MLS

Alejandro Bedoya's early strike puts Union in U.S. Open Cup semifinals

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Alejandro Bedoya's early strike puts Union in U.S. Open Cup semifinals

CHESTER, Pa. — Alejandro Bedoya scored in the fourth minute and the Union didn’t look back, easily eliminating Orlando City SC, 1-0, in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium. 

With the win, the Union advance to their third semifinals appearance in five years, where they will face the winner of Louisville FC and Chicago Fire. The priority location draw for the semifinals and finals will take place on Thursday. The semifinals will begin on Aug. 8. 

“In four years in this competition with this group, we haven’t been beaten in regulation, in 90 minutes,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We’re a tough out in this competition. Hopefully we get another couple home games and get a break in that regard. Two wins from lifting our first trophy as a club.” 

• Bedoya made it look easy. Off a short corner, Haris Medunjanin’s cross was headed on goal by Fafa Picault. Earl Edwards Jr. made the initial save but it bounced out to the captain, who roofed it from the crease for the 1-0 Union lead and eventual win. 

• Orlando City SC, which entered the match with nine losses in its last 10 MLS games, defeated D.C. United in penalty kicks to reach the quarterfinals. The Union topped the Richmond Kickers and New York Red Bulls on the way to Wednesday’s match.

• Orlando looked like a team that had lost nine straight recently, though the Union couldn’t put the struggling visitors away. The Union finished the match with 53.9 percent possession and 18 shots. Still, it was another game in which the club lacked killer instinct despite territorial domination, resulting in only one goal.

• That domination was powered by the play of Picault, who was the Union’s offensive engine. Late in the second half, Picault beat his man in the box but placed his shot just wide of the right post. It was one of four shot attempts for Picault.

• Despite playing hero on Saturday against the Fire, David Accam struggled on Wednesday. He was active but had little effect, and was replaced in the 60th minute by Marcus Epps. Accam finished with one total shot. 

• It should be noted that Mark McKenzie, a rookie, pocketed Orlando forward Dom Dwyer for the entire match. Dwyer, who couldn’t gain an inch in possession, was forced into trying to draw calls. He was held without a shot attempt. 

“He was a beast,” Curtin said of McKenzie. “He’s a big reason we got a shutout tonight.”

• With the help of that effort from McKenzie, Andre Blake earned the four-save shutout. He wasn’t tested much, but was good when he needed to be.

Without Borek Dockal and Haris Medunjanin, Union can't handle LAFC

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Without Borek Dockal and Haris Medunjanin, Union can't handle LAFC

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES — The Union are trying to get to the point where they can attack anyone, even the league’s top teams, even when they’re on the road, even in the most daunting environments.

But it’s clear they’re not there yet, especially when the deck is stacked against them.

For Saturday’s game against expansion Los Angeles FC, the Union tried to make due without Borek Dockal, fresh off one of the best games a Union player has ever played in a 4-0 thrashing of the Vancouver Whitecaps last week. He stayed back in Philly due to family reasons, joining suspended Haris Medunjanin on the DNP list. 

Without those two influential midfielders on the field, the Union never stood much of a chance against a star-studded team that’s still never lost at home, falling to the expansion club by a lopsided 4-1 margin in front of 20,000 fans at sparkling new Banc of California Stadium.

“Certainly missing Borek, our No. 10 that’s playing at a very high level, it hurt,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “But he had some personal issues back home he had to deal with. There are certain things that are bigger than soccer. I’ll always put family ahead of soccer and that’s the situation with Borek.”

Although Curtin didn’t have everyone at his disposal, he still opted to not just absorb pressure on the road or play for a draw, as some MLS teams do. And it looked like it could pay dividends as the Union got two of the best chances of the first part of the game. But they weren’t able to finish, with slumping striker C.J. Sapong bungling an early opportunity that could have perhaps altered the course of the contest.

