Defensive rebirth has Union, MacMath rolling

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Defensive rebirth has Union, MacMath rolling

CHESTER, Pa. -- For the last five games, the Union have shown near defensive perfection.

Allowing just two goals and earning four shutouts during their recent 2-1-2 run, the Union have blanked the likes of the New York Red Bulls, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps on their way to competing for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

“Our defense has been the strong point for us,” said Union coach John Hackworth, whose team is readying to face the New England Revolution on Sunday. “When you get shutouts, it starts to come to light a little more. We’re proud of our players because you can see we’re getting better and that’s what you want. If we’re going to be a team that contends for anything, we have to improve. We’re certainly doing that on the defensive side.”

But the Union’s positive defensive shift didn’t begin with this current five-game stretch.

After allowing a season-high five goals to the Montreal Impact on May 25, something clicked in the Union’s psyche. And immediately, what was once viewed as the Union’s weakness suddenly became a strength, as the embarrassed club completely turned its defensive issues around.

“That night, a lot of us looked at each other and thought we needed to get ourselves together,” goalkeeper Zac MacMath said. “After that period we buckled down and the coaches organized us better defensively during practice. We took that into the games and done really well with it.”

During the first 13 games of the season, the Union allowed 22 goals against and collected just three shutouts. In the last 12 games, the Union defense has given up just nine goals and earned six shutouts.

And while Union centerbacks Amobi Okugo and Jeff Parke can be credited with much of the defensive improvement, MacMath’s sudden steady hand in goal has been a welcome change. It has also provided a backbone for the team’s recent success.

“The team defensively has been amazing,” MacMath said. “The back core with Brian Carroll in the middle, they are working tirelessly and it has had a big effect on me. Getting the clean sheets in those four games has really boosted my confidence.”

Though he struggled with consistency to begin the season, MacMath finds himself fifth in the league in saves with 76 and tied for first in shutouts with nine. He is currently tied for fifth in MLS with 10 wins.

“I’ve always thought I could be one of the best goalkeepers in the league but I haven’t proven it,” MacMath said. “I’m trying to prove it.”

Honest Haris Medunjanin gets D.C. United red card rescinded with fair play

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Honest Haris Medunjanin gets D.C. United red card rescinded with fair play

CHESTER, Pa. -- Sportsmanship isn’t dead. 
 
In the 74th minute of Saturday’s 1-0 Union win over D.C. United at Talen Energy Stadium, Luciano Acosta knocked midfielder Haris Medunjanin out of bounds. Trekking in from midfield, referee Sorin Stoica immediately threw up the red card to eject the United's Acosta from the match.
 
Moments later, play restarted with Acosta still in the game. 
 
"All I know is I saw the red card, turned around and next thing I know is he’s still on the field," Union center back Oguchi Onyewu said. 
 
The red card was pulled for what Stoica believed was Acosta kicking Medunjanin. Unaware that the referee could even rescind the card, the Union man honorably disputed the kick and Stoica pulled the ejection.
 
"I rescinded the card because [Medunjanin] stated that he was not kicked after the play, which was the initial decision I made," Stoica told a pool reporter.
 
Medunjanin explained his side.
 
"I saw the red card and spoke with Acosta and he was saying that he didn’t kick me," he said. "I said I didn’t feel it also. I went to the referee and he said, 'did he kick you?' and I said, 'no he didn’t kick me, I think it was just a push.' That’s why it was no red card for me." 
 
He then took a shot at New York Red Bulls player Felipe, who drew a red on the Union’s Derrick Jones last Sunday in what the club believed was a dive.
 
"I hope Felipe was watching from last week," Medunjanin said. "I wish he could say the same. I think you need to be honest and I felt like it was just a push."

Union manager Jim Curtin, who admitted he may not have been so honorable in Medunjanin's position, was proud of his player. 

"It’s not a red card, and I have to give a lot of credit to Haris," he said. "He’s a person that I respect a great deal. It’s an incredible act. I think it’s something you could show to not just young kids but also a lot of the adults that play in professional soccer because what he did is very honorable. It’s the right thing to do."
 
