Union

Union looking as transfer window opens: 'We have flexibility to do something'

Union looking as transfer window opens: 'We have flexibility to do something'

With the summer transfer window now open, the Union are shopping for help. 

“We have some flexibility to do something,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We have a lot of guys that we’ve been looking at and the right thing that comes up, we’re always looking to strengthen our roster, offensively or defensively, there isn’t one position we’re targeting. We’ve been actively looking but nothing to report.”

Though Curtin wouldn’t tip his hand to what the Union’s strategy may be when it comes to adding talent, the club will likely look at attracting offense. The eighth-place Union are currently 13th in MLS in goals per game and believe a touch of potency on the offensive side could ignite their run at a playoff position. 

“We’ve probably come up a little short in terms of the quantity of chances and shots that we’ve created,” said Curtin, who believes his club’s eighth-ranked plus-four goal differential is a sign it could take the next step in the Eastern Conference. “But the quality of those shots, we come out tops in the league in terms of where we’re getting our shots from, so that part is good. We need to really improve the overall volume and quantity of those shots.”

But achieving that likely means adding a playmaking No. 10. The would-be quarterback of the Union’s offense, which is currently held by converted right-winger Ilsinho, and is the weak point of the club’s current attack, could make a significant difference. 

The club believes that current attacking pieces like Fafa Picault, C.J. Sapong and Chris Pontius are enough to be successful, the group simply needs a spark and some service.

“I like the group, I like all the players,” said Curtin, who hasn’t been able to fulfill the playmaking vacancy left by Tranquillo Barnetta last season. “I think it’s a strong group and if we’re able to add something, it’s a bonus.”

Curtin noted that making an addition at the 10 spot isn't easy because the Union aren’t the only team looking for that type of primary facilitator. The club recently hosted Costa Rican midfielder Elias Aguilar as a trialist but later stated it wasn’t the right fit. 

“It’s a position everyone in the world is looking for,” said Curtin, who along with sporting director Earnie Stewart demand all attacking players buy into the club’s defense-first mentality. “It’s a hard one to find the perfect player; the combination of attack, playing the final ball and doing the defensive work, cutting passing lanes off and doing all of those things.”

If the Union do bring someone in, there’s evidence it won’t be a band-aid for 2017 but part of a longer-term strategy. Ilsinho has been unproductive this season, scoring just two goals and no assists in 13 starts, while Roland Alberg, who has four goals and no assists, has been productive but doesn’t hold favor with the coaching staff, earning just four starts.

Curtin suggested that the two players, who combine for $912,583 in guaranteed salary, may not be in the Union’s plans for next season. That would make any significant mid-season addition at attacking midfield one that could alter the club’s future.

“Roland is in really good form right now, he’s been doing well and we’re having discussions about doing what’s best for him and the club moving forward,” Curtin said. “But that will be more towards the end of the year. Ilsinho will be the same thing. There are decisions to be made at the end of the year, they won’t be made right now.”

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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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.