Philadelphia Union

Inside Doop: Philly kid Derrick Jones enjoys memorable MLS debut

Inside Doop: Philly kid Derrick Jones enjoys memorable MLS debut

You could say the Union traveled a long way and spent a lot of time in Vancouver to end up playing in a game without any goals.

But there are still some exciting things the Union can take from their season-opening scoreless draw with the Whitecaps -- a very promising MLS debut from one Philly youngster at the top of the list.

In the first Inside Doop of the 2017 season, we'll take a look at that debut -- and a few others -- before peering ahead to the Union's challenging home opener.

Three thoughts about Sunday's game
1. Two years ago, head coach Jim Curtin decided to take a high school senior named Derrick Jones with the Union to preseason camp in Florida. From there, the skilled 6-foot-3 midfielder who emigrated to Philadelphia from Africa graduated from YSC Academy, signed with USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel as their first-ever player, signed a Homegrown contract with the Union last year, and on Sunday, was inserted into the starting lineup in his first MLS game. And, boy, did he deliver. The best thing you could say about his performance is he didn’t look like a kid who just turned 20; he looked like a seasoned pro putting out fires in the central midfield all night. The Union have had promising young players flame out in the past, but this one sure looks like he could be a bright star.

2. Jones wasn't the only Union player to make his league debut Sunday. Haris Medunjanin joined him in the midfield in front of veteran center back Oguchi Onyewu, while Jay Simpson started at striker and Fafa Picault came in on the wing. And all in all, the Union looked like a cohesive unit with all of those MLS newcomers playing key roles -- a testament, perhaps, to how Curtin ran the preseason. Onyewu and Medunjanin were especially effective in their roles and Picault showed the kind of speed that will make him a dangerous second-half sub. Simpson didn't do much but he also didn't really get many touches in the box, either.

3. Simpson wasn't the only player to fail to get going offensively. While the Union did put five shots on target (to Vancouver's one), they didn't look especially dangerous in front of goal, aside from a couple of Alejandro Bedoya shots. Because of that, some fans might question why offensive playmaker Roland Alberg didn't come in late to push for the game's first goal. But it was clear that Curtin and company were more than happy to stay compact defensively and leave Vancouver with a well-earned road point.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. Philly's defensive backline of Keegan Rosenberry, Onyewu, Richie Marquez and Fabinho had about as solid of an opening-day performance as you could expect. But things are about to get a lot tougher for them Saturday when the Union welcome star-studded Toronto FC to Talen Energy Stadium for their home opener (4:30 p.m., CSN). Will TFC's star strikers Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore continue to torch the Union as they did last season? Or will the Union find a measure of redemption after Toronto knocked them out of the 2016 playoffs?

2. As far as injuries go, Joshua Yaro and probably Maurice Edu aren't coming back soon. But a more pressing matter is the status of Ilsinho, the Brazilian midfielder who suffered a minor hamstring injury while in Vancouver and was held out of the match. Ilsinho was pushing Fabian Herbers for the team's starting spot on the right wing and had enjoyed a good preseason, so his absence could be a tough one if he's not ready in time for Toronto.

3. Now that he got his MLS debut out of the way, there are naturally more questions about Jones. Can he continue to be a 90-minute player, as he was on Sunday? Will he remain in the starting lineup ahead of the more seasoned Warren Creavalle, Brian Carroll and even Edu when everyone is healthy? How will he perform against Toronto captain Michael Bradley, one of the best American-born soccer midfielders ever?

Stat of the week
The Union are 1-4-3 in season openers and have been outscored, 11-4, in those eight games. They've been shut out in four season openers, including the last three.

Quote of the week
"My opinion may be biased but I thought he was the best player on the field, for both teams."

- Union head coach Curtin on Jones

Player of the week
See above. We'll agree with Curtin on this one.

C.J. Sapong, Roland Alberg clash in 'angry' argument over penalty kick

C.J. Sapong, Roland Alberg clash in 'angry' argument over penalty kick

CHESTER, Pa. -- C.J. Sapong had a career night. 

With a goal and two assists in the Union’s 3-0 win over the Columbus Crew on Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium, Sapong set a career high in goals with 10 (see game recap). He was dominant and productive.

But the night wasn’t all smiles.

Earning a penalty kick in the 35th minute off a Roland Alberg lead pass and Jonathan Mensah takedown, Sapong could taste his 10th of the season. One problem? Alberg wouldn’t give up the ball. While the Crew were arguing the red card on Mensah, Sapong and Alberg were jawing over the decision to take the shot.

“I had the ball and was thinking I was going to score today,” said Alberg, who was unapologetic.

The minor but heated argument caused Union captain Alejandro Bedoya to take notice. Sapong wanted it, but Alberg, who was 6 for 6 in his MLS career entering Wednesday, wouldn’t relent.

“I saw them arguing over the penalty kick,” Bedoya said. “They are two goal scorers and as the captain, I thought I had to go over there and just tell them to give it to who wanted it more. Roland had the ball. In the past, we decided if Roland is on the field, he would be our penalty taker, so that’s what I said and I let Roland take it.” 

But despite the confidence and vote from Bedoya, Alberg missed. Firing a hard shot down the middle, Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen got his hand on the ball before it rocketed off the crossbar to remain out. 

“I missed, but last year and this year I took a lot of PKs and didn’t miss,” Alberg said. “It was a chance for me to score but sometimes it happens and you miss. It’s unlucky, but the most important thing is three points today.”

Union manager Jim Curtin agreed.  

