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Union Notes: Long overdue strategy change pays off vs. Fire

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Union Notes: Long overdue strategy change pays off vs. Fire

CHESTER, Pa. — It took months of mediocrity and lack of production from the No. 10 spot for Union manager Jim Curtin to finally move away from Ilsinho and Roland Alberg and try something new.

In their places Saturday, in a 3-1 win over the Chicago Fire at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union tapped the athletic Warren Creavalle to protect the back line, which allowed playmakers Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya to be more flexible in how they attack the game.

“The best thing about the formation is there can be fluidity in it,” Curtin said. “We thought, matchup-wise, he’s been in good form and with what Chicago likes to do, we thought it was important to invert the triangle a little bit in some moments to get pressure to Dax McCarty, who is the engine of that team.”

Although Curtin insisted it wasn’t a formation change, saying, “it’s still a 4-2-3-1,” it was a breath of fresh air for a 9-12-9 team that needed a change. Ilsinho, who was out with Achilles tendinitis, and Alberg, who rode the bench for 90 minutes, entered Saturday with a combined seven goals and four assists.

“I think it worked well in terms of staying compact,” Bedoya, who captured an assist, said. “They struggled all night to play balls in between the lines in the middle of us. I think we got some good goals off some good combinations in the midfield.”

Curtin called it fluidity and Bedoya mentioned combinations. Creavalle continued that theme.

“I think it’s providing that balance,” he said. “Being able to help that back line and be able to connect them so they can make the game and have everybody connected.”

Agony over for Pontius
After 27 games of pure agony, Chris Pontius finally scored.

“About six months too late,” the Union’s 2016 leading scorer said jokingly. “But no, it feels good. Nice to get a win. Came back to a nice crowd and a big three points for us.”

Snapping the curse came easy against the Fire. Pontius potted his first two goals of the season Saturday — one was a header from a Keegan Rosenberry cross in the 10th minute, the other came off a rebound in the second half.

“It comes in bunches at times,” Pontius said. “You feel like you can do everything right in a few games and then other games you’re putting in so much effort and things just aren’t falling for you. Certainly, confidence is a big key for that and it was nice to get one especially early in a game like this.”

Record (almost) broken
With a second-half goal Saturday, C.J. Sapong nabbed his franchise-record tying 14th tally of the season. The total tied Union legend Sebastien Le Toux for most goals in a season, a mark set in the Union’s expansion season of 2010.

“Well, for me, it means that I’ve been able to score,” said Sapong, who was able to tap in a left-to-right cross from Fafa Picault along the goal line Saturday. “It’s a number that shows I’m having an impact on the field for my team.”

Without a strict No. 10 on the field for the Union and with right-wing Fabian Herbers injured all season with a sports hernia, service has been tough to come by for the Union. It’s one reason Pontius struggled so mightily all year. It’s possible that if the Union can find a skilled playmaker this offseason, Sapong could be set for an even more productive 2018 if he continues this form.

“The goals are a product of the guys getting him service,” Curtin said of Sapong. “His movement on the night was good, we’re happy with him and his individual accomplishments.”

Elevated effort
All during the week, Curtin mentioned pride and jobs as two reasons the Union players would show up Saturday and compete. After crushing the Fire, 3-1, it’s clear the club doesn’t lack the proper motivation.

“If you’re not putting the effort in,” Pontius said, “you can be out of a job next year. I don’t think there’s any more motivation than you need right there.”

Rosenberry mentioned another possible factor for the elevated effort.

“I don’t think we’re used to being counted on,” he said. “Playing as an underdog is something we’re used to and we’re going to embrace that until the end and see where we can go.”

Quote of the night
“Nope,” Creavalle deadpanned after several silent seconds when asked if he was happy to see Pontius get a goal. “He’s been working all year so I’m happy to see him get on the scoresheet. Keegan dropped him that dime so he has him to thank for that.”

Stat of the night
2,024 Minutes — How long Pontius went without a goal this season (including U.S. Open Cup).