While fair play Medunjanin gained respect from Curtin and United coach Ben Olsen, who called him a “classy player and classy human being,” he was grilled by his teammates, who found the scenario humorous. 
 
"I don’t know whose team Haris is on, I really don’t," Onyewu said jokingly. "I don’t know if Haris and the referee or Haris and Acosta are actually best friends, I don’t know. Maybe they are going out later tonight and they didn’t want any bad tension?"
 
They also found it perplexing.

"I didn’t think that was possible,” Medunjanin said, a sentiment echoed by Onyewu. “The referee chose to do it so you need to respect that. I can talk now and be honest. Maybe if it was a draw, it would’ve been a little different."
 
But it happened and Medunjanin can walk away with three points and an unofficial award for being a class act.

"Everybody said thanks for the fair play,” Medunjanin said. “Nice gesture of you and that’s it. The coach came over to speak with me and I said, 'no problem this is football. We fight for the three points, but we need to be honest.'"

Andre Blake's shutout helps give Union life with slump-busting win over D.C. United

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Andre Blake's shutout helps give Union life with slump-busting win over D.C. United

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union have life.

Fafa Picault netted his fourth of the season and Andre Blake cleaned up the rest as the Union snapped a three-game losing streak by defeating D.C. United, 1-0, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

“It was a much needed three points, especially after the last two games,” Union center back Oguchi Onyewu said. “I feel that despite the previous games, despite losing, we haven’t lost the spirit, we haven’t lost the camaraderie, we haven’t lost the fight. That was visual in our gameplay tonight.”

Picault brought Talen Energy Stadium to life in the 31st minute with a highlight reel goal.

From the midfield line, Ray Gaddis pushed the ball down the right side to Alejandro Bedoya into D.C. United territory. With possession on the fast break, Bedoya, who made his return after missing two games with a hamstring injury, launched a lofty cross that seemed to surprise the defenders, who failed to track trailing Picault’s one-hit drive that beat Bill Hamid for the 1-0 Union lead.

“In those cases, you just track it,” Picault said. “When the ball’s put in, our jobs as attackers if the ball is played off the right side, CJ has to be there and me coming off the left side, try to make a run in. It ended up falling onto my left foot. I think either of us would’ve put it in, but it came to me and I had to put a strong one on to put it on target and give it a chance to go in.

Then it was Blake’s turn to play the hero. 

In the 69th minute, Union center back Oguchi Onyewu was called for a handball in the box. Lining up for the kick, Lamar Neagle fired off a strong shot to the left that was stopped confidently by diving Blake, keeping the Union’s lead alive.

“I decided I was gonna go to my right,” Blake said. “I saw a few cues from him and I made up my mind. I went there and I made the save.” 

Blake would punish Neagle again with another eye-popping save in the 90th minute. The goalkeeper brought the crowd to its feet with a leaping stop off a point-blank header from the top of the crease. 

“We created a penalty kick, plenty of looks, bunch of service in the second half,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “We revved them up a little at halftime. We had more life from the get-go but they made the play.”

Blake would finish with the four-save shutout.

“Incredible,” Picault said of Blake. “He’s for me by far the best goalie in the league. I’m really happy to have him on our side. Every week, week in and week out, he’s shown great performances. It’s emotional for me during the games to watch that. It gives me a lot of motivation to keep going. Especially on that PK stop.”

But the match wasn’t without referee drama. With the Union, now 5-7-4, in full control late in the second half, referee Sorin Stoica handed United midfielder Luciano Acosta a straight red for taking down and kicking Haris Medunjanin. However, the card was completely rescinded moments later.

Why? Medunjanin came clean that Acosta didn’t kick him after the play.

“I do commend him and give him credit,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Crazy situation because all of us on the sidelines were not sure what was going on. I never have seen a red card and then it rescinded. We couldn’t figure out what was happening on our end. Very noble and honorable thing to do for Haris.”