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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).

Fafa Picault, Union halt Sounders' MLS-record 9-game win streak

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Fafa Picault, Union halt Sounders' MLS-record 9-game win streak

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE -- Fafa Picault scored in the third minute of second-half stoppage time Wednesday night, and the Philadelphia Union halted Seattle's MLS-record nine-game winning streak by beating the Sounders 1-0.

Goalkeeper Stefan Frei rolled a soft clearance pass out toward defender Gustav Svensson. But Picault got to the ball an instant before Svensson did and took it into the left side of the penalty area 1-on-1 against Frei. From 8 yards away, he drilled it into the back center of the net for his eighth goal of the season.

The Union (13-12-4) won for the fifth time in six games.

The Sounders (13-10-5) lost for the first time since dropping a 3-2 decision to Portland in Seattle on June 30. In addition to the nine straight wins, they had an overall unbeaten streak of 12 games during that stretch (10-0-2), just one shy of the club record.

Philadelphia thought it had gotten on the board in the 65th minute when a long through ball from Haris Medunjanin found Cory Burke streaking up the right wing side. Burke took the ball to the right side of the 6-yard box and sent a shallow shot across the goalmouth and into the far side of the net.

The Sounders were back at midfield preparing to kick off when the video review was called. After just a few seconds, referee Ismail Elfath walked away from the screen and waved off the goal, ruling that Burke had been offside.

Union sign German striker Kacper Przybylko

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Union sign German striker Kacper Przybylko

The Union have called in a reinforcement. 

With six games remaining in the season, the Union added firepower on Sunday in the form of 6-foot-4 striker Kacper Przybylko. The German-born but Polish-capped Przybylko is signed through 2018 with a team option for the 2019 season. 

He was previously on trial with the club. It’s the team’s first addition under the reign of new Union sporting director Ernst Tanner, who took over for departed Earnie Stewart in early August.

“After having the opportunity to get an extended look at Kacper in training over the last few weeks, we are pleased to add him to our squad in advance of the MLS Roster Freeze,” said Union technical director Chris Albright in the team’s official release.

Przybylko, 25, joins a crowded Union forward corp that includes Cory Burke, C.J. Sapong and Jay Simpson. David Accam can also work in as a forward. But with Simpson expected to be let go at the end of 2018, Przybylko would fit in as much-needed depth. 

“He’s a physical forward with a nose for goal, and we are encouraged with his progress in recovering from injury,” Albright said. “We believe he bolsters our depth and we are looking forward to working his fitness up as we enter the stretch run of our season.”

The striker comes to the Union from the German 1. Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga circuit. His latest club was FC Kaiserslautern, where he played 47 matches and scored nine goals. Throughout his career, he also had stints with Greuther Fürth, Arminia Bielefeld and FC Koln. 

Though Przybylko isn’t in game form at the moment and isn’t expected to play any time soon, the Union could use him. 

Saturday’s loss to the Montreal Impact kicked off two-week gauntlet in which they’ll face five teams (see story). The Union travel to CenturyLink Field to take on the red-hot Seattle Sounders on Wednesday before returning home to host Sporting Kansas City on Sunday. The club then travels to Houston to challenge the Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup championship game, followed by a match against the Columbus Crew on the following Saturday.