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Union-Atlanta United thoughts: Facing a 'darn hard' road match

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CSN

Union-Atlanta United thoughts: Facing a 'darn hard' road match

Union (9-12-9) at Atlanta United (14-8-7)
7 p.m. on TCN

While the Union may have tied the Atlanta United, 2-2, in a messy but hard-fought battle back on Aug. 26 at Talen Energy Stadium, Wednesday’s match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be a different kind of animal. 

One of the worst road teams in MLS, the Union have the unadmirable task of taking on a scorching United team of the league’s most potent home-field advantage.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

• To say the United have built a fortress at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is correct. It also might be an understatement. The expansion club, which opened the venue on Sept. 10, is 4-0-1 in its last five matches (all at home) and has stunned the league by outscoring the opposition, 19-3 while registering four shutouts in those five games. The United are 10-2-2 at home.

“That’s our task,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “It’s a darn hard one.”

• Despite the challenge of facing a dominant team that is averaging over 40,000 fans per game, the masochistic Union are almost excited to absorb the punishment. Union leading scorer C.J. Sapong said last Saturday that it’s a moment to “cherish,” playing in front of a big crowd, while Curtin said players “crave” making large crowds go silent.

But that aggressive road mentality hasn’t paid off in wins for the Union. Although it has experienced back-to-back road draws, the club is a paltry 1-8-6 away from Talen Energy Stadium this season.

• In the second half Saturday, Sapong tapped in a Fafa Picault cross at the goal line for his 14th goal of the season. The score was a historic one as it tied Sebastien Le Toux for the franchise record for goals scored in a single season set in 2010. 

“He’s done everything we could have asked and more,” Curtin said. “We don’t want him to press but we want him to break that record. He’s had an exceptional season.” 

Scoring .48 goals per game, Sapong has a strong chance of claiming the title for his own in the final four matches, beginning Wednesday.

• Snapping a ridiculous goalless streak that dated back to Oct. 2, 2016, Chris Pontius buried a pair against the Fire. He needs only 10 more to tie last season’s total.

• Luckily for the Union, midfielder Miguel Almiron will miss Wednesday’s match with a hamstring injury. The pacesetter of the United offense has nine goals and 13 assists in 29 games. Also, hit in the hamstring is fullback Greg Garza, who is questionable.

Unluckily for the Union, however, Josef Martinez will play. He has 17 goals in 16 matches, including eight of those in his last five matches.

• Of the Union’s five players questionable for Wednesday, only two missing pieces could change the lineup. Oft-injured defender Josh Yaro is set to miss his third game with a knee injury and Ilsinho continues to fight Achilles tendinitis for the second game. 

If Yaro can’t go, Richie Marquez could get his third consecutive start next to Jack Elliott. While Marquez has been solid on the back line, Curtin said Saturday he thought Marquez made too many risky mistakes against the Fire, saying “there’s always room for improvement.”

• Warren Creavalle is heading home. The athletic Union midfielder was born and raised in Acworth, Georgia, about a half hour north of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

It could be an eventful homecoming for Creavalle. On Saturday, Curtin axed the No. 10 position from his lineup and played Creavalle instead as a No. 6, allowing Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya to move more freely up the field. The more defensive set could be something Curtin goes back to in Atlanta.

Union's Haris Medunjanin suspended 2 additional MLS games

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Union's Haris Medunjanin suspended 2 additional MLS games

CHESTER, Pa. — Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin only lost his mind for a few moments but the outburst will cost him a few weeks.

During his weekly press conference Wednesday, head coach Jim Curtin said Medunjanin will be suspended an additional two games for his vociferous arguments with the referee June 2 in a 3-1 loss in Atlanta.

Medunjanin only played 19 minutes that game before being ejected, and then served the normal one-game red-card suspension in a 2-0 loss to Toronto on June 8. Because of the severity of the offense, he’ll now also miss Saturday’s home tilt vs. Vancouver on Saturday (5 p.m., PHL17) as well as the Union’s first-ever trip to expansion Los Angeles FC the following week.

The league has not yet announced the three-game suspension but Curtin said the team “recently got word” that an appeal from the MLS Players Union was denied.

