Union

Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Revenge on the mind for home opener

Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Revenge on the mind for home opener

Union vs. Toronto FC
4:30 p.m. on CSN

With the revenge factor and home-field advantage on their side, the Union (0-0-1) open their account at Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday (4:30 p.m./CSN) against superstar Sebastian Giovinco and Eastern Conference favorites, Toronto FC (0-0-1). It's an early but important test for Jim Curtin's club.

Here are five things to know:

1. Lineup consistency
The Union are coming off an impressive 0-0 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps last Sunday, earning the club its first point of the season in a tough rough environment. 

"We had a good game against Vancouver," Union center back Oguchi Onyewu said. "It was a good point away from home. Now it's time to do business in front of our fans."

That strong road effort means the Union likely won't alter their lineup on Saturday. Following the solid outing, Curtin will start a very similar group against Toronto FC. 

"You won't see us change drastically from the guys who did well against Vancouver," he said. "How we want to set up and defend won't be different."

That means the Union could tap the impressive Derrick Jones, Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya in the midfield, along with Fabian Herbers, Chris Pontius and Jay Simpson mounting the attack. Curtin, who likes to play a more up-tempo, attack-oriented game at home, isn't one to mess with a successful formula.

"We tend to have more of the ball at home," Curtin said. "We just need to get that final ball in the box a bit more reliably."

2. Stopping Gio
On Saturday, the Union will be tasked with something they haven't been able to do since Sept. 6, 2014 -- beat Toronto FC.

"They have very good players, these are the games that you test yourself," said Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, whose club went 0-1-2 against Toronto FC last season, including a first-round playoff loss. "We're looking forward to this game. It'll take teamwork to shut them down but we're placing an emphasis on defending."

And while emphasizing defense is something Curtin implores his team to do on every occasion, it's a must against Toronto FC, which boasts one of the more potent attacks in MLS. 

"They are a very good attacking team," Curtin said, “and one we respect a great deal. We think we have a good plan in place."

Part of that plan, which Curtin didn't disclose in full, is to stop Giovinco, the league's most dangerous attacker. It sounds obvious but easier said than done. Giovinco has 39 goals and 31 assists over the last two seasons.

"Gio is the league's most dangerous player," said Curtin, who also mentioned Toronto FC players, Jozy Altidore, Drew Moor and Michael Bradley. "He's tricky because it can't just be center backs that focus on him because one-on-one he can beat anyone. You're just trying to limit touches. When he gets the ball, you want him as far away from your goal as possible."

3. Lacking intensity
Entering the season as Eastern Conference favorites, Toronto FC had a mild letdown in its season opener against Real Salt Lake last weekend, tying the game, 0-0. But what TFC coach Greg Vanney was most concerned with was a lack of fire from his squad.

"Our overall engagement and intensity needs to get higher," he told the media. "We had a good start to the game in Salt Lake but we faded out of it a little bit. It was too easy for Salt Lake to get beyond our first line. We have to be more engaged and have more intensity."

But while Vanney wants his club to be more engaged against the Union on Saturday, he doesn't want it to change the game plan. Though he respects the Union, Vanney said Saturday is about what his team can do. 

"We're still worrying about things we need to improve upon," he said. "It's going to be about us. They have a good team, they looked well-organized and very disciplined in their approach last week. They made it difficult for Vancouver to get chances. I suspect it'll be a tough game." 

4. Keep an eye on
Sebastian Giovinco: Knowing how dangerous Giovinco can be, the Union's defensive game plan revolves around keeping an eye on the 30-year-old. "The message all week was about being organized and knowing where he is at all moments," Curtin said. 

Oguchi Onyewu: Center back Ken Tribbett was torched by Toronto FC twice last season -- once in the regular season, which got him pulled from the game at halftime, and again in the postseason. On Saturday, it will be Onyewu's job to help slow down a vicious TFC attack that tortured the player Onyewu is currently ahead of on the depth chart. "He's answered everything we've asked him to do,” Curtin said.

5. This and that
• The Union are 6-6-5 all-time against Toronto FC and 4-2-2 at home against the Canadian side. 

• It’s been two years and six months since the Union defeated Toronto FC. Over that six-game winless span, the Union, who are 0-5-1 against TFC since Sept. 6, 2014, have been outscored 13-7.

• Both Ilsinho and Warren Creavalle missed last weekend’s match with injuries. Creavalle is expected to be ready on Saturday but Ilsinho, slowed by a hamstring injury, didn't begin on-field training until Thursday, which puts his selection in doubt.

Union's Haris Medunjanin suspended 2 additional MLS games

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USA Today Images

Union's Haris Medunjanin suspended 2 additional MLS games

CHESTER, Pa. — Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin only lost his mind for a few moments but the outburst will cost him a few weeks.

