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.”

Honest Haris Medunjanin gets D.C. United red card rescinded with fair play

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Honest Haris Medunjanin gets D.C. United red card rescinded with fair play

CHESTER, Pa. -- Sportsmanship isn’t dead. 
 
In the 74th minute of Saturday’s 1-0 Union win over D.C. United at Talen Energy Stadium, Luciano Acosta knocked midfielder Haris Medunjanin out of bounds. Trekking in from midfield, referee Sorin Stoica immediately threw up the red card to eject the United's Acosta from the match.
 
Moments later, play restarted with Acosta still in the game. 
 
"All I know is I saw the red card, turned around and next thing I know is he’s still on the field," Union center back Oguchi Onyewu said. 
 
The red card was pulled for what Stoica believed was Acosta kicking Medunjanin. Unaware that the referee could even rescind the card, the Union man honorably disputed the kick and Stoica pulled the ejection.
 
"I rescinded the card because [Medunjanin] stated that he was not kicked after the play, which was the initial decision I made," Stoica told a pool reporter.
 
Medunjanin explained his side.
 
"I saw the red card and spoke with Acosta and he was saying that he didn’t kick me," he said. "I said I didn’t feel it also. I went to the referee and he said, 'did he kick you?' and I said, 'no he didn’t kick me, I think it was just a push.' That’s why it was no red card for me." 
 
He then took a shot at New York Red Bulls player Felipe, who drew a red on the Union’s Derrick Jones last Sunday in what the club believed was a dive.
 
"I hope Felipe was watching from last week," Medunjanin said. "I wish he could say the same. I think you need to be honest and I felt like it was just a push."

Union manager Jim Curtin, who admitted he may not have been so honorable in Medunjanin's position, was proud of his player. 

"It’s not a red card, and I have to give a lot of credit to Haris," he said. "He’s a person that I respect a great deal. It’s an incredible act. I think it’s something you could show to not just young kids but also a lot of the adults that play in professional soccer because what he did is very honorable. It’s the right thing to do."
 
While fair play Medunjanin gained respect from Curtin and United coach Ben Olsen, who called him a “classy player and classy human being,” he was grilled by his teammates, who found the scenario humorous. 
 
"I don’t know whose team Haris is on, I really don’t," Onyewu said jokingly. "I don’t know if Haris and the referee or Haris and Acosta are actually best friends, I don’t know. Maybe they are going out later tonight and they didn’t want any bad tension?"
 
They also found it perplexing.

"I didn’t think that was possible,” Medunjanin said, a sentiment echoed by Onyewu. “The referee chose to do it so you need to respect that. I can talk now and be honest. Maybe if it was a draw, it would’ve been a little different."
 
But it happened and Medunjanin can walk away with three points and an unofficial award for being a class act.

"Everybody said thanks for the fair play,” Medunjanin said. “Nice gesture of you and that’s it. The coach came over to speak with me and I said, 'no problem this is football. We fight for the three points, but we need to be honest.'"

Andre Blake's shutout helps give Union life with slump-busting win over D.C. United

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Andre Blake's shutout helps give Union life with slump-busting win over D.C. United

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union have life.

Fafa Picault netted his fourth of the season and Andre Blake cleaned up the rest as the Union snapped a three-game losing streak by defeating D.C. United, 1-0, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

“It was a much needed three points, especially after the last two games,” Union center back Oguchi Onyewu said. “I feel that despite the previous games, despite losing, we haven’t lost the spirit, we haven’t lost the camaraderie, we haven’t lost the fight. That was visual in our gameplay tonight.”

Picault brought Talen Energy Stadium to life in the 31st minute with a highlight reel goal.

From the midfield line, Ray Gaddis pushed the ball down the right side to Alejandro Bedoya into D.C. United territory. With possession on the fast break, Bedoya, who made his return after missing two games with a hamstring injury, launched a lofty cross that seemed to surprise the defenders, who failed to track trailing Picault’s one-hit drive that beat Bill Hamid for the 1-0 Union lead.

“In those cases, you just track it,” Picault said. “When the ball’s put in, our jobs as attackers if the ball is played off the right side, CJ has to be there and me coming off the left side, try to make a run in. It ended up falling onto my left foot. I think either of us would’ve put it in, but it came to me and I had to put a strong one on to put it on target and give it a chance to go in.

Then it was Blake’s turn to play the hero. 

In the 69th minute, Union center back Oguchi Onyewu was called for a handball in the box. Lining up for the kick, Lamar Neagle fired off a strong shot to the left that was stopped confidently by diving Blake, keeping the Union’s lead alive.

“I decided I was gonna go to my right,” Blake said. “I saw a few cues from him and I made up my mind. I went there and I made the save.” 

Blake would punish Neagle again with another eye-popping save in the 90th minute. The goalkeeper brought the crowd to its feet with a leaping stop off a point-blank header from the top of the crease. 

“We created a penalty kick, plenty of looks, bunch of service in the second half,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “We revved them up a little at halftime. We had more life from the get-go but they made the play.”

Blake would finish with the four-save shutout.

“Incredible,” Picault said of Blake. “He’s for me by far the best goalie in the league. I’m really happy to have him on our side. Every week, week in and week out, he’s shown great performances. It’s emotional for me during the games to watch that. It gives me a lot of motivation to keep going. Especially on that PK stop.”

But the match wasn’t without referee drama. With the Union, now 5-7-4, in full control late in the second half, referee Sorin Stoica handed United midfielder Luciano Acosta a straight red for taking down and kicking Haris Medunjanin. However, the card was completely rescinded moments later.

Why? Medunjanin came clean that Acosta didn’t kick him after the play.

“I do commend him and give him credit,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Crazy situation because all of us on the sidelines were not sure what was going on. I never have seen a red card and then it rescinded. We couldn’t figure out what was happening on our end. Very noble and honorable thing to do for Haris.”