Union-Rapids 5 things: Closing in on a record winning streak

Union-Rapids 5 things: Closing in on a record winning streak

Union vs. Colorado Rapids
7 p.m. on TCN

Not long after setting one of the longest winless streaks in MLS history, the resurgent Union (3-4-4) can now set a franchise record for consecutive wins when they host the struggling Colorado Rapids (2-7-1) on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

Here are five things to know:

1. Going streaking
Yes, the same team that started 0-4-2 has rebounded from that dreadful start to go unbeaten in five games with three straight dominating wins by a combined score of 9-0.

It marks just the third three-game winning streak in history for a club that's never had a four-game winning streak. But they have a golden opportunity to do just that with a very winnable home match against an equally tired Colorado team playing on the other side of the country.

Remarkably, the Union can also move their shutout streak from four games — already a club record — to five.

What do these records mean given the 15-game winless streak that came before it?

“I think it’s a testament to the players,” Curtin said following Friday's practice session. “They stuck together through a difficult time. I think we’re stronger because we did stick together through as difficult a stretch as you can go through.”

2. All about the defense
The only thing more surprising than the fact that the Union haven’t given up a goal in four straight games is the personnel they are doing it with.

Rookie Jack Elliott, one of the last picks in the 2017 draft, has been starting at center back along Oguchi Onyewu, who was out of soccer for two years. And Ray Gaddis, who had been relegated to a reserve role last season, has supplanted Keegan Rosenberry at right back, at least for now. 

“I think it’s a testament to how they hard they train, the preseason they go through,” Curtin said. “We treat each guy the same way, whether you’re old or young, the reps that you get in training are all equal. It’s not a big surprise now when a guy gets thrown in.”

Interestingly enough, oft-overlooked left back Fabinho has been the only defender to play every minute as he prepares to play his 100th MLS game.

“He’s a guy who is a great player for us,” Curtin said. “He’s been with the club for a while, has a good idea of what we ask out of our left back. He’s done a better job I think this year of not running himself into the ground in the first 20 minutes or so with those 80-, 90-yard tiring runs, and has been very disciplined and has had a great season for us so far.”

3. Rotating the attack?
No one on the Union has been hotter than their two wingers with Fafa Picault scoring in each of the last two games and Chris Pontius leading the way with two assists in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Houston to match his career high with six assists on the season.

But with the Union playing their third game in eight days, will both get the start once again — especially with a talented winger like Fabian Herbers waiting on the bench?

“We’ll have to look at what makes the most sense,” Curtin said. “Do we use one as a reserve? It’s a possibility. But they’re confident right now, they’re flying, and they’re getting goals and assists, which is a bonus.”

4. Keep an eye on …​
Rapids: Perhaps the best goalkeeper in American history, Tim Howard, will face the Union for the first time. It’s fair to say Curtin thinks highly of the 38-year-old stalwart who’s had a remarkable career, including an epic performance for the U.S. national team at the last World Cup. “Anytime he’s in the goal,” the Union coach said, “there’s a darn good chance he’s going to get a clean sheet. … It takes a special effort to beat a guy like Timmy.”

Union: Curtin said that attacking midfielder Roland Alberg won’t be able to return from a quad injury in time for the game, which means Ilsinho, fresh off a great game Wednesday, should be in line to get his third straight start in that position. But can he handle another grueling shift just three days after the last one? “Ilsinho is in a newer position for him,” Curtin said. “I think he has adjusted well to it. He’s doing a lot of running defensively. It is tough on the legs, so we’ll look at everything.”

5. This and that
• Union goalkeeper Andre Blake hasn’t allowed a goal in 363 minutes and counting — currently the second longest shutout streak in Union history. The longest currently belongs to Zac MacMath, who went 408 minutes without surrendering a goal in 2012 and will be in town Saturday as Colorado’s backup goalkeeper.

• The Union have beaten the Rapids just once in nine all-time meetings and never at Talen Energy Stadium (0-2-3). 

• In last Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of D.C. United, Haris Medunjanin became the second Union player to have a goal and multiple assists in the same game, joining Sebastien Le Toux. 

• The Rapids rank last in MLS with eight goals scored this year and have only scored one total goal in their last seven regular-season road games

• The Rapids are 0-5-0 away from home this year and have been outscored 10-1 in those games.

New fan favorite Fafa posterizes Dynamo as Union keep rolling

New fan favorite Fafa posterizes Dynamo as Union keep rolling

So remember a couple of weeks ago when the Union were really bad? Never mind. They’re, like, really good now.

On Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union won their third straight game with a 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo -- a result that followed a 4-0 thrashing of D.C. United and a 3-0 romp over the New York Red Bulls.

The defense has certainly been exceptional during the stretch but the Union have also been scoring some really pretty goals. Check out this one from last night in which Ilsinho, who enjoyed one of his best games in a Philly uniform, beats a guy with some nice dribbling and feeds Chris Pontius, who delivers a cross that Fafa Picault GETS HIGH for, vaulting over a hapless Houston defender and scoring his second goal in as many games.