“Guys are angry,” he said. “Everybody wants to score goals, that’s the name of the game. It’s not the first time in soccer that a situation like that has happened. If we score, it’s a non-issue and no one’s really talking about it now. But it’s not the first penalty kick that’s going to be missed.”

Chalking the argument up to players who want to help the team win, Curtin considers the issue closed. 

“It was squashed there,” he said. “It was done, we talked to the guys. There’s nothing personal. It’s a competitive nature out there and guys want to score goals and that’s just natural. It’s normal. I wouldn’t want attacking players to be any other way. That’s what we talked about. There’s going to be more goals out there for both of you guys, so now let’s get that next one.”

In the 66th minute, Sapong got his 10th. 

“This is what we do,” the Union leading scorer said. “Every time we step on the field we’re trying to make an impact and try to help the team. Today, I can go home and know that I did that.”

Union goalie Andre Blake injures hand in Jamaica's loss to U.S. in Gold Cup final

Union goalie Andre Blake injures hand in Jamaica's loss to U.S. in Gold Cup final

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- As the victorious American players bounced so hard the podium shook, medals round their necks, a beaming Bruce Arena in the back raised his arms to the air right along with them as gold confetti began to fall.

The U.S. resurgence is off to an impressive start since Arena returned late last year. Another CONCACAF Gold Cup crown, and now on to more important business: qualifying for next year's World Cup.

Former Stanford star Jordan Morris scored a tiebreaking goal in the 88th minute , and the United States beat Jamaica 2-1 on Wednesday night for its sixth Gold Cup title and first since 2013.

Jozy Altidore's goal on a 28-yard free kick in the 45th minute beat backup goalkeeper Dwayne Miller after Jamaica captain Andre Blake left early with a hand injury.

Je-Vaughn Watson tied the score when he got away from Morris for a 4-yard volley off Kemar Lawrence's 50th-minute corner kick.

Morris, who left nearby Stanford in his junior year, has won the 2015 NCAA title, the 2016 MLS championship with Seattle and now the 2017 Gold Cup. He got the breakthrough goal with a 14-yard right-footed shot after Gyasi Zardes crossed. Jermaine Taylor tried to clear with a header and the ball was knocked by Clint Dempsey with a leg back to Morris.

"I was nervous. It was my guy that scored on the goal, so I was trying to make up for it any way that I could," Morris said. "Obviously. I take responsibility for that. But luckily I could put one in the back of the net."

It was the fifth international goal for the 22-year-old Morris, who tied 16-year-old Canadian Alphonso Davies for the tournament lead with three goals.

"That was like a dagger in the heart," Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore said.

Arena took a moment after the final whistle to congratulate Morris for the pretty shot but also for how he answered from a mistake.

The U.S. extended its unbeaten streak to 14 games (9-0-5) under Arena, who became the first coach to win three Gold Cup titles.

"Bruce brought in a new energy," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "He just gave us a tremendous lift."

The Americans had a chance to go ahead in the 19th minute when Altidore's swerving 30-yard shot was parried by Blake, who dived left and then beat Kellyn Acosta to the rebound at the 6-yard box. Acosta collided with Blake and appeared to kick the keeper's right hand before Jamaica's Damion Lowe cleared. Blake's hand was wrapped but he couldn't continue and was replaced by Miller four minutes later. As Blake left the field, he acknowledged the cheering fans with a wave of his left hand, then later emerged for the medal ceremony with his hand bandaged after receiving seven stitches that will be in for 10 days. Nothing was broken.

"It was a pretty bad cut, I knew I wasn't able to continue," Blake said. "It happens sometimes."

Altidore put the U.S. ahead with a curling shot past Miller's outstretched right hand into the upper corner of the net just beneath the crossbar, his 39th goal in 108 appearances.

Lawrence, who scored in a 1-0 semifinal win Sunday against Mexico, took another corner kick in the 75th minute moments after Alvas Powell's shot from close range deflected off Graham Zusi -- a sequence that had Howard yelling at his defense.

U.S. captain Michael Bradley earned the Golden Ball at the tournament's top player.

Using a lineup with about half its regular starters -- the rest are in preseason with European clubs -- the U.S. reached its record 10th final. The Reggae Boyz were a surprising final opponent after they stunned Mexico in a semifinal Sunday to reach the title match for a second straight time.

With 18 of 22 starters from Major League Soccer, this was a rematch of the 2015 Gold Cup semifinal won 2-1 by Jamaica at Atlanta. For the first time since replacing Jurgen Klinsmann in November, Arena kept his lineup unchanged. He inserted the 34-year-old Dempsey in the 55th minute.

Chunks of turf came loose yet again at Levi's Stadium, the $1.2 billion, 3-year-old home of the NFL San Francisco 49ers. The field has been an ongoing issue.

The Americans hope for momentum built during this run as they prepare to resume World Cup qualifying. The U.S faces Costa Rica in a rematch of the Gold Cup semifinal on Sept. 1 at Harrison, New Jersey, and play four days later at Honduras. The hex concludes against Panama on Oct. 6 in Orlando, Florida, and at Trinidad and Tobago four days after.

"We're not worried one bit about World Cup qualifying today. I can promise you that," Bradley said. "This was about a group of guys winning a trophy and that's been the only goal."

Arena already was looking ahead.

"We're a long way from qualifying for a World Cup, and that's the objective, for sure," he said.

Serious? You bet. But he also had a little fun with his players as the bubbly flowed.

"I told the players if anyone sprays champagne on me they will not be considered for the next World Cup qualifier and also the World Cup if we reach the World Cup," Arena said. "So I'm dry right now. It's surprising, isn't it?"