Philadelphia Union

Union get much-needed win vs. Red Bulls

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Union get much-needed win vs. Red Bulls

Updated 10:30 p.m.

CHESTER, Pa. -- If you asked interim manager Jim Curtin, Wednesday’s match against the New York Red Bulls was a do-or-die game, with the Union’s dimming playoff hopes at stake.  

In response, the club survived.

Conor Casey started the scoring and Sebastien Le Toux finished it as the Union beat the Red Bulls, 3-1, at PPL Park.

“That’s the response I wanted,” Curtin said. “I didn’t know I would get it, but they brought it. To a man, every guy really, really brought it. Our response there was going to dictate how the rest of our season went. To grab three points tonight against an Eastern Conference opponent was big for us.”

The home win was the Union’s first since March 15 against the New England Revolution. They are now 2-2-5 at PPL Park and 5-8-7 on the season. The Red Bulls fell to 5-6-8.

“We made a statement tonight,” Curtin said. “Respect isn’t given, it’s earned and we had to grab it. We did that tonight.”

It took only nine minutes and an impressive individual effort by Casey for the Union to grab the early lead. After accepting a quick pass from Andrew Wenger, Casey -- who saw relaxed defense at the top of the box -- deked defender Matt Miazga. Moving the ball from his right foot to his left, the veteran striker found an opening for the 1-0 Union lead.

It was Casey’s sixth goal in his last six MLS games. It was also his ninth goal in 11 career games against the Red Bulls.

“As a team we’ve been playing a lot better collectively and getting a lot of chances,” Casey said. “Confidence is high with the group. It’s about riding that confidence right now and making the best of opportunities.”

Later in the first half, Union midfielder and leading assist man Cristian Maidana left the contest with a leg injury. He was replaced in the 38th minute with Fred.

“He called it a small, little pull,” Curtin said of Maidana’s injury. “It’s too early to speculate.”

And the man known as “Grandpa Fred” by his teammates made the most of his opportunity.

Off a counterattack in the 51st minute, Fred played the ball outside to Sheanon Williams, who moved forward and sent a low cross into the box. The ball deflected off a touch from Casey and right to the uncovered Fred, who didn’t miss, placing his shot through Luis Robles and in for the 2-0 advantage.

It was Fred’s first MLS goal since 2010 in his first stint with the Union.

“You have to be ready,” Fred said. “You have to be ready any time the team needs it.”

But the celebration was short lived. In the 60th minute, striker Bradley Wright-Phillips made it 2-1 when he was left open by center back Ethan White at the top of the box. He fired it home for his league-leading 16th goal of the season and fifth in his last four games.

“He took a touch in the top 18, and I should have closed that space,” White said. “He spinned it around me, used me as a shield. Zac [MacMath] didn’t make the save, and I didn’t step out in time.”

Eight minutes later, a beneficial call in the box helped the Union reattain their two-goal cushion. On a corner kick in the 68th minute, while streaking toward the ball, Maurice Edu was wrapped up from behind by Red Bulls defender Eric Alexander. It was blatant enough to warrant a penalty kick.

Lining up for the charity shot, Le Toux pounded the ball high over Robles to make it 3-1 Union. It was Le Toux’s team-leading seventh goal of the season.

MacMath handled the rest. Covering up for lackluster defending by the Union, MacMath made four saves in the second half and five in total to preserve the victory.

“Zac bailed us out a few times there,” Curtin said. “He made some big saves for us, which is what you need, you need that from your goalkeeper. He did a great job.”

Inside Doop: Andre Blake stars but Union offense lifeless again

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Inside Doop: Andre Blake stars but Union offense lifeless again

Under normal circumstances, finding a way to earn a point at Red Bull Arena would be a decent accomplishment for a Union team that’s won only one time there in 10 trips.

But considering where they are in the standings and how little excitement came from the game — except for the performance of one player — you’ll have to forgive Philly fans for not getting fired up about Sunday’s nationally televised scoreless draw vs. the New York Red Bulls.

Here’s a closer look at the game — and more — in this week’s Inside Doop.

Three thoughts about Sunday’s game
1. What more can you say about Andre Blake at this point? The star goalkeeper has been the team’s brightest star over the past two years, winning the Union points in games in which they had no business winning points. Sunday’s game was the latest example as Blake made eight sparkling saves, including seven in the first half, to keep the Red Bulls off the board. And Union fans can exhale after the goalie went down with what looked like a neck injury before popping back up. This was easily his best game since returning from his Gold Cup injury and a good sign heading into the offseason next month.

