Union

Union-Rapids 5 things: Closing in on a record winning streak

Union-Rapids 5 things: Closing in on a record winning streak

Union vs. Colorado Rapids
7 p.m. on TCN

Not long after setting one of the longest winless streaks in MLS history, the resurgent Union (3-4-4) can now set a franchise record for consecutive wins when they host the struggling Colorado Rapids (2-7-1) on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

Here are five things to know:

1. Going streaking
Yes, the same team that started 0-4-2 has rebounded from that dreadful start to go unbeaten in five games with three straight dominating wins by a combined score of 9-0.

It marks just the third three-game winning streak in history for a club that's never had a four-game winning streak. But they have a golden opportunity to do just that with a very winnable home match against an equally tired Colorado team playing on the other side of the country.

Remarkably, the Union can also move their shutout streak from four games — already a club record — to five.

What do these records mean given the 15-game winless streak that came before it?

“I think it’s a testament to the players,” Curtin said following Friday's practice session. “They stuck together through a difficult time. I think we’re stronger because we did stick together through as difficult a stretch as you can go through.”

2. All about the defense
The only thing more surprising than the fact that the Union haven’t given up a goal in four straight games is the personnel they are doing it with.

Rookie Jack Elliott, one of the last picks in the 2017 draft, has been starting at center back along Oguchi Onyewu, who was out of soccer for two years. And Ray Gaddis, who had been relegated to a reserve role last season, has supplanted Keegan Rosenberry at right back, at least for now. 

“I think it’s a testament to how they hard they train, the preseason they go through,” Curtin said. “We treat each guy the same way, whether you’re old or young, the reps that you get in training are all equal. It’s not a big surprise now when a guy gets thrown in.”

Interestingly enough, oft-overlooked left back Fabinho has been the only defender to play every minute as he prepares to play his 100th MLS game.

“He’s a guy who is a great player for us,” Curtin said. “He’s been with the club for a while, has a good idea of what we ask out of our left back. He’s done a better job I think this year of not running himself into the ground in the first 20 minutes or so with those 80-, 90-yard tiring runs, and has been very disciplined and has had a great season for us so far.”

3. Rotating the attack?
No one on the Union has been hotter than their two wingers with Fafa Picault scoring in each of the last two games and Chris Pontius leading the way with two assists in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Houston to match his career high with six assists on the season.

But with the Union playing their third game in eight days, will both get the start once again — especially with a talented winger like Fabian Herbers waiting on the bench?

“We’ll have to look at what makes the most sense,” Curtin said. “Do we use one as a reserve? It’s a possibility. But they’re confident right now, they’re flying, and they’re getting goals and assists, which is a bonus.”

4. Keep an eye on …​
Rapids: Perhaps the best goalkeeper in American history, Tim Howard, will face the Union for the first time. It’s fair to say Curtin thinks highly of the 38-year-old stalwart who’s had a remarkable career, including an epic performance for the U.S. national team at the last World Cup. “Anytime he’s in the goal,” the Union coach said, “there’s a darn good chance he’s going to get a clean sheet. … It takes a special effort to beat a guy like Timmy.”

Union: Curtin said that attacking midfielder Roland Alberg won’t be able to return from a quad injury in time for the game, which means Ilsinho, fresh off a great game Wednesday, should be in line to get his third straight start in that position. But can he handle another grueling shift just three days after the last one? “Ilsinho is in a newer position for him,” Curtin said. “I think he has adjusted well to it. He’s doing a lot of running defensively. It is tough on the legs, so we’ll look at everything.”

5. This and that
• Union goalkeeper Andre Blake hasn’t allowed a goal in 363 minutes and counting — currently the second longest shutout streak in Union history. The longest currently belongs to Zac MacMath, who went 408 minutes without surrendering a goal in 2012 and will be in town Saturday as Colorado’s backup goalkeeper.

• The Union have beaten the Rapids just once in nine all-time meetings and never at Talen Energy Stadium (0-2-3). 

• In last Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of D.C. United, Haris Medunjanin became the second Union player to have a goal and multiple assists in the same game, joining Sebastien Le Toux. 

• The Rapids rank last in MLS with eight goals scored this year and have only scored one total goal in their last seven regular-season road games

• The Rapids are 0-5-0 away from home this year and have been outscored 10-1 in those games.

