Union

Playoff-clinching Union pass on celebration because 'they're not satisfied'

usa_ilsinho_union.jpg
USA Today Images

Playoff-clinching Union pass on celebration because 'they're not satisfied'

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Celebratory beers sat mostly untouched in the Union locker room.

Following a 5-1 playoff-clinching win over Minnesota United on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium (see observations), the players had reason to celebrate. Instead, they were jovial but subdued. With two matches remaining and first-round home-field advantage in play, the reason was made clear. 

“They’re not satisfied,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club can finish as high as third in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. “We have a very humble and hungry locker room.”

It’s just the third time the Union have clinched a playoff berth, and nearly a decade since they did so with confidence. Curtin’s club limped into the postseason in 2016 riding a bevy of losses, only to be dismantled by Toronto FC when it got there. 

“We had just backed in, we weren’t in good form going into that game against Toronto,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya. “This feels a lot better.”

It also feels different. 

“You learn the most about your group in the hard moments,” said Curtin, who transformed his struggling club into an Eastern Conference player. “Not only did they pass, but they did so with style.”

With the win on Saturday, the Union, who already demolished a franchise record with 15 wins, surpassed the 2011 team for the franchise-high point total with 50. But what seemed like a true departure from past Union teams, is with a chance to take the easy road with a victory against a non-playoff team at home — they took it with authority. 

“I’ve been here for a while, I’ve seen it all,” Union goalkeeper Andre Blake said. “I’ve seen this team grow a lot. We’ve learned to close games out, we’ve learned to dominate when we need to. Tough times can make you or break you and it’s been making us.” 

Led by Fafa Picault’s two, the Union scored four first-half goals and toyed with Minnesota throughout. At times it felt more like an early-round U.S. Open Cup match than a late-season MLS tilt. Credit goes to the Union for living up to the moment and seizing opportunity. 

“We don’t suck,” Picault said. “We’re doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve been through the hard times together and the good ones. It’s important we continue to do that. We’re not going to get overly confident and overhype the situation.”

The Union are now staring down New York City FC at the No. 3 spot in the East. With the win on Saturday, the Union jumped over the Columbus Crew (48 points) to claim the fourth spot. The Union face NYCFC on the road in the season finale. 

“We want to climb the table as high as we can,” Picault said. “We’re trying to get third or fourth place. The job is not done, but tonight we’re happy with what we’ve done on the field and we want to keep that going into the next two games.” 

Union fall to top seed NYCFC in regular-season finale

usa_union_nycfc_loss.jpg
USA Today Images/James Lang

Union fall to top seed NYCFC in regular-season finale

BOX SCORE 

CHESTER, Pa. — Ronald Matarrita and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi scored and New York City FC beat the Philadelphia Union 2-1 on Sunday in the regular-season finale.

New York City (18-6-10), the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, earned a first-round bye and will play No. 4 seed Toronto or fifth-seeded D.C. United in the conference semifinals.

Philadelphia (16-11-7) lost three of its last four regular-season games, falling from first to third in the Eastern standings. The Union will host the sixth-seeded New York Red Bulls in the knockout round.

Matarrita opened the scoring in the sixth minute. Valentin Castellanos, at the top of the area, first-timed a pass from Ben Sweat to Matarrita for the finish from near the spot. It was the first goal of the season for the 25-year-old defender.

Ismael Tajouri-Shradi chipped an entry from outside the area that deflected off the Union's Jamiro Monteiro into the goal to make it 2-0 in the 22nd and Philadelphia's Marco Fabian converted from the spot in the 87th minute. 

Union fall into second-place tie after loss to Crew

usa_jim_curtin.jpg
USA Today Images

Union fall into second-place tie after loss to Crew

BOX SCORE

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Pedro Santos had a goal and an assist in the second half and the Columbus Crew beat the Union 2-0 on Sunday night to hand the Eastern Conference's top seed to New York City FC.

Youness Mokhtar's first career goal, set up by Luis Diaz and Santos, put Columbus up in the 69th minute. Four minutes later, Santos' 11th goal doomed the Union, who fell six points behind NYCFC and into a tie for second with Atlanta United, which holds the tiebreaker with one game to play.

Eloy Room made three saves for his first shutout.

The game was delayed by almost an hour as lightning arrived with the start of halftime.

On the attack, the Union (16-10-7) failed to get a strong shot and off the block the Crew (10-15-8) quickly countered. Speedy Luis Diaz dribbled the ball across midfield on the right before sending it middle to Santos, who put it to Mokhtar in the box left. Mokhtar counted back into the middle and beat three defenders with a low drive past Andre Blake.

Off a corner four minutes later, a Union defender's header put the ball straight up in the air and Blake punched it out of the box. Santos pounced on the loose ball sending a four-bouncer through a crowd of players past the diving Blake.