Humbled Union wary of vengeful Fire

051613_briancarrollusa.jpg

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.

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.”

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

The Union left the country for a big game over the weekend and did not return to the United States with a win as they hoped.

But they did come back with a hard-earned point against the top team in the conference as well as the first MLS goal from their marquee summer signing, while inching closer to the playoffs. Here’s a look at Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Toronto FC and what lies ahead with three regular-season games left.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. It took Alejandro Bedoya almost two months to score his first MLS goal … but what a goal it was. After collecting a pass from Fabian Herbers midway through the first half (just barely avoiding being offside), the U.S. national team starter took one dribble and fooled goalkeeper Clint Irwin with a clever chip over his head and into the net. You don’t see those kind of chip goals often and when you do, they’re usually delivered by big-time playmakers — the kind of guys the Union don’t usually have but do now with Bedoya. Head coach Jim Curtin’s decision to play Bedoya at the No. 10 attacking midfield spot with Tranquillo Barnetta injured also paid big dividends and showed the Union have more midfield options going into the playoffs … and into next season.

2. Coming into the game, a big storyline centered around center back Ken Tribbett, who got the start at center back about a month after getting pulled at halftime vs. Toronto. Another centered around right back Keegan Rosenberry, who was trying to bounce back from a rare off game in Portland the previous week. But, in the end, both players had some very good moments and helped limit the Toronto attack for much of the game, especially in the first half. Much of that had to do with another Curtin lineup decision as the Union head coach put two defensive-minded midfielders in front of the backline: Warren Creavalle, who also had a great hustle play that nearly led to a second goal right before halftime, and Brian Carroll, who’s now made two straight starts after missing six straight games with Plantar fasciitis.

3. Saturday’s game didn’t end without some late fireworks from the league’s hottest player, Jozy Altidore. Riding an eight-goals-in-nine-games streak coming in, the U.S. national team star struck the post in the 87th minute and was taken down in the box by C.J. Sapong in stoppage time on what initially looked to be a clear penalty. If you look at the replay from Sapong’s perspective, however, you could probably make the case that Sapong was going for the ball before getting impeded by Altidore. Either way, the idea of a ref not making a call that would likely decide a game (on a play that wasn’t a real goal-scoring opportunity) took some guts, especially as he got lambasted from the home team and its fans.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The brutal three-game road trip ends Saturday as the Union, after a loss in Portland and tie in Toronto, take on the rival New York Red Bulls (7 p.m., The Comcast Network). As conservative as it might sound, another point would probably make it a mildly successful trip considering the caliber of opponent. Either way, the Union’s playoff hopes and seeding will likely come down to their final two home games against Orlando and the Red Bulls. At this point, the best they can likely hope for is to hold off Montreal, D.C. United and New England for the No. 4 seed in the East, which would ensure them an opening-round home game. Luckily for them, Montreal and New England both lost this weekend, and although D.C. picked up a big win, they did so against another team in the playoff hunt in Orlando.

2. Another week means another question about captain Maurice Edu’s health. It’s now been more than two months since he returned to the practice field and almost a month since he started playing rehab games with the Bethlehem Steel. With only three games left in the season, it’s hard to see him becoming a starter after being out so long with a stress fracture. It also doesn’t help his case that Carroll and Creavalle are both playing well at his position. But if Edu’s healthy, there’s no sense not utilizing him as a midfield reserve or even as an emergency defensive replacement. The question, as always: is this the week he finally makes his season debut?

3. While Curtin’s lineup decisions played well in Toronto, one interesting one was not playing Roland Alberg. With Barnetta out, many Union fans probably expected Alberg to start at the No. 10 position — or, at the very least, come off the bench. But with the Union never falling behind, Curtin probably didn’t feel the need to bring in such an offensive-minded player. It was an understandable move considering the context but one that was surely disappointing for Alberg, who despite having nine goals in just over 1,000 minutes, has played only 19 minutes over the last three games and has started only once since the beginning of August. By now, you have to wonder what role the dynamic Dutchman will have in the playoffs — if he has one at all.

Stat of the week
With his seventh assist, the rookie Herbers moved into the top 10 in franchise history in career assists. He’s tied for ninth all time with Barnetta, Alejandro Moreno and Conor Casey.

Quote of the week
“I kind of even surprised myself.”

— Alejandro Bedoya, on his first MLS goal

Player of the week
Gotta give it to the guy who scored one of the best goals of the Union’s season, right? The Union now hope there’s more to come from Bedoya during the final stretch of the 2016 season.