Ryan Bright

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

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USA Today Images

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.

Confident Fusion ready to ride 'cool cats' in Overwatch League playoff battle with Uprising

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Philadelphia Fusion

Confident Fusion ready to ride 'cool cats' in Overwatch League playoff battle with Uprising

It’s been a wild ride for the playoff-bound Fusion. 

Over the 40-game inaugural season of Overwatch League, the Fusion experienced it all. They missed the preseason, found success and stumbled. They went through lineup changes, meta alterations and suspensions.

But when the dramatic 2018 campaign settled, the Fusion found themselves in the playoffs. 

“The goal was always to make it to the playoffs,” Fusion coach Yann “Kirby” Luu said. “If you just make it there and peak at the right time, you have a shot at winning it all.”

Defined by an aggressive, brawl-style dive strategy, the skillful but inconsistent Fusion wrapped up the regular season with a 24-16 record. It was good enough for the sixth and final playoff seed and a best-of-three series against No. 3 Boston Uprising starting Wednesday at Blizzard Arena. The match is streamable on Twitch.tv at 8 p.m.

“The season doesn’t necessarily matter too much,” said the coach, whose club will host a watch party Wednesday, 7 p.m. at NBC Sports Arena at XFINITY Live! “We made it on the final day, but we’re proud of where we’re at and we’re focusing on making sure we take this opportunity all the way.”

Facing the Uprising was a win for the Comcast Spectacor-owned Fusion. They split the season series, 2-2, by a map score of 9-8 in the Fusion’s favor, with both clubs nearly winning a stage title along the way. Each match is a best-of-five series featuring rotating map types, which requires teams to exhibit different strategies and strengths. 

“It’s hard to look at the past series and draw any kind of conclusion,” Luu said. “I wouldn’t read too much into the past. We’re not overlooking them but we’re confident in our ability with the roster we have.” 

The Uprising, who finished 26-14, are owned by Robert Kraft and feature a similar makeup to the NFL’s New England Patriots — a coachable team that relies more on game plan than superstars. And while the Uprising will ride skilled DPS player Nam-Ju “Striker” Gwon, the Fusion, led by All-Star DPS player Jae-Hyeok “Carpe” Lee, feel they have the edge in skill positions and in depth.  

“We’re going in with 12 players, more options at every single role,” said Luu, referring to the Uprising’s lack of depth, which is a Fusion strength. “At the current meta, we should be able to make use out of that. And in terms of raw skill potential, some of our guys edge it out a tiny bit over theirs.” 

Aside from top-end skill, the Fusion also have experience. With five Overwatch World Cup veterans under his watch, Luu is pleased with how his club has approached its first-ever playoff series.

“The guys are cool cats, they just want to get in the room and pop some heads,” he said. “They're excited about the opportunity but it’s also about getting in there, playing Overwatch and focusing on the game. That’s the mentality we’ve used to stay in some of those tough games and the mentality we’re trying to keep for the playoff run.”

Union staggered by inability to finish vs. Atlanta United

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USA Today Images

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.”