The goal checked in at No. 5 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the week and also included a celebration dance that maybe needs some work?

Anyway, Picault is good friends with Ochocinco, so it’s not surprising that he’s got speed and hops like the former NFL star.

What is surprising is that Picault hardly played during the first seven games of the season before bursting onto the scene and helping spark a serious turnaround. In fact, the Union are 3-0-1 with a 9-0 goal differential since he entered the starting lineup, as opposed to 0-4-3 in games he didn’t start.

Not surprisingly, it looks like Fafa’s quickly becoming a fan favorite.


#Fafadelphia, indeed.

Inside Doop: Don't look now but the Union are suddenly surging

Inside Doop: Don't look now but the Union are suddenly surging

Wait, who are these guys?

For the second straight game, the suddenly resurgent Union obliterated a rival, rolling to a 4-0 road rout of D.C. United a week after walloping the New York Red Bulls, 3-0.

Before that, you might recall, the Union were winless in a whopping 15 straight games dating back to last season. So what changed? And can the Union continue to streak in this direction? Let’s take a look in this week’s Inside Doop.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. The only thing more unlikely than the Union's winning 4-0 was four different players scoring their first goals of the season — and three of them scoring the first goals of their MLS careers. But it may not have been surprising to sporting director Earnie Stewart and head coach Jim Curtin, who have insisted there is quality depth up and down the roster. Perhaps they have a point. Fafa Picault and Fabian Herbers, two wingers who have battled for minutes, scored terrific goals; Oguchi Onyewu, who had lost his place in the starting lineup as recently as two weeks ago, scored his first goal of any kind since 2014; and Haris Medunjanin, a deep-lying midfielder who specializes in passing, opened his own MLS account with a rocket from distance. If the Union can continue to get this kind of offensive production from wingers, defenders and defensive midfielders to help out top scorer C.J. Sapong and others, they’ll continue their charge up the Eastern Conference table.

2. Speaking of Onyewu, it was quite the way to ring in his 35th birthday as his nice header that found the back of the net helped the Union begin to run away from 10-man D.C. United. Perhaps more importantly, he had another good game anchoring a backline that also features rookie Jack Elliott and fullbacks Ray Gaddis and Fabinho as the Union picked up their third straight shutout, matching a club record. Considering Richie Marquez and Keegan Rosenberry — their two top defenders last season and probably two of the most important pieces for the club’s future — were on the bench, the shutout streak is a surprising one. But even if Marquez and Rosenberry — and another potential rising star in Joshua Yaro — eventually make their way back into the lineup, veterans Gaddis and Onyewu deserve a lot of credit for steadying a leaking ship and Elliott for not playing anything like a rookie.

3. As good a night as Onyewu had, no one was better than Medunjanin, who shredded through D.C. United even before they went down a man and added two assists on top of his goal. The Bosnian World Cup veteran had shown glimpses of potential before but had yet to put together a complete game like this since arriving in Philly in the offseason. And while the Union will still have questions behind him and in front of him, the partnership of Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya in the defensive midfield may yet turn out to be one of the league’s best.

Three questions about the week ahead
1. Don’t look now but the Union, once on the verge of a historic winless streak, can finish the week with a not-too-shabby 4-4-4 record, which would put them right back in the thick of a playoff race. More than anything else, that shows the parity that exists in MLS, as well as the fact that too many teams probably make the postseason. Regardless, if the Union can win two straight home games — against surging Houston on Wednesday and struggling Colorado on Saturday — all the talk of Curtin’s job security will go out the window and the club will suddenly be one of the hottest in the league.

2. Playing three games in eight days is never easy, of course, and all eyes will be on Curtin to see what kind of moves he’ll make to keep guys fresh. He probably won’t want to change the backline considering they’re coming off a shutout, nor will he want to mess with the Bedoya-Medunjanin midfield combo. That leaves the attack, where reserves like Herbers and Jay Simpson could make a claim to start one of the two games. And then there’s the question about who starts as the attacking midfielder, which we’ll get to below ...

3. With Roland Alberg out injured last week, Curtin made the somewhat surprising decision to start Ilsinho at the No. 10. attacking midfield spot. And the crafty Brazilian, to his credit, was on the ball a lot and made some nice plays to kickstart the attack. Considering the Union are looking strong on the wing with Herbers, Picault and Chris Pontius, could Ilsinho remain in a more central role, perhaps in a platoon with Roland Alberg? Or will Curtin use this week as an opportunity to throw rookie Adam Najem, who he called a “true No. 10” last week, into the fire? The third option of signing a big-name No. 10 this summer may be the best one, but let’s not rain on the Union’s parade too much right now.

Stat of the week
Saturday marked the first time the Union have had three players score their first MLS goal in the same game.

Quote of the week
“When I saw it go in the back of the net, just emotions took over me. At first I think I was calm, and then it just hit me. And I was like, ‘Alright, let me just run around like a little boy, like I was back to being 23.’” — Union defender Oguchi Onyewu

Player of the week
A lot of guys played well but Medunjanin, whom Curtin called “the best passer” he’s ever been around, is still an easy choice.