people’s minds. You wish there were more quantifiable metrics for defenders. It is tough to really get recognition as a defender for awards because if you’re winning games, 3-0, they are talking about the guys who score three goals, not who kept the zero.” 

2. Learning from the past
Before the Union were able to turn their season around, they hit the ground. That thud happened against the Impact at home on April 22 when they blew a three goal lead to draw the visitors, 3-3.

“That was probably rock bottom,” Curtin said.

The Union were winless in their first six games of the season entering that contest. Claiming the opening three goals was a breath of air for the struggling club, and to lose it was devastating. 

“We got up three goals and gave up the one to [Ignacio] Piatti before the half,” Curtin said. “It was a time when we didn’t have a lot of confidence and when that goal went in you could feel the life go out of the stadium and go out of the group. It’s two points that we dropped and two big points.”

But the club recovered. Though disappointing, the draw was the start of a six game unbeaten run that sparked the Union’s come back to Eastern Conference relevance.

“That was the low point for the group but they stuck together and rebounded well,” said Curtin, whose team is three points out of playoff position. “We still have an opportunity to get ourselves back into the discussion for the playoffs.” 

3. Impactful match
Separated by two points in the East standings and with two games in hand, Saturday’s match means as much for the Impact as it does for the Union.

“Getting a result is really important right now,” said Impact’s Dominic Oduro. “Because we can come home for a couple of games, and if we can win those, will be right in playoff position.”

But the Impact understand what they’re stepping into. The Union have been fantastic at home of late, currently on a 4-0-0 run while outscoring the opposition, 10-1, over that span.

“Philadelphia is a team that always comes out strong when they play at home,” said Impact manager Mauro Biello, who mentioned C.J. Sapong, Ilsinho and Haris Medunjanin as players his club needs to watch. “They score goals early so we have to be ready for that. It’s about being aware of those elements and being able to focus on what brings us success.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Ignacio Piatti: The dynamic midfielder was out for the Union’s 2-1 loss to the Impact at Saputo Stadium in late July, but was key to the Impact comeback draw. “When you talk about Montreal, it starts with Ignacio Piatti and trying to contain him the best you can,” Curtin said. “He’s not the kind of guy you can shut down for 90 minutes.”

Ilsinho: The Brazilian had the game of his MLS career last weekend by putting up a goal, two eye-popping assists and five shots in a 3-1 rout of FC Dallas. It was exactly what the Union needed from the No. 10 position.

5. This and that
• The Union will once again be without goalkeeper Andre Blake, who is set to miss his third game with a laceration to his hand suffered in the Gold Cup title game. Blake hasn’t played for the Union since July 2 - a 3-0 win over the New England Revolution.

• With Blake out, John McCarthy will get his seventh consecutive start on Saturday. He’s been solid in reserve, making 28 stops and allowing eight goals over that span.

• Masterful at home of late, the Union are 7-1-0 at Talen Energy Stadium since May 1. 

• The Impact are 1-5-5 on the road this season and have never won at Talen Energy Stadium (0-2-5). However, the Union are 3-6-6 all time against the Canadian side.

Win over New York City FC casts Union as Eastern Conference players

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Win over New York City FC casts Union as Eastern Conference players

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — The Union’s convincing 2-0 decision Saturday night over New York City FC was more than just another August win. It was a statement. 

“The players realize it too,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club has won four of its last six matches. “Let’s see us against a top team, we have to win a game against one of these top clubs. Now, we finally pushed over that hump.”

Although the Union players were reluctant to call the win special, the ability to take down one of the titans of the Eastern Conference is meaningful. NYCFC was 14-5-5 entering the match, and the Union took the decisive three points with a two-goal second-half outburst. 

“We’re showing that we can do something different, something important,” said Ilsinho, who added a highlight reel insurance goal late in the second half. “We can play against tough teams, we can play against very good teams. We beat them, but we have to stay focused.”

It was also important how the Union did it.

With a three-save shutout from Andre Blake and stout defensive play from center backs Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty, the Union, now 10-11-3, fed off their defense to wear NYCFC down. That’s not something they were capable of early in the season. 

“There’s just small margins in this league,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “I stress that every time we go out there at home, we gotta stay compact and keep a clean sheet. We were able to get those chances to put away. I think we’re looking good, but we just gotta keep going.”

While Saturday’s win was a signal the Union’s recent success is authentic, they’re still in a fight. As it stands, the Union are fifth in the East with 33 points — tied with Montreal Impact, who have played two more games — and four points ahead of the New England Revolution, who the Union face next at home. 

“We did a good job taking care of business against the teams that are around us or below us in the standings,” Curtin said. “To be a special group, to get a home playoff game, which is the long-term goal, you have to win games like this against top teams. We still have a long way to go, a lot of season left. We have to take points.” 

Union make statement in shutout win over New York City FC

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USA Today Images

Union make statement in shutout win over New York City FC

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — With second-half goals from Cory Burke and Ilsinho, the Union wore down David Villa and New York City FC to claim the impressive 2-0 win Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium. 

It was a highlight victory for the Union, who pushed their record to 10-11-3 on the season and took a bite of the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. NYCFC fell to 14-6-5. 

Andre Blake posted the three-save shutout. 

• It wasn’t just another game for the Union. Saturday was a litmus test for a club coming off a win Aug. 11 over struggling New England Revolution. Looking to climb up the East playoff ladder, the Union wanted to try themselves against one of the best teams in MLS. They passed. 

• It originally looked like another game of missed opportunities for the Union, as both David Accam and C.J. Sapong flunked golden chances to give the Union a lead. But as the Union pressed, NYCFC seemed to wear down. 

• The Union finally connected on a counter in the 57th minute to capture the 1-0 lead. Grabbing possession in the midfield, Borek Dockal threaded a long pass to streaking Burke, who edged his defender to gain the box and fired a shot that beat Sean Johnson to his left. 

• Burke has been a godsend for the Union. The goal was his sixth of the season and fourth in six games. He’s been an intricate part of the club’s playoff push. 

• The assist was also Dockal’s fifth in five games and 11th on the season. He’s quietly been a force for the surging club.

• Ilsinho entered the match in the 68th minute for David Accam, who made the start for suspended Fafa Picault. Accam was active, collecting three shots on goal, but he wasn’t as dangerous as the Union needed. It was Ilinsho’s first game action since July 11, but you wouldn't know it.

• In the 76th minute, Ilsinho did what Ilsinho does. Like a shot of adrenaline to the Union attack, Ilsinho split two defenders with a move, then dodged a third, cutting inside for the left-footed goal. It was his fifth of the season.

• The Brazilian’s success must have got under the skin of NYCFC’s Ronaldo Matarrita, who took a red-card, studs-up run at Ilsinho moments after the two clashed around a dead ball. He was ejected.

• Fabian Herbers, who has been involved in recent Union lineup decisions, missed the match to attend his sister’s wedding. With Ilsinho back in the mix, it wasn’t a sure thing Herbers would have made the 18. 

• Next up, the Union host the beatable Revolution on Aug. 25. It’s yet another opportunity to claw up the East standings and catch the Columbus Crew at the four spot.