Depth scoring helps Union take down Crew

060513-unionwin-slideshow-uspw.jpg

Depth scoring helps Union take down Crew

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- In a span of six minutes, the Union routed the Columbus Crew.

Despite not getting any production from leading scorer Jack McInerney, the Union received first-half goals from Brian Carroll, Sheanon Williams and Conor Casey to take down the Crew, 3-0, on Wednesday night at PPL Park.

“We were due one of these games,” said Union coach John Hackworth, whose club is coming off a tough draw to Toronto FC. “We felt like it would happen sooner or later. We’re glad it happened in a game as important as this one.”

The win gives the Union some space in the Eastern Conference standings. At 6-5-4, they are now in a three-way tie for third place with 22 points, while the Crew remain outside of the playoff picture with 17 points.

“For us to be able to put on that kind of performance and get the three points, get the separation from Columbus,” Hackworth said,” it was important for us.”

After trading minor chances with the Crew for the opening 25 minutes, Carroll broke the contest open with a headstrong play at the top of the box. Jumping into space to take control of a loose ball, Carroll gained possession and fired off a low shot that deflected off of Crew defender Eric Gehrig and trickled slowly inside the right post for the 1-0 Union lead.

“I was happy to get us off on the right foot and happy we were the first ones to score,” Carroll said. “Deflection or not, I’ll take it.

“It was open. I just wanted to put something on target and see what happens. It found its way in.”

Carroll and the Union were just getting started.

Four minutes later, on a corner kick, the Union’s leading assist man Sebastien Le Toux drilled a ball into the box that was flicked to the far post by Carroll. Beating his man to the cross, a streaking Williams got a head on the ball for the 2-0 Union advantage.

“It was a great flick from B.C. and I did whatever I could to put it on target,” Williams said.

Feeling left out of the scoring, Casey got in on the action.

Off a fast break in the 31st minute, Le Toux, from the right side of the Crew box, centered a low cross that was easily headed in by Casey at the top of the crease. The veteran scorer didn’t miss, making it 3-0 Union at the half.

“I can’t tell you how nice it was to be in the last 15 minutes of that game and not have it be a drama show,” Hackworth said. “It felt like -- finally, we deserve this. We’ve been working so hard, it was nice and well deserved.”

With two assists, Le Toux took the MLS lead with six.

“The ball he played into Conor was a fantastic ball,” Hackworth said. “He always does so much work. I’ve said he was going to be so important to our club, we knew he had to be for us to be successful. He’s a guy who brings it in this building.”

Minus striker Jairo Arrieta to international duty, Eddie Gaven and defensive rock Chad Marshall to injury, the Crew were unable to muster much momentum or stop the Union’s attack. They managed seven attempts on net in the first half with only two on goal.

“This one was the kind of game we needed,” Hackworth said. “There were so many questions being asked of us -- from consistency to if we’re fit. I think we answered a lot of those questions tonight. It’s nice for the guys because they deserved it. It was a well-rounded performance from everybody. I told the players at halftime, this was the best team defense we played. Everybody did their job and did it well.”

Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath recorded his fourth shutout of the season and finished with four saves.

“Everything was important,” Williams said. “We’ve been going through a tough stretch, not playing the kind of soccer we know we can play. Tonight was a good example that when we put it all together, that’s what we can do. There are a lot of positives to take out of this.”

In the waning moments of the contest, McInerney nearly added to his MLS-leading goal total of 10 when he found space in the right side of the box and plenty of time to shoot. Taking the right-footed shot, McInerney beat the goalkeeper but missed the net wide. It was the closest he would come.

“I would have bet the house that Jack would have scored at the end,” Williams said.

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

usa-tranquillo-barnetta.jpg
USA Today Images

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

CHESTER, Pa. — Union head coach Jim Curtin knows it may seem like a weird situation to some.

Early on Tuesday morning, as soccer fans around the area were just waking up, the Union issued a press release that stated that Tranquillo Barnetta would be leaving the team at the end of the 2016 season (see story)

There was no trade. No sale. No contract dispute. No off-the-field issues. 

It was simply a case of a player — a really good player — deciding before the end of the season that he wanted to say goodbye to MLS and finish his pro career with his hometown club in St. Gallen, Switzerland. 

“I think it’s unique maybe to the American public and fan bases that a guy announces it and there’s still [part of] a season left to play,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “I think it’s strange for everyone to hear it that way. But in Europe that’s kind of the norm. To get out ahead of it shows what kind of man and leader he is. He addressed the team and didn’t want it to be a situation where something leaked out. He’s a true pro. I’m honored to have coached him and I want to prolong it as long as I possibly can.”