During his weekly press conference Wednesday, head coach Jim Curtin said Medunjanin will be suspended an additional two games for his vociferous arguments with the referee June 2 in a 3-1 loss in Atlanta.

Medunjanin only played 19 minutes that game before being ejected, and then served the normal one-game red-card suspension in a 2-0 loss to Toronto on June 8. Because of the severity of the offense, he’ll now also miss Saturday’s home tilt vs. Vancouver on Saturday (5 p.m., PHL17) as well as the Union’s first-ever trip to expansion Los Angeles FC the following week.

The league has not yet announced the three-game suspension but Curtin said the team “recently got word” that an appeal from the MLS Players Union was denied.

“I don’t agree with it but we have to live with it,” Curtin said. “I think for Haris, it’s the first red card in his career, which says a lot about who he is as a player.”

Curtin referenced an incident last June when Medunjanin showed his honesty by asking referee Sorin Stoica to rescind a red card handed to D.C. United’s Luciano Acosta. The Union midfielder claimed Acosta didn’t kick him and didn’t deserve to be sent off, even though the initial ruling would have significantly helped his own team. 

Perhaps that was one reason why Medunjanin blew up at the same referee who called a questionable penalty on Auston Trusty before showing Alejandro Bedoya his second yellow card for what appeared to be a minor dissent, effectively ruining the Union’s chances of winning in Atlanta.

“You can go through a lot of things to say it’s a little harsh to get three games,” Curtin said. “But we have to live with the decision and now we move on missing one of our best players. That’s challenging as a team but we’ll have to make up for it as we move forward.”

Medunjanin certainly showed his worth in this past Saturday’s 2-1 U.S. Open Cup win over the New York Red Bulls (MLS suspensions don’t carry over to the Open Cup), scoring a beautiful goal and adding a secondary assist.

Bedoya also had one of his better games vs. the Red Bulls, teaming well with Medunjanin in the central midfield to lead the Union into the Open Cup quarterfinals. Back from his own one-game suspension, the Philly captain will now likely partner with Warren Creavalle in the midfield for the next two games.

The 27-year-old Creavalle had played sparingly for much of the year before enjoying solid stints vs. Atlanta and Toronto. 

“He’s been playing very well in training,” Curtin said. “He’ll step up and do a good job. And obviously, Derrick [Jones] will be in the picture as well if we need to close out the game.”

Union's U.S. Open Cup dominance continues against Red Bulls

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USA Today Images

Union's U.S. Open Cup dominance continues against Red Bulls

CHESTER, Pa. — Alejandro Bedoya and Cory Burke led the way Saturday night, as the Union eliminated the New York Red Bulls from the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 win at Talen Energy Stadium in the Round of 16.

"It was a very good win against a very good team," said Union manager Jim Curtin. "Survive and advance mentality. We’re three wins away from a trophy, which is something to be proud of."

After taking down the Richmond Kickers to open the tournament, the Union’s victory Saturday sends them to the quarterfinals on July 18, where they will host either regional foes DC United or Orlando City.

• The win was a continuation of an eye-popping 12-match Open Cup unbeaten streak for the Union, who haven’t suffered a regulation loss since 2014. When it comes to the Open Cup, the Union are hard to beat, which they showed against the Red Bulls. 

• Despite it being an Open Cup game, the match had MLS regular-season flavor. The Red Bulls hit the field with a strong starting lineup that included Tyler Adams, Kaku and Luis Robles. In return, the Union dressed Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, Andre Blake and Ilsinho.

• Those lineup decisions made for an exciting but fruitless opening half. Both teams worked to strike on the counter by using pressure to jar the ball loose. Led by Fafa Picault, the back-and-forth equalled 17 total shots, with the Union claiming eight of their 11 attempts from inside the box. 

• Eventually, the Union those attempts would begin going in. In the 52nd minute, the Union took the 1-0 lead, when working down the right side into Red Bulls territory, Bedoya cut to the middle and slid possession over to Medunjanin. The veteran faked out his defender and ripped a shot that appeared to deflect and beat Robles.

• The goal seemed to unlock something in the Union. Nearly 10-minutes later, Burke made it 2-0 when a Bedoya pass found him between two defenders. Burke, who had been on the doorstep of a goal all night, broke away and slipped his shot to the right. Bedoya finished with two assists. 

"He’s playing at his highest level for us," Curtin said. "He’s taken a bigger leadership role and tonight was an excellent game from him. Our team will go as our central midfield goes." 

• To catch up, the Red Bulls called on some heavy artillery. In the 60th minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips subbed in for Daniel Royer. He scored in the 77th minute, cutting the Union’s defense, then the lead, in half.

• The Union look to carry Open Cup momentum into the MLS regular season, when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps on June 23 at Talen Energy Stadium.