Union confident their luck will change

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Union confident their luck will change

CHESTER, Pa. -- John Hackworth is feeling the heat.

He’s also feeling a bit unlucky.

Instead of immediately fielding questions at his midweek press conference as he usually does, the Philadelphia Union manager took a few minutes off the bat to address the growing concerns that his team, despite some lofty preseason expectations, has sunk to eighth place in the Eastern Conference and is winless in its last seven contests.

And while taking responsibility for the disappointing start to the 2014 season, he also predicted a turn in the team’s fortunes.

“Our team is not satisfied at all with where we are,” Hackworth said. “The fact that we are not getting the results that we want is unacceptable to all of us. I can’t emphasize enough that as players and coaches, that is first and foremost on our minds.

“At the same time, if we continue to play at a level that we all believe we can, the shots are going to start to fall for us and the ball is going to start to bounce our way. There will be some luck that comes with it and we will see a turn in these results.”

Few would argue the Union have talented players – a group that includes rising young stars like Amobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams coupled with big-name newcomers like Maurice Edu and Vincent Nogueira.

And, according to Hackworth, they’re handling the disappointing 1-3-5 start as best as they can heading into Saturday’s brutally tough road tilt against the Seattle Sounders (5-2-1) at CenturyLink Field (10:00 p.m., The Comcast Network).

“The players have responded well,” Hackworth said. “They’re all frustrated. They all know that, to each one of them, they are capable of making a play when called upon. The reality is that we haven’t had guys make that play, and they all take responsibility for that. But I think there’s a belief within that locker room that they do have the capability to do it.”

Who will be the one to make a big play to help the Union snap out of an offensive funk in which they haven’t scored from the run of play in their last three outings?

Edu, the team’s marquee offseason acquisition and a potential member of the U.S. national team in this summer’s World Cup, put the onus on himself this week.

“I need to try to get forward more and try to support the attack a little more and not leave that role just to Vincent [Nogueira],” Edu said. “Before I was playing box to box but starting a little deeper and timing my runs from there. Maybe I should start a little bit higher so that way, going forward, we might have a little more numbers in the attack. And hopefully that can lead to some more opportunities.”

Regardless of where Edu is positioned in the field, many fans are pointing fingers at Hackworth for being unable to effectively mesh his big signings like Edu with the team’s returning core.

And Hackworth is well aware of his growing number of critics.

“I would tell you that, first and foremost, I would take responsibility for that,” the Union manager said. “I think I have to be held accountable for that, no matter what. The players that are out there, they’re putting everything forward. And the way that we have tried to play this year and execute in many different facets of the game has been good. Our belief is that it will change, and we will see some results start to fall our way.

“We feel unlucky up to this point. The reality is that this game can be cruel sometimes.”

The thing about soccer, though, is that cruel moments can turn into great ones. Perhaps that’s why Hackworth and many of his players believe the tide will soon turn.

Fullback Ray Gaddis even noted that “it hasn’t been difficult” to remain positive given that there’s still six months left in the season.

“For me, it’s still early on in the season,” Gaddis said. A lot of people are frantic about our team but we have to remain positive among ourselves. I think the results will start turning our way and then everyone will be excited again.”

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.