“I don’t agree with it but we have to live with it,” Curtin said. “I think for Haris, it’s the first red card in his career, which says a lot about who he is as a player.”

Curtin referenced an incident last June when Medunjanin showed his honesty by asking referee Sorin Stoica to rescind a red card handed to D.C. United’s Luciano Acosta. The Union midfielder claimed Acosta didn’t kick him and didn’t deserve to be sent off, even though the initial ruling would have significantly helped his own team. 

Perhaps that was one reason why Medunjanin blew up at the same referee who called a questionable penalty on Auston Trusty before showing Alejandro Bedoya his second yellow card for what appeared to be a minor dissent, effectively ruining the Union’s chances of winning in Atlanta.

“You can go through a lot of things to say it’s a little harsh to get three games,” Curtin said. “But we have to live with the decision and now we move on missing one of our best players. That’s challenging as a team but we’ll have to make up for it as we move forward.”

Medunjanin certainly showed his worth in this past Saturday’s 2-1 U.S. Open Cup win over the New York Red Bulls (MLS suspensions don’t carry over to the Open Cup), scoring a beautiful goal and adding a secondary assist.

Bedoya also had one of his better games vs. the Red Bulls, teaming well with Medunjanin in the central midfield to lead the Union into the Open Cup quarterfinals. Back from his own one-game suspension, the Philly captain will now likely partner with Warren Creavalle in the midfield for the next two games.

The 27-year-old Creavalle had played sparingly for much of the year before enjoying solid stints vs. Atlanta and Toronto. 

“He’s been playing very well in training,” Curtin said. “He’ll step up and do a good job. And obviously, Derrick [Jones] will be in the picture as well if we need to close out the game.”

Union's U.S. Open Cup dominance continues against Red Bulls

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USA Today Images

Union's U.S. Open Cup dominance continues against Red Bulls

CHESTER, Pa. — Alejandro Bedoya and Cory Burke led the way Saturday night, as the Union eliminated the New York Red Bulls from the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 win at Talen Energy Stadium in the Round of 16.

"It was a very good win against a very good team," said Union manager Jim Curtin. "Survive and advance mentality. We’re three wins away from a trophy, which is something to be proud of."

After taking down the Richmond Kickers to open the tournament, the Union’s victory Saturday sends them to the quarterfinals on July 18, where they will host either regional foes DC United or Orlando City.

• The win was a continuation of an eye-popping 12-match Open Cup unbeaten streak for the Union, who haven’t suffered a regulation loss since 2014. When it comes to the Open Cup, the Union are hard to beat, which they showed against the Red Bulls. 

• Despite it being an Open Cup game, the match had MLS regular-season flavor. The Red Bulls hit the field with a strong starting lineup that included Tyler Adams, Kaku and Luis Robles. In return, the Union dressed Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, Andre Blake and Ilsinho.

• Those lineup decisions made for an exciting but fruitless opening half. Both teams worked to strike on the counter by using pressure to jar the ball loose. Led by Fafa Picault, the back-and-forth equalled 17 total shots, with the Union claiming eight of their 11 attempts from inside the box. 

• Eventually, the Union those attempts would begin going in. In the 52nd minute, the Union took the 1-0 lead, when working down the right side into Red Bulls territory, Bedoya cut to the middle and slid possession over to Medunjanin. The veteran faked out his defender and ripped a shot that appeared to deflect and beat Robles.

• The goal seemed to unlock something in the Union. Nearly 10-minutes later, Burke made it 2-0 when a Bedoya pass found him between two defenders. Burke, who had been on the doorstep of a goal all night, broke away and slipped his shot to the right. Bedoya finished with two assists. 

"He’s playing at his highest level for us," Curtin said. "He’s taken a bigger leadership role and tonight was an excellent game from him. Our team will go as our central midfield goes." 

• To catch up, the Red Bulls called on some heavy artillery. In the 60th minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips subbed in for Daniel Royer. He scored in the 77th minute, cutting the Union’s defense, then the lead, in half.

• The Union look to carry Open Cup momentum into the MLS regular season, when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps on June 23 at Talen Energy Stadium.