MLS is Back Tournament 2020: Bracket, schedule, standings, odds, how to watch Union vs. Timbers

MLS is Back Tournament 2020: Bracket, schedule, standings, odds, how to watch Union vs. Timbers

Major League Soccer was the first men's American professional sports league to make its return during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the MLS Is Back Tournament kicking off July 8 at Walt Disney World.

It's a unique tournament that will set up the eventual MLS regular season, but there's a lot more on the line than just a warmup as the teams fight for a 2021 Concacaf Champions League spot.

Below, you can find a detailed walkthrough of the tournament so far -- including the hopes of the local side, the Philadelphia Union, who are on to the semifinals so far.   

What does the tournament look like? What are the key dates?

Here's a rundown of the tournament format. All games take place on the Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

- First a group stage, then knockout rounds
- The group stage counts toward regular season points
- Tournament winner earns a 2021 Concacaf Champions League spot
- The regular season continues after tournament

And here are the key dates remaining. We're currently in the semifinals of the knockout stage after the group stage and the completion of the Round of 16 and quarterfinals.

- August 5-6: Semifinals
- August 11: Final

How do I watch the games?

Games are broadcast on a mixture of ESPN, TSN (Canada), TUDN (en español), FOX, FS1, TVA Sports (en français), and the respective ESPN, TSN, FOX Sports, TUDN, and TVA Sports apps, along with a few games being broadcast on Twitter.

MORE: Union honor Black victims of police violence with jersey names

Can I see the bracket?

Round of 16

Orlando City SC 1, Montreal Impact 0
July 25 - 8 p.m. ET

Philadelphia Union 1, New England Revolution 0
July 25 - 10:30 p.m. ET

NYCFC 3, Toronto FC 1
July 26 - 8:30 p.m. ET

Sporting Kansas City 0, Vancouver Whitecaps 0
SKC advances 3-1 on penalty kicks
July 26 - 11 p.m. ET

San Jose Earthquakes 5, Real Salt Lake 2
July 27 - 8:30 p.m. ET

LAFC 4, Seattle Sounders 1
July 27 - 11 p.m. ET

Minnesota United 1, Columbus Crew 1
Minnesota advances 5-3 on penalty kicks
July 28 - 8 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers 1, FC Cincinnati 1
Portland advances 4-2 on penalty kicks
July 28 - 10:30 p.m. ET

Quarterfinals

Philadelphia Union 3, Sporting Kansas City 1
July 30 - 8 p.m. ET | ESPN

Orlando City 1, LAFC 1
Orlando City advances 5-4 on penalty kicks
July 31 - 7:30 p.m. ET | FS1

Minnesota United 4, San Jose Earthquakes 1
August 1 - 8 p.m. ET | ESPN2

Portland Timbers 3, NYCFC 1
August 1 - 10:30 p.m. ET | FS1

Semifinals

Philadelphia Union vs. Portland Timbers
August 5 - 8 p.m. ET | FS1

Orlando City vs. Minnesota United 
August 6 - 8 p.m. ET| ESPN

Final

Philadelphia/Portland vs. Orlando/Minnesota
August 11 - 8 p.m. ET on ESPN

What's up with the Union?

The Union will face off against the Portland Timbers on Aug. 5. They defeated New England in the Round of 16, and Sporting Kansas City in the quarterfinals. They defeated Inter Miami and New York City FC in the group stage, and played to a draw against Orlando City SC. Philadephia finished second in Group A as a result, losing the top spot to Orlando based on goal differential. 

How did the group stage finish? 

Six groups were determined during a draw on June 10. FC Dallas and Nashville SC were forced to drop out due to COVID-19 concerns. Below is the final group stage table. Teams designated with an X advanced to the knockout stage. The top two teams from each group advanced, as well as four wild card teams. 

