Union confident their luck will change

usa-maurice-edu-union.jpg

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.”

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."