Daniel's return gives Union a roster boost

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Daniel's return gives Union a roster boost

CHESTER, Pa. -- Arriving back in Philadelphia on Monday following a CONCACAF Gold Cup stint with Trinidad and Tobago, Keon Daniel has rejoined the Union.

And Union coach John Hackworth couldn’t be happier.

“I think it’s great to have Keon back,” said Hackworth, whose club travels to Vancouver to face the Whitecaps on Saturday. “He’s one of the best possession players we have. He’s skillful and his feet are excellent. He has such a calm demeanor about him, nothing rattles him. To be composed on the field under pressure, that’s important, especially going to Vancouver. It’s good to have him back, we’re going to find a way to integrate him into the team. He’s looked really good this week.”

Daniel, the Union’s starting, attacking center midfielder, returns from a successful run with his national team, which impressively made it to the tournament quarterfinals after going 1-1-1 and advancing through Group B.

“Before we started the tournament, we came together as a team and said if we made it to the quarterfinals, it would be a great achievement,” Daniel said. “We haven’t been in major tournaments for awhile and football has been down in our country. Showing we could, that should put things back on the right track.”

During Daniel’s absence, the Union went 1-1-3 and cycled a combination of Leo Fernandes and Michael Farfan at the center-mid position. Though Daniel could have helped solidify that area, all he could do was follow along from afar.

“That’s my team, for sure,” Daniel said. “I have an MLS app, so I sat up at night and though I watched some of the games, I got all the updates. What else could I do, that’s my team. I kept supporting the boys.”

Yet, it’s still unknown whether Daniel will help support his boys on the field against the Whitecaps. With Fernandes and Farfan pushing for the job, along with a healthy Kleberson now in the mix, Daniel isn’t a guarantee to start on Saturday.

“Whatever the coach decides, I’m fine with it,” Daniel said. “I’ll just keep working hard. If he puts me in to play, I’ll be the same player I was before I left. If he says I sit, I’ll sit.”

Fabinho gives Union options
When the Union acquired Fabinho on June 28, not much was expected of the Brazilian left back. But after an assist in his debut against Chivas USA and a strong 11 minutes last Saturday, the Union may have found the left wing bench threat they have been looking for.

“Him playing at left mid has given us a boost, and he’s done well,” Hackworth said. “We feel a lot more comfortable putting him in an attacking position. But he’s a true left back, so we have cover in the back if need be. He’s a versatile player in that whether he’s off the bench or in the starting lineup, he gives us the ability to make a couple moves with one player.”

Even the Union players are taking notice.  

“He’s an attacking fullback by trade, so when he moves higher up the field he doesn’t have to focus on defensive responsibilities as much,” Union defender Amobi Okugo said. “It’s good to see him make a difference.”

Fragile Union doomed to draw with Impact by 'soft defense'

Fragile Union doomed to draw with Impact by 'soft defense'

CHESTER, Pa. -- For 46 minutes, the Union suffered in slow motion. 

After claiming an impressive 3-0 lead, the winless club allowed unanswered goals in the 41st, 69th and 87th minute, as they gradually deteriorated against the Montreal Impact on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium (see Game Recap).

"It feels like a loss," Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. "It's hard to stomach."

The decline started with Ignacio Piatti. With his club trailing by three, the Impact's most dangerous player sliced through the Union midfield and took advantage of sagging Union defenders, reached the top of the box and fired off a low shot that beat Andre Blake.

"We let up a soft goal with Piatti coming inside," Bedoya said. "I probably should have fouled him first. Chris [Pontius] could have fouled him. We didn't step up in time."

The goal lit a fire under the Impact. It was a momentum-turner that gave the visitors life and squashed the Union's morale, setting in motion a crushing second half. 

"Goals change games," said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club, led by goals from C.J. Sapong and Roland Alberg dominated the early portion of the first half. "The one before half gives them a little bit of life, a little bit of hope that it's not just going to be a day where they lay down. They continued to fight."