Group A

  1. x-Orlando City SC - 7 pts, 2-0-1, goal differential of 3
  2. x-Philadelphia Union - 7 pts, 2-0-1, goal differential of 2
  3. x-New York City FC - 3 pts, 1-2-0
  4. Inter Miami CF - 0 pts, 0-3-0

Group B

  1. x-San Jose Earthquakes - 7 pts, 2-0-1
  2. x-Seattle Sounders FC - 4 pts, 1-1-1
  3. x-Vancouver Whitecaps FC - 3 pts, 1-2-0, goal differential of -2
  4. Chicago Fire FC - 3 pts, 1-2-0, goal differential of -3

Group C

  1. x-Toronto FC - 5 pts, 1-0-2, goal differential of 1, 6 goals for
  2. x-New England Revolution - 5 pts, 1-0-2, goal differential of 1, 2 goals for
  3. x-Montreal Impact - 3 pts, 1-2-0
  4. D.C. United - 2 pts, 0-1-2

Group D

  1. x-Sporting Kansas City - 6 pts, 2-1-0
  2. x-Minnesota United FC - 5 pts, 1-0-2
  3. x-Real Salt Lake - 4 pts, 1-1-1
  4. Colorado Rapids - 1 pt, 0-2-1

Group E

  1. x-Columbus Crew FC - 9 pts, 3-0-0
  2. z-FC Cincinnati - 6 pts, 2-1-0
  3. New York Red Bulls - 3 pts, 1-2-0
  4. Atlanta United FC - 0 pts, 0-3-0

Group F

  1. x-Portland Timbers - 7 pts, 2-0-1
  2. x-Los Angeles Football Club - 5 pts, 1-0-2
  3. Houston Dynamo - 2 pts, 0-1-2
  4. LA Galaxy - 1 pt, 0-2-1

 

Who are the best bets to win?

Here are the most recent odds to win the tournament, from DraftKings Sportsbook: 

Orlando City SC: +210
Portland Timbers: +240
Philadelphia Union: +250
Minnesota United FC: +270

Are fans allowed at games?

Because of safety protocols and restrictions put in place to keep players safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, fans are not allowed at games.

Philadelphia Union honor Black victims of police brutality with amazing jersey nod

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@PhilaUnion/Twitter

Philadelphia Union honor Black victims of police brutality with amazing jersey nod

The Philadelphia Union returned to action Thursday morning in the MLS is Back Tournament, the first game since June's nationwide protests against police brutality and institutional racism.

In what ESPN's commentators suggested was an unexpected move, the Union revealed their Black Lives Matter shirts to reveal jerseys bearing the names of Black men, women, boys, and girls who were killed by police. 

Here's a look at the team's jerseys:

MORE: Everything you need to know about the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament

And here's a list of the Black lives the players honored:

No. 3 Jack Elliott: Eric Garner

No. 4 Mark McKenzie: Tamir Rice

No. 22 Brenden Aaronson: Tyree Crawford

No. 13 Cole Turner: Freddie Gray

No. 15 Olivier Mbaizo: India Kager

No. 27 Kai Wagner: Laquan McDonald

No. 12 Joe Bendik: Justus Howell

No. 5 Jakob Glesnes: Ronell Foster

No. 8 Jose Martinez: Tony Robinson

No. 10 Jamiro Monteiro: Alton Sterling

No. 28 Raymon Gaddis: Breanna Taylor

No. 32 Matt Real: Lamontez Jones

No. 14 Jack de Vries: Willie Tillman

No. 25 Ilsinho: Philando Castile

No. 21 Anthony Fontana: Natasha McKenna

No. 1 Matt Freese: Sandra Bland

No. 11 Alejandro Bedoya: Walter Scott

No. 24 Matej Oravec:  John Crawford III

No. 78 Aurelien Collin: Alteria Woods

No. 18 Andre Blake: George Floyd

No. 23 Kacper Przybylko: Michael Brown

No. 2 Warren Creavalle: Elijah McClain

The names were accompanied by messages on the bottoms of the jerseys, including "One name too many" and "Todos somos iguales", Spanish for "We are all equals".

The Union also created a custom armband for captain Alejandro Bedoya to wear, bearing the names of Black victims of police brutality:

The MLS returned to play Wednesday. The tournament is scheduled to run until August 11.

Elsewhere, the English Premier League wore the phrase "Black Lives Matter" in place of last names on players' jerseys when the league returned last month.

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