In other American leagues, of course, a talented but aging player with Barnetta’s pedigree might drum up a bidding war to try to get one more good contract in free agency before he retires, perhaps using a strong playoff performance to do so. But, as Curtin alluded to, global soccer is a whole different animal. And Barnetta never planned to use his 2016 performance as a launching pad to a new deal with Philly or something bigger on a different MLS team.

His plan all along was to retire for the hometown club he cheered for as a kid — and he made sure he’d have the freedom to do so when he signed with the Union last summer.

“We offered several years but he was very content and adamant about taking an 18-month deal,” Curtin said. “A lot of people say they’re not about the money but Tranquillo truly means when he says it. He came here at a very big discount to what his value was in the European market. And he had a goal of playing for his hometown club, which I respect at the end of the day.”

If there’s any knock against Barnetta, it’s that he essentially treated MLS as a short-term project, a way to try something new after an illustrious career in Switzerland and Germany, to live in a different part of the world and see different cities throughout the United States.

But make no mistake, he earned that right and he never tried to hire his future ambitions. And even if his tenure with the Union will be a short one, it’s been very beneficial for both sides.

Barnetta, for instance, learned about the grueling travel demands in MLS and the more physical nature of the league compared to ones in Europe, all while showing the sublime skill that made him a three-time World Cup veteran for Switzerland.

And the Union leaned on his talent and leadership at the end of their disappointing 2015 season and throughout the entire 2016 campaign with Curtin calling him “the best player that ever wore a Philadelphia Union jersey.”

“He’s a great example for our young guys,” the Union coach added. “He’s got a close relationship with a lot of the veteran guys. And he’s just a pleasure to have in the locker room. He comes to work with a smile on his face but when it’s time to work, he’s the hardest worker there is. A true professional. And the pedigree is the highest we’ve ever had in this club.”

You can make the case that acquiring players with great pedigrees hasn’t always worked to the Union’s benefit (see: Mbolhi, Rais), but it’s hard to find any fault in the Barnetta deal, especially when you consider Philadelphia got him at a discount and that Curtin and technical director Chris Albright orchestrated the signing at a time when the franchise was in a state of flux and sporting director Earnie Stewart had yet to join the fold. 

For someone that’s played in three World Cups, the Champions League and one of the top leagues in Europe, Barnetta may not be the biggest name out there. But getting him when they did was still something of a coup for Philadelphia. And the benefits will likely be reaped for a long time to come as the Union followed last year’s Barnetta signing with a couple of big moves in the offseason and this summer’s long-term acquisition of U.S. national team starter Alejandro Bedoya — the combination of which has them thinking about the playoffs and a whole lot more even as Barnetta’s departure looms.

“It’s something we want to celebrate rather than pity and feel bad,” Curtin said. “We’re happy for the time we’ve had him here. And now we’re gonna make it last as long as we possibly can. The rest of the games out, in the pregame talk, we’ll say, ‘Let’s extend this thing as long as possible and use it as a rallying cry.’ You don’t want it to come to an end. And when it does come to an end, you want it to be a special moment.”

What kind of special moment?

“We want his last game with the Philadelphia Union to be an MLS Cup.”

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

Tranquillo Barnetta is going home.

In an abrupt announcement on Tuesday, the Union declared that the skillful Swiss attacking midfielder will not renew his contract with the club and will return to Switzerland following the 2016 season to play for his hometown club, FC St. Gallen.

According to MLS Players Union, Barnetta’s exit will free the Union of $687,500 next season.

“The entire soccer community here was so welcoming and I’m so thankful to everyone at Philadelphia Union for making me feel so appreciated,” Barnetta said. “Playing in front of my friends and family and making plans for life at the end of my career where I want to live is a force I can’t resist.”

Although the timing of the announcement is a surprise, the move isn’t one. With Alejandro Bedoya now in the mix, currently playing out of position in a box-to-box midfield role, the Union will replace Barnetta with Bedoya at the center attacking midfield spot. It’s a position that Bedoya is comfortable in, playing there with his previous club, FC Nantes.

Bedoya played for the injured Barnetta in the center midfield spot last Saturday and scored his first goal of the season in a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC.

But even with Bedoya ready to take over, the Union will miss Barnetta. Since joining the Union in 2015, Barnetta, 31, has been one of the better possession playmakers in MLS, scoring six goals and seven assists in 37 games.

“Tranquillo has been a key piece in what we’re trying to build here in Philadelphia but we appreciate his decision to return to Switzerland,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, whose club has three matches left in the 2016 season, and will likely make the playoffs. “We look forward to continuing to push for the postseason.”