Union open preseason camp with hungry returning core, intriguing newcomers

Union open preseason camp with hungry returning core, intriguing newcomers

CHESTER, Pa. — There were some new faces out there at the Power Training Complex on Tuesday as the Union officially opened preseason camp. And there were some guys missing because of their inclusion in U.S. national team camp (Alejandro Bedoya, Chris Pontius and Keegan Rosenberry) or visa issues (new additions Jay Simpson and Giliano Wijnaldum).

But as the team gathered on a cold, windy day in Chester before it flies south to Florida for the bulk of its preseason next week, this much was clear: almost the entire core from the 2016 season has returned.

For a franchise that’s often lacked stability, that was reassuring to head coach Jim Curtin as he looks to build upon the team’s first playoff berth in five years — and an early playoff exit that still stings.

“We got a taste of the playoffs last year and we want more,” Curtin said following Tuesday’s training session. “A good core of them have now played in two U.S. Open Cup finals and the playoffs. And there’s a whole ’nother level and next step we need to go to.”

The one big player the Union did lose is attacking midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta, who decided to end his career in his native Switzerland. But Roland Alberg or Bedoya could fill those spots, and the midfield should be bolstered by Maurice Edu, who’s hoping to return from injury before the start of the regular season on March 5.

Perhaps the best part is welcoming back young players like Rosenberry, Josh Yaro and Fabian Herbers — all of whom had productive rookie campaigns last year and are looking for more in 2017.

“I think guys did really well in the offseason,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said. “I was very pleased with how they came back. From a general sense, you can see it already, just talking to Fabian Herbers and Josh Yaro … they’re at a young age but almost veterans the way they perceive themselves and the way they go about their business.”

Rosenberry, too, has those same qualities. But Stewart has yet to welcome in the MLS Rookie of the Year runner-up, who’s currently with the U.S. national team in California, along with Pontius and Bedoya. 

Both Pontius and Rosenberry are looking for their first cap when the USMNT plays Serbia on Sunday and Jamaica on Feb. 3. The alternative isn’t too bad either — at least from the Union’s perspective.

“The hope is that they’ll play,” Curtin said. “The feedback we’ve gotten is good. Keegan, it’s his first time going through it. Chris is Chris — a great professional that I’m sure is showing well. And Alejandro is a guy in and around a starting spot at all times for the national team. The hope is they get minutes because it would be a great experience. But if they don’t, then we get them back here and they’ll be confident, flying and fit. It’s a win-win.”

There were plenty of other guys to help fill their void Tuesday with Curtin calling on some youth academy players as well as some from the affiliate Bethlehem Steel to round out training. Perhaps the most surprising addition was Oguchi Onyewu, a former U.S. national team star who Curtin said was just there to keep his fitness level up.

But even if it’s unlikely, Stewart didn’t rule out that the player known as “Gooch” could be signed, especially with the team in the market for an experienced center back.

“Never say never,” Stewart said. “That’s going a bit too far right now. But it didn’t take Jim and myself too long to say yes when Gooch asked if he could maintain his fitness. We’re open to that. I think Auston Trusty will be better for that, I think Josh Yaro will be better for that, I think Ken Tribbett will be better for that, just by being able to stand next to him, talk to him and speak about the game situation.”

On top of signing a veteran center back — Onyewu or not — Stewart is in the market for a new defensive midfielder. The Union also could move to sign Fafa Picault and Adam Najem, two players who are currently on trial. The club appears to be especially high on Picault, who was called into the U.S. national camp as recently as last May. 

“He has a bounce in his step,” Curtin said. “He’s a guy who can add pace to our wide areas and has played up top as a 9, too. He checks a lot of boxes of someone we need.”

Whether or not they sign one or both of those trialists, the Union will likely continue to make moves throughout the rest of the preseason, as they’ve done in past years. The difference now is those players will be added to a stabler, hungrier locker room.

“The expectations from fans should rise,” Curtin said. “Certainly on paper we added good pieces, and I think there’s more to come. The roster is still fluid and evolving."

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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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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.