Union hope offense covers up issues against Fire

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Union hope offense covers up issues against Fire

CHESTER, Pa. -- After dropping a two-goal loss to the New England Revolution only to earn a controversial draw with the Seattle Sounders the following week, the Union have reason to worry about their poor fortune and defensive issues.

But don’t talk to coach John Hackworth about his team’s negative trends as the club heads to Toyota Park on Saturday to face the struggling Chicago Fire.

“It’s in the rear-view mirror,” said Hackworth, who was fined for losing his cool in the postgame press conference following a clear handball in extra time. “The good news for us is that we felt like we played so well [against the Sounders] for long stretches and played our most committed and executed a game plan. We have to build upon that effort and try to keep going.”

Despite Hackworth’s positive spin, last Saturday marked the third consecutive game the Union allowed two goals. The Union have allowed 10 goals in their last six games and hold a 1-2-3 record during that span. On the other side, the Fire have the third-lowest scoring offense in the Eastern Conference with six goals in eights games.

For Hackworth, success is a matter of defensive basics.

“There’s always room for improvement and we have to do a better job of staying connected,” the coach said. “That’s something we’ve emphasized all week long. We’ve gone back to basics to try and make sure we’re more connected and that our communication is better. We don’t want to solve problems individually. We want to do it collectively.”

Compounding the Union’s defensive issues is an injury to star defender Jeff Parke, who left last Saturday’s match with a strained hamstring. Parke is unlikely to make an appearance against the Fire.

“It’s a hamstring but it’s not as bad as we first thought,” Hackworth said. “It will probably be a much quicker recovery but it’s unlikely he’ll be available Saturday. Our medical staff is working hard to get him back as quickly as possible, but it’s not worth one game to potentially lose him for three or four. We’ll be conservative with him, but the good news is it’s not as bad as we first thought.”

The Union will also be without steady right back Sheanon Williams, who received a red card against the Sounders and will be suspended for the match in Chicago. Without Williams to move inside to replace Parke at center back, the Union will use Bakary Soumare on the inside -- the same disgruntled player the Union were working to trade just weeks prior. It will be Soumare’s first game of the season and second game since he faced the Fire in August of 2012.

“Baky [Soumare] played a lot of minutes for us it the preseason with the first team. He’s ready for it,” Hackworth said. “Our team and staff has total confidence, and we all want this game to be good for him and good for all of us.”

Aside from injuries and suspensions, the Union are also being pressured by playing three games in the next seven days. After facing the Fire on Saturday, the club comes home to take on the LA Galaxy on Wednesday before hosting the Fire again, next Saturday at PPL Park.

“We have to manage our roster,” Hackworth said. “There will be multiple guys who get an opportunity that haven’t been playing a lot or haven’t played a starting role. We have to manage these three games. We feel like we have good depth and we’re ready to do that.”

Of those players, Hackworth mentioned that Sebastien Le Toux and Kleberson have stood out on the offensive side. Yet, no matter who Hackworth picks to attack alongside Jack McInerney, it’s going to be an all-out assault on the 2-5-1 Fire, who have allowed 14 goals in eight games this season. By comparison, the Union are 3-3-3 on the season and have allowed 14 goals in nine games.

“We’re going to go there and attack,” said Hackworth, who received a pair of goals from Danny Cruz versus the Sounders. “We’re going to try and keep our foot on the gas. In all of our games so far, we’ve had a god mentality about going to goal and creating opportunities."

The Fire, who have been shut out four times in 2013, will be without midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, who is serving a red-card ban. They will also likely be without star defender Arne Friedrich, who has been fighting a hamstring injury. But regardless of the Fire’s record or roster setbacks, Hackworth isn’t pulling punches.

“Their back line is settled because they haven’t had Friedrich for so long this season,” Hackworth said. “And I think they are better than people give them credit for. Like a lot of teams, there has been struggles. A lot of people thought Chicago would be one of the top teams in the league and their talent level hasn’t changed. We have to be very mindful of that we’re going into a tough environment.”

Union hire analyst Janusz Michallik to replace recently-fired Peter Pappas

Union hire analyst Janusz Michallik to replace recently-fired Peter Pappas

The Union have found a replacement for recently-fired analyst Peter Pappas

Replacing Pappas will be former U.S. Men's National Team player Janusz Michallik. 

Michallik, 50, will call the July 23 and July 31 matches alongside play-by-play man JP Dellacamera. The match on July 23 against the Montreal Impact will be on TCN and the July 23 match against Real Salt Lake will be on CSN. Michallik is an ESPN soccer analyst and was an ESPN Radio analyst during the 2014 World Cup. 

He began his pro career in Poland before moving to the United States when he was 16. While playing for the U.S. National Team from 1991-94, he earned 44 caps and won a CONCACAF Gold Cup in 1991 and a US Cup in 1992. 

