Union

Pressure growing as losses continue to mount for Union

Pressure growing as losses continue to mount for Union

CHESTER, Pa. -- Answers are evading the Union.

"Right now, it's the moment for each individual in the organization to take a look in the mirror and dig deep down and try to find an answer within themselves," said Union veteran Oguchi Onyewu following a 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium. "Because personally, I feel we have the clientele to get wins."

But those wins haven't shown up. Saturday's defeat, albeit to the top team in the Western Conference, was a low point for the Union, who are 0-3-2 on the season and one of only two MLS teams without a win in 2017. It marked the club's third consecutive loss.

"It's not the moment to put our heads down right now," Onyewu said. "It's a moment for everybody to be pissed off, be upset and to dig deep to rectify this and get a result."

The lack of winning has pressure mounting on manager Jim Curtin. Including a first-round playoff loss, the Union finished the 2016 season riding an eight-game winless run and four straight defeats. Add that to the Union's 2017 start, and the club has been defeated in seven of its last nine games and is winless in its last 13 dating back to Aug. 27, 2016.

"It's fine, I'm a big boy, I can answer that," said Curtin, when asked about his job security. "There's pressure in pro sports. Our players recognize that I recognize that, I feel that. I'm not scared of it because I still believe in the team. You can put it on me, that's fine. I take the blame."

So if Curtin is to blame, how does he fix it? It could be as simple as fighting off soft goals.

"We're not giving up a ton of shots on goal, but we are giving up big chances and we are giving up goals," Curtin said. "And it's a problem."

The players believe this is fixable, and that this issue does not stem from a roster or lack of quality, but rather a unique combination of making, and not taking advantage of, unforced errors.

"We gift goals," said Onyewu, whose club has allowed seven goals in their last three games. "We seem to be getting punished for mistakes. We haven’t been punishing the adversaries when they make mistakes, we haven't been scoring when we have our opportunities."

But despite the on-field issues plaguing the Union, the toughest adversary right now might be low morale. Even a tight-knit locker room could crack under losing pressure.

"To be honest, it's something we can't get too worked over because that's when chemistry falls off. That's when things really start going bad," Union center back Richie Marquez said. "We have to keep our heads up and continue to work."

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.”