Philadelphia Union

Union fall to Timbers in MLS season opener

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Union fall to Timbers in MLS season opener

BOX SCORE
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Scottish striker Kris Boyd scored the go-ahead goal and the Portland Timbers went on to win their home opener 3-1 over the Philadelphia Union on Monday night.
Boyd's first Major League Soccer goal came off Kalif Alhassan's cross in the 66th minute against Union goalkeeper Zac McMath.
Boyd, the Scottish Premier League's all-time leading scorer, was acquired by the Timbers in the offseason. His goal came with the match tied at 1 after a Portland own goal and Andrew Jean Baptiste's equalizer earlier in the half.
Alhassan added a goal of his own in the 76th minute in the MLS opener for both teams.
The Portland Timbers went 11-14-9 last year and finished out of the playoffs in their inaugural season, but they were 9-5-3 at home where they have the support of their wildly enthusiastic supporters' group, the Timbers Army.
Philadelphia finished 11-8-15 and reached the Eastern Conference semifinals, but the team was active in the offseason, bringing in 14 players and losing 13. Among the players gone are leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon.
Like last season, the Timbers Army opened the season at home by singing the national anthem before the entire stadium lofted colored cards -- small tarps actually, because of a driving rain -- in a "tifo" fan display in honor of the team.
Temperatures in the low 40s accompanied the rain when the nationally televised game started. The wind impacted the trajectory of the ball at times when it was airborne.
McMath had a strong first half, fending off five Timbers' shots.
The Union got a scare in the 24th minute when defender Carlos Valdes went down after a collision with Boyd. A stretcher was brought on to the field, but Valdes walked off and was able to return.
Philadelphia midfielder Gabriel Gomez's hard kick from out in front of the box was helped by Jean-Baptiste before it sailed past goalkeeper Troy Perkins for an own goal in the 51st minute. .
But the Timbers evened it in the 54th minute when Jean-Baptiste's header was bobbled by McMath and bounced into the goal.
Jean-Baptiste was selected with the eighth overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft this year out of Connecticut. He got the start Monday night because defender Futty Danso fractured a bone in his left foot during training and will be out four to six weeks.
Boyd was greeted with rousing applause during player introductions at the start of the match. The 28-year-old had 164 goals in 296 appearances in the SPL with Kilmarnock and Rangers. He was that league's top scorer for four seasons.
Another Timbers offseason acquisition, Franck Songo'o of Cameroon, who played last season for Spanish side Albacete. The 24-year-old injured his right knee in training and did not play.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber was at the game.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Union-Fire observations: Chris Pontius helps end 6-game winless streak

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USA Today Images

Union-Fire observations: Chris Pontius helps end 6-game winless streak

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — In a battle between the bottom and top of the Eastern Conference, Chris Pontius and the limping Union stunned the Chicago Fire, 3-1, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

The lopsided victory snapped a six-game winless streak to propel the Union to a 9-12-9 record. Meanwhile, the Fire, who were riding a three-game unbeaten run, fall to 14-10-6.

The Union made quick work of the Fire defense in the 10th minute when Warren Creavalle slipped a pass to Keegan Rosenberry, who shredded his defender with a fake to find the head of Pontius to open the scoring. 

Pontius struck again in the 55th minute, cleaning up a juicy rebound resulting from a Fafa Picault strike that was fought off poorly by goalkeeper Matt Lampson.

C.J Sapong added the 64th minute insurance when he finished a tight cross by Fabinho at the top of the crease. But Luis Solignac and the Fire countered just minutes later to make it 3-1, pouncing on sloppy play and a failed clear by the Union defense.

• The weight of the world was lifted from the shoulders of Pontius on Saturday, after the veteran, who led the Union in scoring last season, potted his first goal of the year in the 10th minute. Burying a feed from Rosenberry, Pontius snapped a 27-game scoreless streak. He added a second in the 56th minute by chasing down a rebound. The two goals summed up Pontius’ irregular slump — lack of luck and lack of service. He received both Saturday.

• By adding his 14th of the season in the 64th minute, C.J. Sapong extended his career high while also tying Sebastien Le Toux for the Union franchise record set in 2010. It was also his 30th goal with the Union. Sapong was subbed in the 86th minute for Jay Simpson.

• Keegan Rosenberry’s defensive struggles continued in the 67th minute, when Solignac beat the Union right back to a Nikolic pass. It was sloppy from the Union but not a back-breaker, as the goal, which made it 3-1, only ruined Blake’s shutout. It was Solignac’s sixth of the season.

• Owners of a six-game winless streak might sound bad, but things haven’t been terrible for the Union leading up to Saturday’s win. Over those six games, the Union earned four draws — three of which were on the road.

• The Fire will kick themselves over their performance against the Union. With an opportunity to stay one point behind New York City FC in the race for the No. 2 seed in the East, the Fire leave Talen Energy Stadium four points behind NYCFC, which earned a draw Saturday.

• Coming off a respectable performance last Sunday in a shutout against the New York Red Bulls, forgotten man, Richie Marquez, earned the start at center back against the Fire. Making back-to-back starts for the first time since late April, Marquez was good again. He made his signature well-timed slide tackle to break up a strong early challenge from Michael de Leeuw in the seventh minute to save a goal.

• While it may be late in the season for rarely-utilized Warren Creavalle, things are looking up. Instead of play shoot-first Roland Alberg at their impotent No. 10 position, the Union opted for the inverted midfield triangle, where Creavalle, who made his fourth start of the season, played defensive support. The move was to allow midfielders Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya off the leash offensively, a design that paid off when Bedoya found Picault for what kicked off the Union’s second goal. Bedoya also earned a secondary assist on the Union’s third goal. 

• Though Germany was well represented in the parking lot by fans, Bastian Schweinsteiger did not make the trip to Philadelphia. Fortunate for the Union, Saturday was the German legend’s third-straight game missed with a calf injury. 

• While the Fire were missing Schweinsteiger and Juninho, the Union were without Josh Yaro and Ilsinho. Yaro has been nursing a knee injury, while Ilsinho is struggling with Achilles tendinitis. 

• Despite losing the possession battle, 58.9 percent to 41.1 percent, and passing accuracy, 89 percent to 79 percent, the Union were the dominant team. That’s a credit to the club’s rare potency in the final third. The Union earned six shots on goal a and buried three.

• Next up, the Union will be in the unenvious position of facing Atlanta United on Wednesday at the fortress known as Mercedes Benz Stadium. In its last four matches there, Atlanta has outscored the opposition, 17-3. It’s the league’s most advantageous home-field advantage at the moment.

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."