Philadelphia Union

Inside Doop: Union stuck in neutral after another draw with expansion team

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Inside Doop: Union stuck in neutral after another draw with expansion team

For the second straight game, the Union played an expansion team. And for the second straight game, the Union walked away from the game with a point.

In this week's Inside Doop, we'll take a closer look at Saturday's 1-1 road draw with Minnesota United and what lies ahead with six games left in this disappointing season.

Three thoughts about Saturday's game
1. Compared to their expansion brethren, Minnesota is not a particularly dangerous team, built more for the future than Atlanta's expensive roster. But the Union were fortunate to escape TCF Bank Stadium with a point after a penalty on Oguchi Onyewu was overturned by video review because of a foul on Michael Boxall right before the hand ball. How big was that for the Union? Not only did they avoid facing a penalty kick in a tie game, but Onyewu also got to stay on the field after his second yellow card was rescinded. Considering the Union also had a big video review go their way vs. Dallas a few weeks ago, it's fair to say they're loving the new system — for now. It should also maybe make fans nervous that the club is enjoying some good fortune while still falling in the standings.

2. For the first 15 minutes of Saturday's game, the Union looked ready to coast to a victory. The first goal — in the 5th minute — showed off Fafa Picault's speed and CJ Sapong's precision as Picault set up Sapong's 13th goal of the season — one shy of the club's single-season record. But, aside from Andre Blake's making a huge save, the team had little to hang their hats on after that as the Loons tied the game on a Union defensive collapse and mostly took control of the game from there. That kind of inconsistency is maddening but not surprising at this point of the season for a club that's winless in its last five and has won only one road game all year.

3. With Alejandro Bedoya suspended for the game, the Union turned to Warren Creavalle to start in his place. And while Creavalle played fine, the fact that Derrick Jones didn't get a chance to take the field was somewhat alarming. Their top homegrown prospect, Jones has mostly fallen off the map since a strong start to the season and a promising performance at the U-20 World Cup. At this point, the 20-year-old midfielder may just need an offseason to rest and a preseason to regain his mojo. Still, with the Union essentially out of the playoff race, it seems silly not to throw Jones and other young guys out there for the final few games.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The schedule only gets tougher from here for the Union, who travel to a place they rarely win, Red Bull Arena, to play a nationally televised game vs. the rival Red Bulls on Sunday, before tough games against Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle and Chicago again. How many points will the Union gain from this stretch heading into their season finale vs. Orlando? It's certainly possible they won't get many and will end up finishing with one of the league's worst records. And adding insult to injury there, their first-round draft pick belongs to New England from the trade that brought in Charlie Davies, who played (less than) one minute on Saturday, upping his total to 25 minutes on the year.

2. It's another week so it must be time for another Maurice Edu question. The Designated Player recently returned to full health but is trying to get his fitness back up through rehab appearances with affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC. At the very least, you'd think he could be ready for a 20-30 minute assignment this coming week or the week after. But then the question is what that does for the Union, who are deep at his position and don't really need a boost for the playoff push since there likely won't be one. They could throw him out there to see if they'd be interested in bringing him back next year (on a much cheaper contract), or they could just want to do him a favor by letting him show other potential bidders something leading into the offseason.

3. Speaking of veteran defensive midfielders, what about Brian Carroll? One of the league's longest-tenured players hasn't logged an MLS minute all season and appears close to retirement, whether by choice or not. An all-time good guy, Carroll could be in line for a job in the Union organization if he so chooses. But it might be nice for the 36-year-old to get back on the field at least once more for some type of farewell.

Stat of the week
With his 13th goal, Sapong passed three players who had previously scored 12 in a Union season: Jack McInerney in 2013, Sebastien Le Toux in 2014 and Chris Pontius in 2016. The all-time record was set in the Union's expansion season of 2010 when Le Toux scored 14 in 2,520 minutes. Sapong currently has 13 in 2,263 minutes with six games left to tie or break the mark.

Quote of the week
"I guess it felt OK to still get on the field despite everything else that's going on back home. Now I get to go back and see my parents and play the waiting game." — Fafa Picault, putting things in perspective after Saturday's 1-1 draw.

Earlier in the week, his parents evacuated their home in Miami due to Hurricane Irma, making a 27-hour drive to stay with Picault in Philly.

Player of the week
Sapong's the choice here as his career year continues — though he's probably kicking himself for not scoring a second after coming inches away.

Union-Fire thoughts: Union playing for pride as they host potent Fire

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Union-Fire thoughts: Union playing for pride as they host potent Fire

Union (8-12-9)  vs. Fire (14-9-6)
7 p.m. on TCN

Home for the first time in over a month, the Union will rely on that home cooking to try and break up a six-game winless run as they host Nemanja Nikolic and the Chicago Fire on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know:

What to play for
With five matches remaining in the season for the Union, miles from the playoff picture and sitting five points from the bottom of the Eastern Conference, motivation is scarce. But according to Union manager Jim Curtin, his club has two reasons to show up Saturday and compete.

“We're playing for pride and we’re playing for positions for next season," Curtin said. "There's still a lot on the line in that regard. Pride plays a big role as professional athletes. You have to look yourself in the mirror and realize this year wasn't good enough. I think we know that. Now, you're playing for positions on the team next year.”

Expected to go on a shopping spree in the offseason, the Union will use the final five matches to evaluate talent, especially when things get tough. Of the bubble players, Curtin wants to know which players are willing to fight for the badge with nothing to play for.

He also wants some momentum.

“We have had guys who have had good seasons and we need them to continue that,” Curtin said. “Any positive momentum you can take has to be with wins. I think that will really build equity back in the fanbase and confidence in the group. How you finish is still very important.”

