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Ilsinho gives Union what 'you can't teach' in big win over Fire

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Ilsinho gives Union what 'you can't teach' in big win over Fire

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Facing an irregular and frustrating man-to-man defensive setup, the Union were struggling to break down the Chicago Fire on Wednesday. 

That's until Ilsinho put the team on his back.

One minute before the halftime whistle, the Brazilian claimed possession at the top right of the box. Staring down two Fire defenders, Ilsinho pulled the ball right then yanked it left to split the duo and move inside unimpeded. 

“I can’t coach it,” Union manager Jim Curtin. “You can’t teach it. Certain guys are special in that regard. You know he’s going to snake the ball, and he has an ability to just get defenders’ bodyweight on the wrong foot and make them look foolish.”

With confidence, Ilsinho sent a right-footed rocket shot past Patrick McLain for the 1-0 Union advantage. It changed the match for the hosts, who eventually won, 3-1, at Talen Energy Stadium (see observations).

“I was looking for some situation like that all first half,” said Ilsinho, who has three goals on the season and two in his last three matches. “I’m looking for that ball for the entire 45 minutes and I had one chance in the final minute. I’m so glad to score.”

To make the veteran’s highlight even more impressive, the defenders in his way were Bastian Schweinsteiger and Brandon Vincent — two of the better players on the field for either team. The elastico made the two look like rookies.

“If I said I was surprised, I’d be lying,” Union goalkeeper Andre Blake said. “That’s something he does every day in training. Right now, he’s very confident and helping us in a lot of ways. Hopefully he can keep it going.” 

Union midfielder Borek Dockal would take advantage of the Fire’s forced change in tactics, assisting Cory Burke’s second of the season. Dockal would then find the net on a penalty kick with five minutes remaining. 

“They needed to change how they played,” Dockal said. “In the second half, there was more space to combine the ball. They played something I haven’t seen in maybe 10 years. They played man-to-man defensively, the whole first half. It was a surprise.

“That’s why the goal in the last minute of the first half was so important.” 

Borek Dockal powers red-hot Union past Fire for 3rd win in 4 games

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Borek Dockal powers red-hot Union past Fire for 3rd win in 4 games

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Borek Dockal and the Union are officially on a roll. 

With a goal and two assists, Dockal edged the Union past Bastian Schweinsteiger and the Chicago Fire, 3-1, on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium, helping the team claim victory for the third time in four games. 

Unbeaten in their last four, the Union moved to 5-5-3 on the season, while the Fire fell to 4-7-2. 

• Ilsinho broke the ice with a thriller of a goal just before the half. Grabbing possession at the top right corner of the box, the Brazilian put the ball on a string to split Brandon Vincent and Schweinsteiger. Leaving the duo stunned, Ilsinho gained ground before firing off a strong shot that found the net for a 1-0 Union lead heading into half. 

The goal was Ilsinho’s third in his last seven games and second in his last three, and set the tempo for the Union heading into the second half.

• Feeling inspired just out of the half, Dockal jumped on the ball, and with a right-footed volley on the right side of the box, floated a perfect cross that found the head of Cory Burke for the clean goal and a 2-0 lead.

For Burke, making the start up front for C.J. Sapong, the goal was his second in two starts this season. He’s been a productive addition for Union manager Jim Curtin. 

• But with the two-goal cushion, the Union took a nap. In the 56th minute, Brandt Bronico gained the box and slid a rolling pass to Alan Gordon to cut the Union’s lead in half, 2-1. 

• More bad luck struck the Union just prior to the 60th minute. Rookie defender Mark McKenzie, who has been a revelation for the Union, went down clutching his right knee. He walked off under his own power but was replaced by Jack Elliott. 

• Burke made his presence felt yet again in the final moments of the contest, when he drew a foul in the box off a tricky header pass from Marcus Epps. 

Stepping up to the spot, Dockal buried the goal down the middle for the 3-1 Union lead. It was a welcomed sight for the Union, who watched Sapong miss a crucial penalty kick last weekend at Red Bull Arena.

• The productive night from Dockal wasn’t anything new. After going without a goal or assist in his first seven games, the attacking midfielder has produced three goals and five assists in his last seven games, including five assists in his last four matches.

• The Union’s streak will be tested Saturday, when they travel to face Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on short rest. Lucky for them, Atlanta also played on Wednesday.

