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.

Fragile Union doomed to draw with Impact by 'soft defense'

Fragile Union doomed to draw with Impact by 'soft defense'

CHESTER, Pa. -- For 46 minutes, the Union suffered in slow motion. 

After claiming an impressive 3-0 lead, the winless club allowed unanswered goals in the 41st, 69th and 87th minute, as they gradually deteriorated against the Montreal Impact on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium (see Game Recap).

"It feels like a loss," Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. "It's hard to stomach."

The decline started with Ignacio Piatti. With his club trailing by three, the Impact's most dangerous player sliced through the Union midfield and took advantage of sagging Union defenders, reached the top of the box and fired off a low shot that beat Andre Blake.

"We let up a soft goal with Piatti coming inside," Bedoya said. "I probably should have fouled him first. Chris [Pontius] could have fouled him. We didn't step up in time."

The goal lit a fire under the Impact. It was a momentum-turner that gave the visitors life and squashed the Union's morale, setting in motion a crushing second half. 

"Goals change games," said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club, led by goals from C.J. Sapong and Roland Alberg dominated the early portion of the first half. "The one before half gives them a little bit of life, a little bit of hope that it's not just going to be a day where they lay down. They continued to fight."

If the fragile Union weren't panicking at the half, they certainly began to tense up in the 69th minute, when a left-side cross from Ambroise Oyongo allowed Anthony Jackson-Hamel to beat Richie Marquez to the inside for the header. 

"It was truly one where you can say they made a good play," Curtin said. "It's a very good cross, a good header where the guy gets in between the center backs. You can tip your cap and say that's a good goal."

Bedoya thought it was a case of soft defense.

"If you keep dropping back and play soft defense and allow second balls in the box, and don't put bodies on guys in the box, you get punished," Bedoya said. "That's what happened to us today."

Eighteen minutes later, the Union were crushed. Jackson-Hamel scored his second and tied the match when a Matteo Mancuso bounce shot hit the hands of Andre Blake and dribbled into the goal. The Impact attacker caught Union defender Jack Elliott ball watching and punished Blake for the gaffe with an easy goal off the rebound.

The collapse was complete.

"We had enough guys in the box, you can see there was five defenders in the box," Curtin said. "The guy shoots from outside the box, it takes a skip and it's a tough hop for Andre. We had enough guys behind the ball, it's about making individual plays. That is killing us right now."

Union spoil 3-goal lead to Impact, remain winless with draw

Union spoil 3-goal lead to Impact, remain winless with draw

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- Under normal circumstances, ending a four-game losing streak with a draw would be a welcome sight for the struggling Union

But after giving up three consecutive goals to draw the Montreal Impact, 3-3, Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium, Jim Curtin's club won't be celebrating this one. 

"Pure frustration," Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. "I'm at a loss for words. To be up 3-0 at home and lose, I mean, it feels like a loss, it's hard to stomach. This team deserves a lot better. The fans deserve a lot better."

Through the first 40 minutes, the winless Union (0-4-3) were on track to an easy victory.

Pressing the Impact back line, C.J. Sapong, in the fifth minute, pounced on a turnover just outside the Impact box and while being hauled down, slid a pass to a trailing Roland Alberg, who beat his man and played a shot gently past Evan Bush for the easy goal and 1-0 Union lead.

"Haris played the ball in and it went over my head, so I tried to get closer to the goal," Sapong said. "Pontius put it back across, and pretty easy finish for me."

With momentum, the Union doubled and triple their lead in the 23rd and 38th minute. First, a perfectly placed ball by Haris Medunjanin was headed back across the box by Chris Pontius to Sapong, who made no mistake with his fourth of the season. That goal was followed by an in-box foul on rookie defender Jack Elliott, which gave Alberg a penalty kick and his second of the game.

"We talked about intensity, we talked about out-competing and winning our one-on-one battles," Bedoya said. "We were able to do that."

Taking the shot, Alberg banked it off Bush and in for the 3-0 Union advantage. It was exactly what the winless Union needed. But then the situation drastically.

Ignacio Piatti began the 1-2-4 Impact's climb back in the 41st minute, making it 3-1 when he fired through the Union's backline before finding a gap and taking a shot that beat Andre Blake to the right side. 

"It hurt," Curtin said about the goal. "To go into half 3-0 is better than the scenario where they get a little life and momentum on their side. It's disappointing. Piatti is a special player. We had a lot of things we could have done better on that goal, but at the same time, to score three goals in a half should be good enough to finish off and get three points."

The situation became direr in the 69th minute, as Anthony Jackson-Hamel smoothly placed a perfect header past Blake off a cross from Ambroise Oyongo. The Impact then tied the game in the 87th with another from Jackson-Hamel. 

"When I came to this club, we were all ambitious and this is not the start we wanted," Bedoya said. "I wear my emotions on my sleeve and I thought today I worked my butt off and so did all the guys. And to give up three soft goals, what I think were soft goals, it sucks. It's disappointing. Frustrating."

The Union, with a slightly defensive lineup featuring Ray Gaddis for Keegan Rosenberry, haven't won a game since Aug. 27, 2016 and had no answer for the Impact.

"I thought we had some breaks in the first half, played well and scored some goals," Curtin said. "We could have scored more. That killer instinct to finish off the game is something we talk about, something we work on. We came up short."