If the fragile Union weren't panicking at the half, they certainly began to tense up in the 69th minute, when a left-side cross from Ambroise Oyongo allowed Anthony Jackson-Hamel to beat Richie Marquez to the inside for the header. 

"It was truly one where you can say they made a good play," Curtin said. "It's a very good cross, a good header where the guy gets in between the center backs. You can tip your cap and say that's a good goal."

Bedoya thought it was a case of soft defense.

"If you keep dropping back and play soft defense and allow second balls in the box, and don't put bodies on guys in the box, you get punished," Bedoya said. "That's what happened to us today."

Eighteen minutes later, the Union were crushed. Jackson-Hamel scored his second and tied the match when a Matteo Mancuso bounce shot hit the hands of Andre Blake and dribbled into the goal. The Impact attacker caught Union defender Jack Elliott ball watching and punished Blake for the gaffe with an easy goal off the rebound.

The collapse was complete.

"We had enough guys in the box, you can see there was five defenders in the box," Curtin said. "The guy shoots from outside the box, it takes a skip and it's a tough hop for Andre. We had enough guys behind the ball, it's about making individual plays. That is killing us right now."

Union spoil 3-goal lead to Impact, remain winless with draw

Union spoil 3-goal lead to Impact, remain winless with draw

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- Under normal circumstances, ending a four-game losing streak with a draw would be a welcome sight for the struggling Union

But after giving up three consecutive goals to draw the Montreal Impact, 3-3, Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium, Jim Curtin's club won't be celebrating this one. 

"Pure frustration," Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. "I'm at a loss for words. To be up 3-0 at home and lose, I mean, it feels like a loss, it's hard to stomach. This team deserves a lot better. The fans deserve a lot better."

Through the first 40 minutes, the winless Union (0-4-3) were on track to an easy victory.

Pressing the Impact back line, C.J. Sapong, in the fifth minute, pounced on a turnover just outside the Impact box and while being hauled down, slid a pass to a trailing Roland Alberg, who beat his man and played a shot gently past Evan Bush for the easy goal and 1-0 Union lead.

"Haris played the ball in and it went over my head, so I tried to get closer to the goal," Sapong said. "Pontius put it back across, and pretty easy finish for me."

With momentum, the Union doubled and triple their lead in the 23rd and 38th minute. First, a perfectly placed ball by Haris Medunjanin was headed back across the box by Chris Pontius to Sapong, who made no mistake with his fourth of the season. That goal was followed by an in-box foul on rookie defender Jack Elliott, which gave Alberg a penalty kick and his second of the game.

"We talked about intensity, we talked about out-competing and winning our one-on-one battles," Bedoya said. "We were able to do that."

Taking the shot, Alberg banked it off Bush and in for the 3-0 Union advantage. It was exactly what the winless Union needed. But then the situation drastically.

Ignacio Piatti began the 1-2-4 Impact's climb back in the 41st minute, making it 3-1 when he fired through the Union's backline before finding a gap and taking a shot that beat Andre Blake to the right side. 

"It hurt," Curtin said about the goal. "To go into half 3-0 is better than the scenario where they get a little life and momentum on their side. It's disappointing. Piatti is a special player. We had a lot of things we could have done better on that goal, but at the same time, to score three goals in a half should be good enough to finish off and get three points."

The situation became direr in the 69th minute, as Anthony Jackson-Hamel smoothly placed a perfect header past Blake off a cross from Ambroise Oyongo. The Impact then tied the game in the 87th with another from Jackson-Hamel. 

"When I came to this club, we were all ambitious and this is not the start we wanted," Bedoya said. "I wear my emotions on my sleeve and I thought today I worked my butt off and so did all the guys. And to give up three soft goals, what I think were soft goals, it sucks. It's disappointing. Frustrating."

The Union, with a slightly defensive lineup featuring Ray Gaddis for Keegan Rosenberry, haven't won a game since Aug. 27, 2016 and had no answer for the Impact.

"I thought we had some breaks in the first half, played well and scored some goals," Curtin said. "We could have scored more. That killer instinct to finish off the game is something we talk about, something we work on. We came up short."