The Inside Doop: Union season hits new low

658836.jpg

The Inside Doop: Union season hits new low

Is this the bottom?

On Saturday, the Philadelphia Unions disappointing season reached a new level when they dropped a 1-0 decision to previously winless and pointless Toronto FC. And afterwards, Union manager Peter Nowak whos already under heavy scrutiny from fans blasted his teams effort and execution.

Heres a closer look at the loss that dropped the Union to 2-7-2 on the season, and a look ahead to whats next for the struggling club:

Three thoughts from Saturdays game

1) Throughout his tenure as Union boss, Nowak has been living dangerously by keeping few natural defenders on his roster. That cost the Union on Saturday when right back Ray Gaddis needed to come out of the game in the first half because he was feeling sick. With no defenders on the bench in part due to the recent trade of Danny Califf, the international absence of Porfirio Lopez and an injury to Chris Albright Nowak plugged midfielder Michael Lahoud into the backline. And it was Lahoud who ended up getting victimized on the play that led to the games only goal in the 88th minute.

2) Nowak was upset with the entire team for putting only two shots on target but specifically called out Freddy Adu for not having a feeling for the game in Toronto. Adus performance was especially disappointing because he was brilliant in the first half against the Red Bulls two weeks ago before missing the next three halves because of a red card. Union fans should pray that red-card suspension didnt stall the momentum the talented midfielder was building and that Adu can regain his footing as the teams top playmaker.

3) Due to injuries to Zac MacMath (concussion symptoms) and Chase Harrison (ankle sprain), the Union started their third goalie in as many games. And just as Harrison did last week, third-string keeper Chris Konopka performed excellently in net, making six saves and keeping his team in the game despite an offensive onslaught from Toronto. The Union have shown they have an impressive collection of goalkeepers, even if all three dont have much MLS experience. Right now, that position is the least of their concerns.

Three questions for the upcoming week

1) The Union have an interesting upcoming schedule. Their next league game is not until June 16 but they have a U.S. Open Cup game Tuesday at PPL Park and then a pair of friendlies against affiliates Reading and Harrisburg on June 9 and June 12, respectively. Some teams value the U.S. Open Cup an expansive tournament involving American clubs from all levels more than others but leading up to Phillys contest against the Rochester Rhinos of the USL-Pro Division, Nowak said he will play his first team. Still, given that its not a league game, it will be interesting to see if the Union boss decides to rest some of his banged-up players.

2) A loss to Toronto FC seemed to really rile up the Union fan base. What will happen if the club loses to a lower-division team at home three days later? It certainly wont be pretty.

3) While Lionard Pajoy and Danny Mwanga have taken hold of the starting striker spots, there looks to be an interesting battle brewing for their top backups. Rookie Antoine Hoppenot, a 2012 supplemental draft pick, got 25 surprising minutes against Toronto (after playing just one minute previously in his MLS career) and Josue Martinez also got some run. Meanwhile, 2010 first-round pick Jack McInerney, who hasnt even made the 18-man roster over the past few weeks, made a case for himself by scoring a pair of goals in the clubs Reserve League game in Toronto. Throw rookie Chandler Hoffman into the mix and the Union have a lot of options up top. The question now is which of those players, if any, can help the Union start to score goals. Speaking of which

Fact of the week: Danny Mwanga has played 1,283 minutes since his last goal.

Quote of the week: I congratulate Toronto coach Aron Winter because they wanted it more. They played better. They competed for every ball. They chased for every ball. Thats how teams should play in this league. Union manager Peter Nowak

Player of the week: Despite it being only his second MLS start of his career, Chris Konopka looked comfortable and in control. He was certainly the Unions best player in what was an otherwise forgettable game in Toronto.

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com and CSNPhilly.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin. The Inside Doop appears every Monday.

'I've never seen that' - Rare violation works in Union's favor vs. Colorado

'I've never seen that' - Rare violation works in Union's favor vs. Colorado

CHESTER, Pa. -- The situation was growing dire for the Union.

With the game tied at one in the second half and facing a Colorado Rapids team that happily parked the defensive bus in order to grind out an ugly draw, the Union got a break when Rapids forward Caleb Calvert received a red-card ejection for entering the field illegally.

Five minutes later, the Union claimed the 2-1 lead and eventual victory (see game story).

“I’ve never seen that to be honest with you,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Where you reenter the field like a sneak attack from behind the goal. You knew something was wrong with it when you saw it, just the eyeball test. But the laws of the game, that’s a violation.”

How it all happened was unique. In the 69th minute, Calvert went down injured on the Union goal line and remained there, writhing in pain. Not buying his injury, referee Jose Carlos Rivero went over to the player, held a conversation and immediately threw up the yellow card for dissent.