Elevated Creavalle
Since beating out Derrick Jones to replace suspended Alejandro Bedoya on Sept. 9 against Minnesota United, midfielder Warren Creavalle has forced himself onto the field with strong play. Even with Bedoya’s return last Sunday, Creavalle found himself coming off the bench for a solid 45 minutes.

“Warren falls into the category of a guy who could be pretty frustrated with the minutes he received this year,” Curtin said. “But when he was called upon, he really stepped up and did a good job for us.”

Creavalle has done such a good job in the midfield that Curtin, notoriously stubborn with formation changes, is kicking around the idea of adding Creavalle as the more defensive player in a triangle with Haris Medunjanin and Bedoya, freeing up both players to take chances. 

Curtin hinted we could see that change as early as Saturday.

“It’s something, moving forward, where we can invert that triangle and have Warren there with Ale and Haris, so when we have the ball it gives other teams a different look,” Curtin said. “It’s something you could see down the stretch, it plays to their skillsets a little bit. 

Fire on fire
Saturday will be a tale of teams headed in different directions. While the Union haven’t won in six tries, the Fire, who are 3-7-4 away from home this season, haven’t lost in their last three. 

“They are a very confident team right now,” Curtin said. ‘They have a strong group of attacking players.”

But that doesn’t mean the Fire, who will be without seven players, including Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juninho on Saturday, are overlooking the Union. Sitting third in the East with 48 points, the Fire, led by Nikolic's 18 goals, are three behind New York City FC and 14 behind league-leading Toronto FC.

“Being second is better than third always, and being first is better than anyone else,” Fire manager and former Union player Veljko Paunovic told the media. “Right now we have to chase second place. We don’t know what will happen so we have to do our job. We're looking at who is our next opponent and preparing the team every possible way.”

That makes the match against the Union a crucial one for the Fire’s playoff outlook.

“Until we get there mathematically and get the best possible spot, we’re approaching our next game,” Paunovic said. “In this case, Philly on Saturday is very, very important. We have to put everything we have there and try to get three points.”

Keep an eye on …
Andre Blake: Coming off one of the best outings of the season, an eight-save scoreless draw with New York Red Bulls, Blake was the star of the night. If the Fire want three points against the Union, they’ll have to get through a red-hot Blake first.

Dax McCarty: The veteran midfielder doesn’t put up the points needed to jump off the page but he’s an important cog in the Fire machine. "Everyone will always talk about their attack, but I think the key acquisition in the offseason was Dax," Curtin said. "I think Dax is a really good player in our league, a two-way player. His passing doesn't get enough credit. He's been their most important guy.”

This and that
• The Union are 6-7-5 against the Fire all time and 4-2-2 at Talen Energy Stadium.

• Union defender Josh Yaro (knee sprain) and midfielder Ilsinho (Achilles tendinitis) are both listed as questionable for Saturday's match.

• Union center back Richie Marquez made his first start in nearly five months Sunday. Though the club will likely go back to either Oguchi Onyewu or Josh Yaro, Curtin liked what he saw from Marquez. “I thought two guys had performances that were at the level they would expect and above,” Curtin said. “Andre was one of those guys and Richie was the other. He’s a true professional and deserves a lot of credit. He had a solid performance.”

• Although Fire coach Paunovic played one season with the Union in 2011, the experience made an impression. "I loved the time I was there," he said. "They really made me feel at home, it was fantastic. It was a special time for me."

Earnie Stewart denies report Union received European offers for Andre Blake

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Earnie Stewart denies report Union received European offers for Andre Blake

Since Andre Blake emerged as a game-changing goalkeeper for the Union in 2016, he’s been considered the club’s top candidate to graduate to European soccer, via either transfer or sale.

But on Wednesday, Union management threw cold water on any reported interest.

“What does it help us as a club, if there was an offer, to say absolutely nothing?” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said to the media on Wednesday, when asked if the club is keeping quiet about any movement surrounding Blake. “If you want to sell a player, you throw it out there and get as much interest as you can. I can only look in my email box, my telephone and that hasn’t happened.”

The topic of Blake to Europe sparked questions early in the week when it was reported by Goal.com that the 26-year-old goalkeeper was a subject of interest from English Premier League clubs, Crystal Palace and Brighton. But the multi-million dollar deal never materialized as a result of Jamaica’s low FIFA ranking, which blocked United Kingdom work permit availability.

Union manager Jim Curtin wasn’t impressed with the widely circulated report.

“It’s kind of a non-story because there haven't been any formal offers made to us,” Curtin said. “Different things come up, agents come up with different ideas to benefit their players. Nothing concrete came from the clubs that were listed. Nothing to them. It’s talk.”

Stewart also shrugged off the notion that Blake was being seriously targeted.

“There has been no offer so it’s hard to comment on that,” he said. “It happens a lot, there’s a lot of rumors out there about a player moving. In this case, it’s not the case.”

Blake, who is coming off one of his best outings of the season — an eight-save shutout of New York Red Bulls — is out of contract after the 2017 season, but is bound by a team option which the club will activate for the 2018 campaign. If he’s not moved, the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, who helped propel Jamaica to the 2017 Gold Cup final, will be happily welcomed back to the Union.

Blake is 18-25-17 in his career as Union starter with 16 shutouts.

“I can only look how we view Dre,” Stewart said. “Dre is an import part of our group and he’s been tremendous. I can’t look at other club's philosophy and how they go about their transfers. We’re very happy with Dre and we’d love to keep him longer.”

Whether they move Blake or not, the struggling Union are expected to have an active offseason. But if they decide to do so, selling Blake, along with the added resources from both the league and Union owner Jay Sugarman, could provide Stewart enough financial ammunition to significantly alter his roster.

“We want some difference makers,” Stewart said. “You have to go out and spend money because good players are never free.”