Inside Doop: Tough week ahead for Union

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Inside Doop: Tough week ahead for Union

CHESTER, Pa. – This one did not sit well with the Philadelphia Union.

Moments away from just the franchise’s second three-game winning streak, the Union allowed a controversial goal very late in stoppage time and settled for a 2-2 draw with FC Dallas on Saturday at PPL Park.

There’s a lot to discuss about this one, so let’s get right into it with this week’s “Inside Doop.”

Three thoughts from Saturday’s game
1.
The Union were upset about Blas Perez’s game-tying goal for two reasons: they thought time should have already expired and they thought Union goalie Zac MacMath was fouled on the play. Both points are certainly valid. But as many Union fans have pointed out, all of that could have been avoided if the Union didn’t commit a dumb foul against 10-man Dallas and if MacMath opted to punch away the free kick that preceded the goal rather than try to catch it. And it also must be mentioned that the Union caught a break just minutes earlier when Sheanon Williams cleared a ball off the goal line because replays later showed the ball had clearly crossed the line. All in all, the result was probably a fair one, if still a disappointing one, for Philly.

2. Raise your hand if you thought Sheanon Williams would be one of the league leaders in assists at this point in the season. After assisting both of Philly’s goals on Saturday, the right back now has six on the season, just one behind league leader and right-side-of-the-field teammate Sebastien Le Toux. Remarkably, four of those assists have come on throw-ins, the most recent coming on an Amobi Okugo goal that opened the scoring in Saturday’s contest. But while we already knew how dangerous his throws can be, it seems his crosses have been much sharper than in previous years too. Case in point: his cross on the go-ahead goal Saturday was sublime.

3. Waiting in the box for Williams’ perfect cross in the 87th minute was an unlikely source: deep reserve Aaron Wheeler. But in what was just his second MLS appearance, the tall striker delivered an equally perfect header to put the Union ahead 2-1. Afterwards, Williams and Wheeler both spoke of a good connection they’ve shared in practice, one that they were glad to see extend to a big nationally televised game. And even though the goal proved not to be a game-winner in the end, it should still show Union fans that the team might be in decent shape at striker while Jack McInerney plays with the U.S. national team through most of July.

Three questions for the week ahead
1.
The Union have their toughest road trip of the season this week as they take on Real Salt Lake on Wednesday and then the Houston Dynamo on Saturday. Real Salt Lake currently sits in first place in the Western Conference, while Houston is in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind Philly. What will the Union look to achieve during this road trip? Ideally, they’ll hope to win both games, of course. But realistically, they should be happy with one win or two draws.

2. The biggest question heading into Wednesday’s game is who replaces McInerney, who left for Gold Cup duty today. The easiest solution would probably be to simply swap in Antoine Hoppenot for McInerney and let Aaron Wheeler assume Hoppenot’s role as the team’s super sub. But because Hoppenot has so much value coming off the bench, Union manager John Hackworth may also opt to move Sebastien Le Toux from right midfield to striker, a position he’s quite familiar with. The problem there is that leaves the Union thin at midfield.

3. Why are the Union so thin in the midfield? On top of the absence of Keon Daniel, who’s playing in the Gold Cup for Trinidad and Tobago, Kleberson has missed three straight games with a quad strain and Michael Lahoud continues to recover from a sports hernia. If one of those players can return this week, the Union will be in much better shape to survive the tough stretch.

Stat of the week
The Union did not lose a league game in June, going 2-0-2 in the month. The only other month that happened was in March of 2011 – when the Union only played twice.

Quote of the week
“I think the game should have been over well over the allotted time that was shown on the clock. But you have to play until the final whistle and we didn’t do that.” – John Hackworth, on Dallas’ game-tying goal Saturday

Player of the week
Sheanon Williams was asked in the locker room Saturday if this was the best game of his career. While that might be a stretch, he was certainly the team’s most productive player this week, thanks to his pair of assists and dramatic goal-line clearance.

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.