Brad Knighton, Revolution eliminate Union from U.S. Open Cup in penalty kicks

Brad Knighton, Revolution eliminate Union from U.S. Open Cup in penalty kicks

The Union’s U.S. Open Cup magic ran out in penalty kicks on Wednesday at Harvard University’s Jordan Field, as they were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Brad Knighton and the New England Revolution, 1-1 (4-2).

“It’s a tough way to end the game,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Credit to New England, their guys stepped up, hit their PKs and they’re moving on. It’s difficult for us right now, our locker room is upset. There’s only two trophies you can lift in this country and we’re out of the competition for one of them.” 

For the first time since 2013, the Union will not be in the Open Cup championship game. Meanwhile, the Revs advance to the Open Cup semifinals on Aug. 10, when they will face the Chicago Fire at a location to be determined.

“You have to tip your cap to New England, they had a good game tonight,” Curtin said. “Jay (Heaps) does a good job with them.”

It wasn’t a strong night of penalties for the typically game Union, as Sebastien Le Toux and C.J. Sapong were stuffed by Knighton on weak attempts. On the other side, Andre Blake was able to stop Scott Caldwell but unable to keep Je-Vaughn Watson from winning it for the hosts.

“You work on them in training, but nothing can really recreate a crowd here and the pressure,” Curtin said. “We’re disappointed for Seba, he’s one of our best at that. At the end of the day, it’s a crapshoot. We weren’t the better team today.”

The conclusion may have been just for the Union, who trailed the entire match.

Staring down elimination in the 90th minute, Ray Gaddis, on the right side, pushed it to Le Toux in the box. With a defender draped on him, the Frenchman shielded possession before tapping a pass to Fabian Herbers, who collected it and bounced a shot through Knighton and in, tying the match at 1-1 and sending it to added extra time.

Blake was the player of the game for the Union, finishing the match with seven saves. 

He kept the match tied in the first half of added extra time with back-to-back stops — an aggressive diving stop on Andrew Ferrell, followed by a stunning right-hand save off Kelyn Rowe’s rebound.

“He’s good at soccer,” Curtin said. “He’s a good goalkeeper. He’s special, he can make a big save that can win you a game. When we do get broken down, he’s there to bail us out. He’s playing in top form.”

Watson caught the Union sleeping in the 44th minute, when he snuck past an unset Union back line and accepted a set piece pass from Diego Fagundez. With time, Watson’s shot easily beat Blake to the right post for the early lead.

“At the end of the first half, we fall asleep on restart,” Curtin said. “It’s disappointing to give up a goal like that when we have numbers back. Two guys switched off for a second. For me, that’s the centerback’s job to be screaming and organizing. Ilsinho may have fallen asleep for a second, they played short and caught us.”

Union analyst Peter Pappas fired after pleading guilty to drug kickback scheme

Union analyst Peter Pappas fired after pleading guilty to drug kickback scheme

Updated: 11:23 p.m.

NEWARK, N.J. -- A TV analyst for Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union was fired after pleading guilty Tuesday to receiving nearly $500,000 in kickbacks for filling unneeded prescriptions for himself and recruiting others to the scheme.

"After reviewing the situation, we have decided to part ways with Peter Pappas,” Union chief business officer Tim McDermott said in a statement released by the team. “We want to thank him for his hard work and service to the club for five years.”

Pappas, of Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health fraud in federal court in Newark. The pharmaceutical salesman admitted he was recruited by a marketing company that was paid by pharmacies to refer people whose insurance paid for compounded medication including pain creams, scar creams and vitamins.

Pappas admitted that he recruited others to join the scheme, including people using a health benefit program for service members and their families managed by the U.S. Department of Defense. He admitted that he attempted to recruit beneficiaries from TRICARE because they gave high reimbursements for compounded medication and cream, federal prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said that while he received $481,773 from the marketing company, his employer, TRICARE and other insurance companies lost at least $3.69 million. Pappas faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on Oct. 25.

Since 2012, Pappas had been a part-time contracted employee with the Union. He was in a color commentator role since the start of the 2014 season. Before that, Kyle Martino, Taylor Twellman, Bob Rigby and Alejandro Moreno were the main color guys, while JP Dellacamera has been their play-by-play guy since the franchise's inception with Marc Zumoff as the main fill-in.

Pappas, the former goalkeeper of the defunct Philadelphia Kixx indoor soccer team, is also a district sales manager for New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company Celgene, according to his LinkedIn page.

On Twitter, he described himself as a "Canadian former soccer pro turned Rx slinger."

Pappas' LinkedIn and Twitter pages were no longer available online late Tuesday afternoon.

Neither Celgene nor Pappas' attorneys immediately returned messages seeking comment.

CSNPhilly.com's Dave Zeitlin contributed to this report.