Philadelphia Union

Humbled Union wary of vengeful Fire

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Humbled Union wary of vengeful Fire

CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union enter Saturday’s contest as a humbled team.

Coming off a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of the LA Galaxy on Wednesday, the Union are licking their wounds as they set to face the Chicago Fire at PPL Park. And despite grinding out a win over the Fire in Chicago just a week prior, the loss to the Galaxy was an eye-opening defeat.

“It was a good wake-up call,” said Union defender Amobi Okugo, who scored his team’s only goal on Wednesday. “We have to go back to the drawing board, watch a lot of film. Chicago was probably watching, so we know we’ll have to step it up. We only have one win [at PPL Park], so we definitely have to step it up.”

Though the Union defeated the Fire, 1-0,  at Toyota Park last Saturday, thanks to a late Jack McInerney goal, they aren’t taking their familiar opponent for granted. The Union are in the final leg of a three-game, eight-day set, while the Fire have been stewing since the loss.

“It’s tough playing a team back-to-back,” Fire forward Patrick Nyarko told Chicago-Fire.com. “Whatever success you had in the first game might be difficult to replicate because the game plan is so fresh in your mind.”

“You have to take it one game at a time,” Fire defender Austin Berry said. “We’re going to watch film and learn from last week. It’s in the past, so we’ll look forward to Saturday and putting our best effort out there.”

With revenge as motivation, the 4-4-3 Union are expecting more from the 2-6-1 Fire than they showed in the first meeting. Union goalie Zac MacMath was the star of that game, earning the six-save shutout.

“Coming back at home against Chicago, they are going to try and redeem themselves after losing to us at their place,” Union forward Sebastien Le Toux said. “It won’t be an easy game. We have to come back strong, especially after [playing the Galaxy]. We don’t like losing these games, especially at home.”

But while the Fire work to solve the Union, coach John Hackworth’s club won’t look the same. Missing defensive cornerstone Jeff Parke to a hamstring injury and Sheanon Williams to a red-card suspension last Saturday, the Union were forced to play Bakary Soumare at center back and Gabe Farfan at left back. Since then, Farfan has been traded to Chivas USA and Parke has fully recovered from his injury.

Another new addition could be attacking midfielder Kleberson, who played his first full 90 minutes for the Union against the Galaxy. Flashing incredible quality and creating offensive chances for the Union forwards, the Brazilian may have earned himself a starting spot against the Fire.

“It will be a completely different game,” Williams said. “Both teams will change their tactics and play a lot differently. Being at home, we want to be on the front foot.”

Whatever lineup Hackworth puts on the field, the Union need it to result in points. And though it’s still early in the 2013 season, the Union players want to weather the storm and stay in the playoff picture.

“They are going to come here trying to get a win,” Okugo said of the Fire. “We stole three points there last week. We’ll need a quick [regeneration] and play better than we did [against the Galaxy]. This is a tough stretch and we’re trying to stay in playoff contention.”

Open Cup schedule
The 2013 US Open Cup schedule has been finalized.

In the MLS-entry round (third round) of the long-running tournament, the Union will face either the PDL’s Ocean City Nor’easters or USL PRO’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Tuesday, May 28.

The two minor league clubs will battle it out on Tuesday, May 21, with the winner earning a date with the Union. If the Riverhounds win, the Union will travel to Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pa. If the Nor’easters advance, the game will be at PPL Park.

Although the 2012 season was one to forget for the Union, who struggled through their MLS schedule, one positive aspect was the club’s success in the Open Cup.

Taking down DC United and Harrisburg City Islanders before losing to the eventual tournament champion Sporting Kansas City in the semifinals, the Union went 3-1 and grabbed a handful of success in a season of overwhelming failure.

Inside Doop: Absences, losses continue to pile up for Union

Inside Doop: Absences, losses continue to pile up for Union

The Union gave us a glimpse into their future as two rookies made their first MLS starts over the weekend. But, in the end, a slew of key veteran absences were too much to overcome as the Union lost their second straight to fall further out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Here’s a closer look at the rough past few days and what lies ahead during another busy week that, if they don't turn things around, could sink their playoff hopes.

Three thoughts about the past week
1. The biggest surprise Saturday may have come before the game in Columbus even began — when the lineups revealed the Union’s attacking four consisted of two rookies making their first career starts (Adam Najem and Marcus Epps), their backup striker (Jay Simpson) and a winger who’s been mostly deployed centrally of late (Ilsinho). That’s because regular starters Chris Pontius, Fafa Picault, C.J. Sapong and Roland Alberg, among others, were all absent due to injury, suspension or Gold Cup duty. And, well, it showed. While Najem did look comfortable on the ball at times, the chemistry was lacking up top, the team strung together very few passes moving forward, and they finished with a grand total of zero shots on target in a 1-0 loss to the Crew. Head coach Jim Curtin likes to talk about his team’s improved depth but there’s only so much you can overcome on the road.

2. Although he’s yet to win in three starts since replacing Andre Blake, who’s currently at the Gold Cup, John McCarthy has looked sharp in net. And in Columbus, he made a couple of big-time saves to keep his team in the game. Now, the Union will need him once again Wednesday when they face Columbus in the second half of a home-and-home series. That’s because Blake continued his stirring run in the Gold Cup by leading Jamaica to a huge 1-0 upset of Mexico on Sunday night and into the title game vs. the U.S. You could say that’s a tough break for the Union in the short term — Curtin has admitted part of him has been rooting for Jamaica to lose so he can get Blake back sooner — but having a player shine on such a national stage could end up being one of the high points of the year for Philly, especially given the current trajectory of the club.

