Union

Union's Chris Pontius named MLS Comeback Player of the Year

Union's Chris Pontius named MLS Comeback Player of the Year

Chris Pontius has capped off his productive 2016 season with a trophy. 

Following up three injury-riddled seasons with D.C. United, where he scored six goals and four assists in 51 games, the veteran attacker has won MLS Comeback Player of the Year. Pontius led the resurgent Union with 12 goals and was tied for second on the team with six assists in 33 games.

"Thank you to MLS for this award," Pontius said in the team's official release. "This season would not have been possible without (technical director) Chris Albright, (sporting director) Earnie Stewart and (manager) Jim Curtin and the belief they have in me to continue to play at a high level."

According to the official tally, Pontius, who finished tied as the most productive American-born goalscorer in MLS in 2016, beat out New York City FC’s Frank Lampard with 22.4 percent of the vote to Lampard’s 15.21 percent.

Traded to the Union in 2015, Pontius was expected to be a part-time player and veteran presence for a young Union team that needed leadership. But instead of being limited by the need for rest and treatment on nagging injuries, Pontius excelled, playing 2,571 minutes — the most in his career over one season.

"I appreciate the opportunity they gave me this season here in Philadelphia," he said. "A big thank you to my teammates for a tremendous season. Every guy in our locker-room deserves credit for our achievements in 2016."

Pontius, 29, will return to the Union in 2017 on the final year of his contract. He is just the fourth individual award-winner in the Union’s history, joining Sebastien Le Toux (2010 & 2011) and Keegan Rosenberry (2016), who combined for three MLS Fair Play awards.

"Thank you to the voters who recognized the season our team had," Pontius said. "We have a great group of guys and I look forward to continued success in 2017."

Union stun Fire in 95th minute on David Occam's buzzer-beater

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Union stun Fire in 95th minute on David Occam's buzzer-beater

BOX SCORE

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- David Accam scored in the 95th minute, and Cory Burke had two goals to help the Philadelphia Union beat the Chicago Fire 4-3 on Wednesday night.

Accam dribbled through a pair of Chicago defenders and sent home a right-footed shot just inside the left post for his first goal of the season. His game-winner came a minute after the Fire appeared to have salvaged a draw with Bastian Schweinsteiger heading home Diego Campos' corner.

Burke scored on a rebound in the 73rd minute that made it 3-2 for the Union (7-9-3) and a header at the end of first-half stoppage time that made it 2-1.

Aleksandar Katai made it 2-all for the Fire (6-9-5) in the 69th minute with a low hard shot that skipped twice into the far corner.

Nemanja Nikolic tied it at 1 for Chicago in the 39th minute, powering a penalty kick past goalkeeper Andre Blake. Mark McKenzie brought Katai down at the left corner of the penalty area to send Nikolic to the spot.

Haris Medunjanin opened the scoring for Philadelphia in the 31st minute, pouncing on a defensive miscue and finishing with the outside of his foot.

Union staggered by inability to finish vs. Atlanta United

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Union staggered by inability to finish vs. Atlanta United

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — With four losses in their last five games, the Union are reeling.

Their latest setback, a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Josef Martinez and Atlanta United on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium, was a highlight show of recent problems for the club. 

“We kicked ourselves in the foot,” said Union attacker Fafa Picault. “Didn’t do our job.”

It was a common tale for the 2018 Union, that had less to do with the competition than the Union’s inability to produce. Generate chances? Check. Fail to finish? Check. The Union registered 18 shots, 16 crosses and five corners, but had nothing to show for it. 

“That’s our problem,” said Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin, whose club has lost to Atlanta twice, Toronto FC and LAFC in recent games. “If we don’t score the first goal then we will struggle. That’s what happened today.”

The second-lowest-scoring team in MLS and lowest scoring team in the Eastern Conference has struggled to get those early goals, shutout nine times in 18 games. It’s been a grind for the troubled Union, who were impressive at times against the best team in MLS on Saturday, but are now 6-9-3 on the season. 

“This is frustrating,” Medunjanin said. “It’s important to score the goal and win games. We didn’t do that. We need to stick together.” 

It hasn’t been a blameless struggle. Forward C.J. Sapong, who signed an extension through 2019 back in March, scored a career-high 16 goals last year but has just two in 16 games this season. As a consistent starter, he’s been the poster player for the team’s inability to score.

“I chose C.J. to start,” said Union manager Jim Curtin. “There was going to be fingers pointed at him after the game if we didn’t. We’re a team. We win as a team. We lose as a team. 

“He’s having a tough time scoring, that’s what he’s going to be judged on,” he said. “Fair or unfair, that’s the life of a striker. He’s still a guy I believe in.”

But fixing Sapong wouldn’t solve all of the Union’s woes. Left winger Picault only has three goals and right winger David Accam, who has been relegated to bench duty, has none in a combined 30 games. 

Even the Union's most productive player has struggled. Minutes into the second half, Alejandro Bedoya did the work to get around the Atlanta defenders and gain an edge on the right side. He placed a perfect pass into the seam for Borek Dockal, who saw his one-touch chip flew high over the net. 

Moments later, Atlanta took the lead. 

“When we arrive there in the box, we need to be sharper, all of us,” Medunjanin said. “We need to learn that because in soccer it’s about small things. If you score the first goal it would have been much easier for us, but we didn’t do it and we lost a game that we could have won.”