“The second yellow and yellows in that quick succession,” Curtin said, “it was probably in the referee's mind that something verbal was said and he was upset.”

With a warning on his name and with a trainer now at his side, Calvert, who scored his first MLS goal in the 15th minute but was unavailable to the media after the match, got to his feet and left the playing field behind the Union goal. Confused as to whether he could or couldn’t reenter the match, the 20-year-old forward hesitated briefly before sneaking back onto the field.

“They told me they were trying to tell him to stay off the field,” Rapids left back Eric Miller said. “But how many people were here tonight? 20,000? 20,000 people and the referee was 60 yards away, it’s gonna be tough to hear him probably.”

Calvert was carded again, this time with Rivero showing red, ejecting the youngster from the game.

“You don’t just quickly send a guy off for two dumb things in a row,” Miller said. “I’m sure he thinks he made the right call.”

Rapids assistant coach and former Union striker Conor Casey was also ejected. Head coach Pablo Mastroeni didn't make himself available to the media after the game.

“It’s tough when a referee has such a massive impact on the outcome of the game,” Miller said.

But the Union feel like the game was decided even before Calvert's ejection. While it did change the contest and made taking the lead with a Haris Medunjanin free kick goal a bit easier, Union attacker Chris Pontius believes C.J. Sapong’s game-tying penalty kick minutes before the incident is what stole momentum.

“I think they were rattled when we got the first goal,” said Pontius, who said he’s never witnessed anything like what happened Saturday. “I don’t think they knew what to do. I think even if they had 11 men, we were still getting another goal.”

Union battle back to beat Rapids for club record 4th-straight win

Union battle back to beat Rapids for club record 4th-straight win

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- With a second-half flurry and some help from referee Jose Carlos Rivero, Haris Medunjanin and the Union overcame a one-goal deficit to take down the Colorado Rapids, 2-1, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

The victory pushes the Union's win streak to a club record four games.

“Confidence is a heck of a thing,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “If you could bottle it up and sell it, you could make a heck of a lot of money. You see a group now that previously when we gave up a goal, we might lay down. We might panic. I don’t think we handled it perfectly, but we did push the game in the second half.” 

Playing their third match in eight days, the now 4-4-4 Union weren’t at their best Saturday against a Rapids team who are sitting dead last in MLS at 2-1-8. 

“Not all wins are going to be pretty,” Union attacker Chris Pontius said. “The first half definitely wasn’t us at all, we weren’t connecting passes, we were a little late with everything and played right into their hands.”

But trailing for the first time in four matches after a Caleb Calvert fast-break goal in the 15th minute, the hosts persisted and began to climb back into the game in the second half.

“I want to speak about the first 45 minutes. It was not us. It was very bad,” Medunjanin said. “We need to know that we can’t play arrogant and think we can easily beat every team. If we don’t fight for every yard, we are nothing.” 

From the right side of Rapids territory, Ilsinho fired a cross into the box that was pounced on by Jay Simpson, who entered for Fafa Picault just three minutes earlier. The forward’s shot hit Kortne Ford, who fell and practically hugged the ball, earning the in-box handball call and penalty kick. 

“We spoke with each other at halftime and we knew we had to stick with each other,” Medunjanin said. “We knew if we scored the first goal, we were going to win this game.” 

C.J. Sapong lined up at the spot and launched a high shot that found that first goal to tie the game at one. It was Sapong’s eighth of the season.

“The guy clearly made a hand ball and we got the PK,” Sapong said. “I tried to keep it on goal and it went in. It gave us a little bit of life.”

Then things got crazy. 

Embellishing an injury in an attempt to waste time, Calvert received a yellow card for dissent and was forced off the field as the trainer was called out. A confused Calvert then reentered the game without permission and received a second yellow and red-card ejection. In protest, former Union striker Conor Casey, now an assistant coach with the Rapids, was ejected in the 70th minute.

“Nothing’s going our way right now,” Rapids’ Eric Miller said. “So I think we’re pretty used to calls like that.”

Up a man, the Union rolled. Alejandro Bedoya suffered a foul just outside the box, allowing Medunjanin to lace the free kick over the Rapids’ defensive wall and inside the right post for the 2-1 Union lead.

“I know I can shoot from there and when I hit the ball, I knew it was going to go in,” Medunjanin said. “We don’t have star players. We need to fight with each other and take the three points with each other, even the bench and everybody out of the squad.” 

Having played Wednesday, the Union shifted their roster to stay fresh. Most notable was the absence of Fabinho, who was replaced in favor of Giliano Wijnaldum, who made his MLS debut. Fabian Herbers also made the start for Pontius on the right side of the midfield but was forced out in the 26th because of a hip injury.

“It was an opportunity for him,” Curtin said of Herbers. “Unfortunately, he could be out for some time.”