Humbled Union wary of vengeful Fire


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 “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.

As playoffs near, newcomer Alejandro Bedoya delivers message to Union

As playoffs near, newcomer Alejandro Bedoya delivers message to Union

CHESTER, Pa. — When the Union coaches were about to wrap up a team meeting earlier this week, Alejandro Bedoya raised his hand.

The new midfielder had something he wanted to say.

“I was able to give a talk to the team Monday and let them know we’re all in this together, this is the end of the season, guys are playing for their livelihoods really,” Bedoya said Wednesday. “We don’t know what’s gonna happen next season. Some guys are gonna retire, some guys are gonna leave, get traded, go somewhere else. 

“This is a great opportunity we have in front of us now with the playoffs and trying to win an MLS Cup here in Philly.”

Bedoya, of course, is one of the team’s least-tenured players, coming over in August from France for his first stint in MLS. And there are other players on the team who have worn the captain’s armband, including Brian Carroll, Tranquillo Barnetta and Maurice Edu.

But Bedoya, a U.S. national team starter who forged a successful career in Europe, brings a unique viewpoint into what will be his first foray into the MLS Cup playoffs. And Curtin was happy to see his new midfielder emerge as a locker room leader after a lifeless 2-0 loss to Orlando City SC on Sunday sunk the Union's chances of possibly hosting a game when the playoffs begin next week.

“To be honest, it’s one of the first time it’s happened, where guys put their hand up and looked in the mirror, which is important,” Curtin said. “I think that shows good leadership, it shows we are a team that’s in this thing together. It’s kind of commonplace for the coach to take blame and put his hand up because I am ultimately in charge of the lineup and what goes out there. But for whatever reason, on the day it just wasn’t us, it didn’t feel like us. And to have guys recognize that was important.”

Bedoya certainly took his share of the blame for the loss to Orlando, admitting he wasn’t at his best after returning from a rib injury that held him out of two recent U.S. national team games.

To be fair though, nobody was at their best, which made for an awkward situation after the game when the Union learned they all but guaranteed a playoff berth — thanks to a Chicago Fire win over the New England Revolution — but didn’t much feel like celebrating.

“It doesn’t take a genius to look at that game and say that was a lackluster effort at best,” Bedoya said. “For us, it’s just staying optimistic. We know we have a great group of guys. We know we have a good team. When we’re playing well, when we’re on our game, we can compete with anybody in this league.”

The Union will get a chance to show that when they host the New York Red Bulls in Sunday’s regular-season finale (4 p.m., TCN). 

The Red Bulls are an MLS Cup contender and have the top seed in the East all but locked up. The Union are also firmly planted into their own spot, so the game doesn’t have many implications aside from Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips’ Golden Boot chase.

But for the Union, the game is still being viewed as a big one because the last thing they want is to enter the playoffs on a seven-game winless streak — and then, perhaps, enter the offseason on an eight-game winless streak, a dubious distinction that would cast a shadow over the accomplishment of making the playoffs for just the second time in club history.

“It’s very important,” Bedoya said. “I think it’s more than about pride. You gotta play for yourself, for each other. You’re representing this club, this organization, this city. I think we know the last performance was not good enough, not nearly good enough at all. It can only be better. We just have to try to get a result and play our best so we can get some momentum going into the playoffs.”

Considering the Union are playing the best team in the East followed by a playoff game against possibly Toronto FC or New York City FC — two teams loaded with stars — any win from here on out would be considered an upset. 

But Bedoya is a star in his own right, and the team’s new Designated Player is trying his best to spread a positive message heading into what will be the defining moments of the 2016 season.

And his teammates are listening.

“Definitely, he is a big-time player, a guy who can make big plays and make stuff for us and it’s great to have him,” goalkeeper Andre Blake said. “I think on any given day, when all the guys are bought-in and sharp, we can stand up against any team and give it a good run. And I think hopefully this Sunday, we can get back on a run going into the playoffs.”

Winless in 6 straight, Union struggling heading into playoffs

Winless in 6 straight, Union struggling heading into playoffs

CHESTER, Pa. — The Union have mixed emotions about Sunday’s loss. 

Despite an inexplicable and disappointing 2-0 defeat to Orlando City SC at Talen Energy Stadium, the club effectively fell forward into the playoffs (see story)

“It feels funny,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I’m not sure how to feel good about it because we know we can do better.”

That’s because the Union needed help to get in. The New England Revolution, who lost to the Chicago Fire on Sunday, 2-1, would now need a win, a Union loss and gain plus-12 in goal differential in their season finale to unseat the Union. 

The Revs have 39 points and the Union have 42, with one match remaining. In other words, the Union will make the postseason for the first time since 2011. Still, Curtin isn't pleased.

“We could have set ourselves up with a home game,” said Curtin, whose club is assured the No. 5 or No. 6 seed depending on next weekend’s season finale result. “That’s slipped away now. That’s the reality of things and we have to deal with that.”

Aside from the loss bringing the Union down, the club is in a terrible slump that just seems to be getting worse. Curtin’s team is winless in its last six games and hasn’t won a game since late August. The way the Union are trending, making the playoffs but getting unceremoniously ejected in one game is nothing to celebrate.

“You can’t just limp into the playoffs and expect to turn it on,” veteran Chris Pontius said. “That doesn’t happen. If you look at teams that were lower seeds that have made runs, they made runs late in the season leading up to the playoffs, they were good. It could be amazing what one good game could do for people’s confidence so next weekend is big for us.”

If there is good news for the Union, it’s that there is time to recover. The club hosts the New York Red Bulls on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium. And a win could mean the difference between playing Toronto FC, New York City FC or D.C. United. It could also mean much-needed confidence. 

“We will use this last game to have a good performance and something to be proud of for our fans, because they deserve that,” Curtin said. “They deserve better than today. Again, I still wouldn’t want to play us.