Union surging into U.S. Open Cup final, 'deserve to be' the champs

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Union surging into U.S. Open Cup final, 'deserve to be' the champs

CHESTER, Pa. — With back-to-back wins over two of the league’s hottest teams, the Union are heading into their third U.S. Open Cup final on Wednesday with the wind at their back.

“This group deserves to be champion,” boasted Fabinho, who captained the Union’s largely reserve squad on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium. “We know how hard we work every day, everybody. We deserve to be champion on Wednesday and we are ready for this game.”

The confidence was palpable following a 2-0 win over Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City on Sunday. Saving the legs of almost all consistent starters, and with goalkeeper Andre Blake falling ill just before kickoff, the Union went with a largely untested group and came out with the victory, thanks to a pair of second-half goals from Jay Simpson.

Other than Simpson and Fabinho, the list of Union starters included Oliver Mbaizo, making his MLS debut, Derrick Jones, Warren Creavalle and John McCarthy.

“We’re on a good run of form at the moment,” said Simpson, who made his first start of the season on Sunday and also contributed to the Union’s midweek win in Seattle against the Sounders. “I’m sure a lot of people didn’t even fancy us to get a result today with our starters missing out on the game because of the Open Cup. We beat some big sides.”

With one loss in their last eight matches, the Union are surging into the title game. Wednesday's match against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium will mark the third time the Union have appeared in the Open Cup championship since 2014. They’ve lost the other two - a fact fresh in the mind of Fabinho, who noted that the club's success of late has changed the dynamic.

“I feel different this year,” he said. “I don’t know why, I can’t say how or why, but I feel different. I feel like we’ll be the champions, you know what I mean. I know the game will be very tough, I know Houston has a good team.”

More importantly, the past struggles have given the confident Union valuable perspective.

“We have guys who work here every day, some guys come here at 5 AM to work for us, help us,” Fabinho said. “The fans are here every weekend, the staff, we have a lot of people behind us. When we go for this game, we have to play like it’s the last game of our lives. It’s important for us, but it’s important for many people behind us.”

Reserve-heavy Union stun SKC with a shutout

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Reserve-heavy Union stun SKC with a shutout

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — With the U.S. Open Cup championship match Wednesday in Houston, the Union showed extreme caution Sunday by leaning on a secondary squad to challenge one of the league’s best teams in Sporting Kansas City. 

They still came away with the win. 

Alejandro Bedoya assisted two Jay Simpson second-half goals as the Union defeated SKC, 2-0, at a rainy Talen Energy Stadium. In his first start of the season, John McCarthy earned the six-save shutout. 

• After a back-and-forth, and ultimately lifeless affair throughout the first half, the Union struck gold in the 71st minute. Auston Trusty’s lofty pass found the head of Bedoya, who beat his defender and directed the pop-up cross to Simpson, whose pinpoint one-timer beat Tim Melia for the 1-0 Union lead. 

• But the Englishman wasn’t done. For good measure, Simpson scored his second in the 89th minute, again from Bedoya, as the Union claimed the stunning 2-0 win. 

• The victory pushes the the Union six points over the Montreal Impact for the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference, and one behind the Columbus Crew for fourth at 14-12-4. SKC moves to 15-8-6 but retain control of the top spot in the West. 

• The goals were Simpson’s second and third in a Union uniform and opened his 2018 account. Saturday was just the forward’s fifth start in two seasons for the Union, but he made an impact. The two assists gave Bedoya six on the year. 

• With a match last week in Seattle, and the upcoming Open Cup title game scheduled for Wednesday, the Union started a unique lineup that included Oliver Mbaizo at right back, Fabinho at left back and Simpson at the lone forward position. 

• Borek Dockal, Mark McKenzie and Trusty were the only Union regular starters to begin the game against Sporting Kansas City’s top choice squad. If Union manager Jim Curtin was honest, he’d admit a draw would have been an acceptable result against one of the Western Conference top teams. 

• In the 55th minute, Curtin pulled Dockal for Bedoya. With Wednesday’s match looming, both players were on minute restrictions. The Union’s reserve No. 10 player, Anthony Fontana, played Friday for Bethlehem Steel and was unavailable. 

• More Union changes occurred in the 63rd, when Fafa Picault joined the match for Fabian Herbers. Picault was coming off a 93rd game-winning goal in the Union’s midweek surprise win over the Seattle Sounders. Keegan Rosenberry replaced Mbaizo, who was making his MLS debut, in the 85th minute.