Inside Doop: Lack of star power continues to doom Union

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Inside Doop: Lack of star power continues to doom Union

At long last, the Union’s season is coming to an end. Even better, they no longer have to play any games on the road this year.

In their final away match of a disappointing 2017 campaign, the Union let a lead slip away in a 3-2 loss to the Fire, finishing the year with a dismal 1-10-6 road record.

What went wrong? And what can we expect from next week’s regular-season finale at Talen Energy Stadium? Here’s a look in the final Inside Doop of 2017:

Three thoughts about Sunday’s game
1. The Union were once again reminded what star power can do for a team. On Sunday, the Fire’s Nemanja Nikolic put on a show with three goals — his 22nd, 23rd and 24th of the season — to all but wrap up a Golden Boot crown and put on his back a Fire team that was without fellow star Bastian Schweinsteiger. In Philly’s last road game, Atlanta also overcame the loss of star Miguel Almiron to ride Josef Martinez to a big win. That’s what happens when you spend a lot of money: you have a stable of difference-makers and their presence trickles down to the rest of the club. The Union, simply, don’t have anything close to that — one of the big reasons why they can’t play well for 90 minutes on the road and why they’ll be missing the playoffs for the sixth time in the franchise’s eight-year history.

2. The closest thing the Union do have to a true star, apart from goalie Andre Blake, is the midfield combo of Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. And both overcame their recent heartbreak of missing out on the World Cup (Bedoya with the U.S., Medunjnanin with Bosnia and Herzegovina) to put in strong shifts. Medunjanin’s pass to set up Bedoya’s second goal of the season was a thing of beauty — and marked his 11th assist of the season. Say what you want about the Union, but those two are consummate pros and locker room leaders who will do everything in their power to get this thing turned around in 2018.

3. Sadly for the Union, one of their best stories of the season — Jack Elliott — had a night to forget. The rookie center back, who went from fourth-round draft pick to Rookie of the Year contender, lost track of a long ball on the Fire’s first goal and then committed a penalty to set up Nikolic’s second goal. Elliott will still be an important piece heading into 2018, but it’s important to remember that he’s no sure thing, especially after seeing what happened to Keegan Rosenberry and Josh Yaro in their second seasons. Meanwhile, Richie Marquez continued his late-season revival with one of his better games of the year. Raise your hand if you have any kind of handle on the team’s center back situation right now.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. Home finales are usually special no matter how a season turns out but it’s hard to figure what kind of crowd and reception there will be when the Union take on Orlando next Sunday (4 p.m., 6ABC). This has been a trying season for Union fans who watched their team fail to build on any kind of momentum from last year’s playoff berth while lowly teams like Chicago or expansion teams like Atlanta (for the reasons listed above them) skyrocketed past them. At the same time, the Union have been mostly fun to watch at home, where they’ve set a franchise record with nine wins. The chance to go for a 10th victory and have C.J. Sapong break the single-season scoring record could be a couple reasons that people will flock to the stadium — that, and the realization that there will be no more soccer there until March.

2. Another big reason to come to Talen Energy Stadium is to see Kaka, the Brazilian legend who will play his last game in MLS. Who will play their last game for the Union? It’s hard to say for sure but Roland Alberg, Ilsinho, Chris Pontius and Brian Carroll are decent bets as an offseason potentially filled with turnover looms.

3. How will head coach Jim Curtin construct the lineup? He doesn’t like to switch things too much, but fans may be clamoring for young guys like Derrick Jones and Adam Najem while Curtin may want to give something of a send-off to Carroll or Charlie Davies, well-known veterans who have hardly played this year. And what about Maurice Edu? He hasn’t played in more than two years — but will a player who led the Union to back-to-back U.S. Open Cup finals in 2014 and 2015 get to say goodbye to fans in some way?

Stat of the week
Even after Bedoya’s goal Sunday, the Union’s four highest-paid players — Bedoya, Edu, Ilsinho and Jay Simpson — have combined for only seven goals this season.

Quote of the week
"It was definitely nostalgic to come back and play at Toyota Park. When I was younger in the U-16s and the U-18s, I played a lot here when I was with the academy. It was good to come back on the professional side and be able to play on the same field I play it on when I was younger." — Union rookie Marcus Epps

Player of the week
Bedoya scored a very nice goal, made a couple of perfectly timed tackles and generally looked sharp in his first game back from the USMNT’s World Cup qualifying failure. Maybe he should’ve played in Trinidad, huh?