“Look, we came out to Los Angeles not to put 10 guys behind the ball and sit back and just defend,” Curtin said. “I give our guys credit — we went for it. We had chances early. And we had some youthful mistakes but that is something we signed up for and we’re on board for because we still see a lot of progress with our young center backs.” 

Those young center backs, teenagers Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie, certainly had a rough go of it as LAFC striker Adama Diamonda torched the Philly backline for three goals, making up for the absence of standout Designated Players Carlos Vela (World Cup duty) and Diego Rossi (hamstring). 

Curtin, though, tried to take a bit of solace in the fact that the teenagers, quite simply, need to get through these kinds of games to turn into franchise pillars, as the Union hope. 

“Those two guys, it needs to be said, they’re 19 years old and they’re having incredible seasons together,” the Union coach said. “But this is a learning experience for them.”

Union captain Alejandro Bedoya was also somewhat encouraged by the team’s first-ever game against LAFC, pointing out that the hosts didn’t look like a team that’s “4-1 better than us,” particularly in the first half when Philly had the better of the scoring opportunities and tried to retake the momentum with a Fafa Picault goal right before the break.

“We know we can create chances,” Bedoya said. “We know we can play with any team in this league. But in the final third, we’ve just got to be better.”

“Our guys were brave,” Curtin added. “We played some good soccer. We just ran into a team that took their chances today. … The atmosphere they have here is top notch. The stadium is beautiful, a nice place to play. But we didn’t come here for a vacation. We came to take points. It just wasn’t our night and we got punished.”

'Unlucky' Union not panicking over punchless defeat

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'Unlucky' Union not panicking over punchless defeat

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Fafa Picault had the ball at his feet.

Shielding himself from two Toronto FC defenders at the top of the box, Picault, looking for the equalizer, took a touch, stepped inside and launched a right-footed rocket that beat Alex Bono before carving in and ricocheting off the crossbar. 

“That’s a shot I’m pretty good for — cut in and bend it back post,” said Picault, who has one goal on the year but has been one of the Union's most active attacking players. “It goes in a lot, sometimes it doesn’t go in. Today, it didn’t go in. It’s unlucky honestly.”

It summed up a difficult night for the Union, who were blanked by Bono and Toronto FC, 2-0, on Friday at Talen Energy Stadium (see observations). They outshot the visitors, 14-12, took the 6-2 advantage in corners and went 16-7 in crosses. It didn’t matter.

“I think we definitely played better soccer,” Union left back Ray Gaddis said. “We had some good performances on the field, we hit the crossbar, we had more shots than they did. It didn’t fall our way.”

Lack of finish has been a running theme for the 2018 Union. The club began the season with six goals in its first nine games, but saw an uptick with nine goals in its next four. But after Friday, the bad-luck Union seem to have returned. 

“It’s a matter of putting it in the back of the net,” Gaddis said, whose club also flubbed a pair of breakaways in the first half. “We created a lot of chances. To see the team go forward and create, it’s good. We have to translate them into goals. It was a good evening.”

While the Union were without Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin, which forced Union manager Jim Curtin into moving offensive catalyst Borek Dockal back into more of a free-range midfield position, their producers weren’t able to produce. 

C.J. Sapong, who has one goal in his last 11 starts, was kept without a shot attempt. Same with Dockal and Marcus Epps on the right wing. But Curtin didn’t see an issue with the effort. 

“Soccer can be a cruel game at times,” Curtin said. “You look at missing your top two players, starting the way we did, creating a ton of chances in the first half, being aggressive. We put a very attack-minded lineup on the field and the guys did everything to create chances in the first half. We just weren’t clinical.”

The good news for the Union is they’ll have time to reset. Thanks to the World Cup break, they get over two weeks away from MLS action before facing the Vancouver Whitecaps at home on June 23. 

It’s exactly what they need to jump-start their attack once again.

“We’ve had a lot of games, a lot traveling,” Picault said. “Now’s a chance for us to regroup, recharge and get ready to come back.”