2. The team’s center back pairing has been in flux for much of the season, and on Sunday, Richie Marquez made his first start since April, alongside rookie Jack Elliott. Perhaps the most interesting part of this pairing is that Elliott, a fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft, has been the best and most reliable center back of a group that also includes veteran Oguchi Onyewu and Joshua Yaro, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft. And Marquez, a former late-round pick himself who emerged as one of the team’s top young players in 2015 and 2016, had fallen off the map until this weekend. So the biggest question now is whether Elliott continues his upward trajectory — the rookie put in another strong shift vs. the Red Bulls — or if he plummets on the depth chart like Marquez, who likely didn’t do enough to win back a starting role when everyone is healthy and available.

3. There was nothing doing offensively for the Union, who have generated very little in that department in road games this season. Against the Red Bulls, they had only two shots on target, missed a lot of passes, won only two corner kicks, and had less than 40 percent of the possession. The problems? Ilsinho getting yanked after playing only the first 45 minutes and Roland Alberg not getting on the field is another example of their inconsistency at playmaker. And over on the wings, Chris Pontius remains stuck on zero goals this season, Fafa Picault was absent with an illness, and Fabian Herbers’ injury absence continues to be a noticeable void. Aside from striker CJ Sapong, who’s enjoying a career year, which offensive player can you really count on going into 2018?

Three thoughts for the week ahead
1. What will the reception be like from Union fans when they return home to face the Chicago Fire on Saturday (7 p.m., TCN) for their first game at Talen Energy Stadium in nearly a month? Although not yet officially mathematically eliminated from the playoff race with five games left, the Union have less than a one-percent chance to get in thanks to a six-game winless streak. And although there have been a smattering of boos for head coach Jim Curtin in recent games, it seems apathy has set in for most of the fanbase as they come to terms with another lost season.

2. The biggest noise from the crowd may be for Bastian Schweinsteiger if he takes the field for Chicago; the German legend has been nursing an injury. But the Fire, in third place in the East and coming off a 3-0 shellacking of D.C. United, still have plenty of other weapons if he can’t go. And, in many ways, their rise from last place in the East the last two seasons to a legitimate MLS contender shows how quickly teams can turn things around — if they make shrewd moves and spend money in the right places. Can the Union learn from that this offseason?

3. Who will start at center back with Onyewu poised to return from a suspension and Yaro potentially back from a minor knee injury? Curtin has said he doesn’t want to just throw young guys in there but it might be nice to use a few games — especially against high-octane offensive teams like Chicago, Atlanta and Seattle — to try to figure out who would be a better option between Yaro or Marquez to play beside Elliott next year. Or maybe Onyewu showed he has enough left in the tank to return to a starting role next season? Or will they have to bring in someone else? There will, for sure, be some interesting offseason decisions at center back.

Stat of the week
The Union have won just one game and earned only nine road points through 15 contests this year (with two road games left). Aside from their 2010 expansion team, when they earned seven points in 15 road games, their lowest road point total for a season is 13 (2012 and 2015).

Quote of the week
“These are results now, on the road in recent weeks, where if we did our work early on in the season, they would be positive results. But right now, as we chase from behind, it’s difficult.”

— Union head coach Jim Curtin

Player of the week
Blake is the easy choice here. The final score could have been ugly without him.

Andre Blake spotless as Union draw Red Bulls

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Andre Blake spotless as Union draw Red Bulls

BOX SCORE

HARRISON, N.J.  -- Andre Blake made eight saves for Philadelphia and the Union and the New York Red Bulls played to a scoreless draw Sunday.

Philadelphia (8-12-9) and New York (12-10-6) are both winless in five straight games.

Blake denied Gonzalo Veron three times in the first half -- on a breakaway in the 32nd and on a close-range redirection in the 40th.

New York stars Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips entered as second-half substitutes and nearly combined on a goal in the 77th minute. Kljestan's free kick from the edge of the 18-yard box was punched away by Blake and Wright-Phillips' rebound attempt was deflected by Blake's foot and cleared off the line by Chris Pontius.

Blake was two saves shy of tying his career high, set against the New England Revolution on Sept. 26, 2015.