3. While the Union’s offense was virtually nonexistent in Columbus, they did have a glimmer of life four days earlier in Montreal when Fafa Picault scored his fifth goal of the season. But even that moment was marred by the fact that Alberg and Ilsinho appeared not to want to celebrate with him. Afterward, Curtin revealed that there was a heated discussion at halftime with those players angry that Picault didn’t square a ball for Ilsinho that would have likely resulted in a tap-in goal. Curtin said he didn’t mind hearing that but you have to wonder if there may be some rifts growing in certain corners of the locker room.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. It’s something of a bizarre scheduling quirk that the Union meet the same Crew team Wednesday that they just played four days ago on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium. But Curtin will hope that the game — and Philly’s lineup too — will look a lot different. Although Pontius and Blake will still be gone, squaring off in the U.S. vs. Jamaica Gold Cup final across on the same night, Picault and Sapong could return from their minor injuries and Alberg's set to come back from his one-game suspension. Of course, the Crew could also get some reinforcements with star playmaker Federico Higuain working to recover from a right knee sprain.

2. Even if the Union weren’t missing guys anyway, Curtin might still tinker with the lineups during a four-game-in-11-days stretch; after Wednesday’s matchup vs. the Crew, they travel to New England to take on the Revolution on Saturday. Veteran center back Oguchi Onyewu will likely be plugged back into the lineup after he was given a rest this past weekend and his fill-in, Josh Yaro, had what basically amounted to an own goal in the loss. Will Curtin opt to give any other guys a rest in either of the next two games?

3. Almost lost in the storylines of Saturday’s game was the return of captain Alejandro Bedoya, who had missed the three previous contests due to captaining the U.S. national team at the Gold Cup group stages and the birth of his second child. The true test now for the Union captain will be to see if he and fellow veteran central midfielder Haris Medunjanin can right the ship before it’s too late.

Stat of the week
With his season debut in Columbus, Charlie Davies became the 23rd Union player to play in a league game this year.

Quote of the week
“It feels amazing. As a kid when you dream of playing professional soccer in front of big crowds and stuff, it’s great to have that first start and put it in the books.”

— Union winger Marcus Epps

Player of the week
John McCarthy was one of the only bright spots in Columbus, making the kind of saves that would make Andre Blake proud.

Union's Andre Blake helps Jamaica stun Mexico to reach CONCACAF Gold Cup final

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Union's Andre Blake helps Jamaica stun Mexico to reach CONCACAF Gold Cup final

PASADENA, Calif. -- Kemar Lawrence scored on an exquisite 24-yard free kick in the 88th minute, and Jamaica advanced to the CONCACAF Gold Cup final with a 1-0 upset victory over Mexico on Sunday night.

Jamaica will face the United States on Wednesday night at Santa Clara, California. The Reggae Boyz are seeking their first championship in soccer's North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake kept the game scoreless with a series of saves while Mexico dominated possession despite missing most its top players.

Lawrence's late strike froze goalkeeper Jesus Corona. The ball rose past a five-man wall and curled into the left corner just below the bar for the New York Red Bulls defender's third career international goal and first in three years.

The Reggae Boyz have reached the final for the second straight Gold Cup tournament, but this stunning upset at the Rose Bowl ranks among their biggest international wins. Mexico has won seven Gold Cup titles, the U.S. five and Canada one.

Trying to win its second consecutive Gold Cup and fourth in five tournaments, Mexico used the deeper reaches of its player pool following the World Cup qualifiers and the Confederations Cup last month. While teams were allowed to make up to six substitutions for the knockout rounds, El Tri coach Juan Carlos Osorio said he was blocked by Mexico's clubs.

Mexico hadn't trailed in the tournament before Lawrence's late goal, but El Tri also hadn't been impressive -- no player scored more than one goal. That lack of finishing skill ultimately cost Mexico, which failed to advance to the Gold Cup final for just the second time in the last six tournaments.

The crowd was dominated by Mexico's vast Southern California fan base, but the Rose Bowl was less than half-full with just 42,393 fans. The absence of Chicharito Hernandez and other top Mexican stars, combined with El Tri's unattractive performances in the Gold Cup to date, apparently kept many of their usual faithful at home.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino watched the semifinal from the Rose Bowl stands. So did Osorio, who served the fifth game of a six-match FIFA ban for his conduct toward officials during the Confederations Cup.

Blake made two brilliant saves in succession in the 12th minute, diving twice to stop close-range chances by Jesus Duenas and Erick Torres, the Houston Dynamo star and the only player on the current roster from outside Mexico's domestic leagues.

Blake did it again in the 25th minute, stopping Torres' point-blank header from the top of the 6-yard box with improbably quick reactions.

Jesus Molina sent Blake crashing to the ground with aerial contact in the 34th minute while competing for a ball in the box, but Jamaica rallied and forced Corona to make his own diving stop in the 38th minute off a free kick.

Jesus Gallardo's 22-yard free kick also was punched away adroitly in the 65th minute by Blake for his sixth official save.

Jamaica got a chance in the 56th minute, but substitute Ricardo Morris' 14-yard shot went straight to Corona. Damion Lowe got another golden chance with a sharp header off a free kick in the 78th minute, but Corona dived to swat it away.