Union hope offense covers up issues against Fire

slideshow-050913-union-mcinerney-uspresswire.jpg

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 on Derrick Jones' red card: 'It killed our game'

Union on Derrick Jones' red card: 'It killed our game'

CHESTER, Pa. -- Without hesitation, referee Allen Chapman changed Sunday’s match.

“It killed our game,” Union captain Haris Medunjanin admitted.

Looking to put out a New York Red Bulls fast break caused by a turnover in the 53rd minute at Talen Energy Stadium, rookie midfielder Derrick Jones sliced in on Felipe with the intention of separating the ball from the player.

The attempt led to a screaming Felipe crashing to the grass. 

“Derrick has to leave his feet for the tackle,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club has lost three straight games (see game story). “Derrick does tackle over the ball, but he doesn’t really touch Felipe. You can get into all kinds of different arguments on the call, but obviously, red cards change games.”

And it changed Sunday’s game in a big way. Chapman immediately whipped out the straight red card for what was deemed violent conduct, ejecting Jones, who was unavailable for comment after the game.

“You would like to see the referee maybe pause, take a deep breath and think about it,” Curtin said. “Not just be so quick to show the red.”

Despite tilting the field against the Red Bulls in the first half, the Union were forced on their heels in the second as a result of the call. And with the temperature exceeding 90 degrees on the field, it was a bad mix for a Union team looking for points.

As a result, Bradley Wright-Phillips eventually wore the Union defense down, scoring twice in the 87th and again in stoppage time for the 2-0 victory.

“When you play with 10 men against Red Bull, it’s always difficult,” Medunjanin said. “We kept defending until they scored the goal and after that, it was difficult to come back.”

Union defender Jack Elliott felt the same.

“It’s a hot day and the sending off really hurt us,” he said. “We were keeping the ball well in the first half and created a few chances. Even with 10 men, we could’ve nicked a goal but in the end, the heat really got to us with 10 men.” 

Because of how the call dramatically changed the match, Medunjanin spoke clearly about what he saw. He was one of the few Union players who admitted to watching a replay of the red card. 

“I just saw it and I don’t think it’s a red card,” he said. “Jonesy went for the ball and with a player like Felipe who likes to jump, I think everybody saw it was not a red card. It was the first card in the game and he gave directly a red card. It was not even on the leg. He went for the ball and I don’t think he even touched him.” 

Shorthanded Union fall to Red Bulls for 3rd-straight loss

usa-union-lose.jpg
USA Today Images

Shorthanded Union fall to Red Bulls for 3rd-straight loss

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- Playing down a man and working through heat that required league mandated water breaks, the Union valiantly battled but were unable to overcome the obstacles as they fell to the New York Red Bulls, 2-0, Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium.
 
“We were playing short for 30-plus minutes, it was tough,” said Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, who finished with one save. “It was a hot day, but we will not let this affect us. We have to bounce back.”
 
While the contest was marred by referee decisions, the loss was still the Union’s third straight, dropping their record to a near Eastern Conference-low, 4-7-4. On the other side, the victory was the Red Bulls’ second in their last seven matches as they move to 7-7-2.
 
“We’ve been here before in the beginning of the season,” said Union captain Haris Medunjanin referencing the Union’s four-game losing streak in March and April. “We lost a lot of games. Like I said before when you play with 10 men, it doesn’t matter who you play, it’s going to be difficult.” 
 
The match changed drastically in the 53rd minute. It was scoreless when Union midfielder Derrick Jones, playing for injured Alejandro Bedoya, received a straight red on what was interpreted as a studs-up midfield challenge on Felipe that sent the Red Bulls player screaming and grabbing at his ankle. 
 
“I just think it was a little bit rushed,” Curtin said. “I don’t think it warranted a red card. I think maybe a yellow. But again, he made a quick choice and we have to live with it.”
 
Although Felipe wasn’t injured and on replay, the tackle looked more clumsy than aggressive from Jones, the rookie put the Union at a disadvantage. From there, it was the Bradley Wright-Phillips show.
 
“Felipe is a guy we talked about all week in terms of a guy that can get under your skin and frustrate you,” Curtin said. “Don’t fall into any of the fighting or any of that. I think he may have baited the ref a little bit, made it look a little worse than it was. He’s drawn five red cards this season on opponents. Not a surprise there.”
 
Wright-Phillips broke through in the 87th minute when a Kemar Lawrence cross from left to right found the scorer on the inside of his defender and able to deflect the helper past Andre Blake. Wright-Phillips scored again in stoppage time, this time from Sal Zizzo to cement the 2-0 victory.
 
“Today I was dreadful,” Wright-Phillips said. “I was dreadful. I hear I was close to coming out of the game. I did think I would get a chance. I wanted to stay in for that because I didn’t do much else in the game.”
 
But the Union did have their chances early. While neither team was particularly sharp in the opening 45 minutes of the scorching Sunday contest, the Union were the more dangerous side. Their best chance came in the 22nd minute when Chris Pontius outplayed Damien Perrinelle on a bounce into the Red Bulls' box. The veteran attacker flicked a quick shot targeted for the far side that Luis Robles gloved away miraculously. 
 
Pontius nearly capitalized again off a Ray Gaddis play into the box but headed it wide to end the half.
 
“Chris had two really good looks,” Curtin said. “Robles makes the save and then the header before the half. Obviously, it would have been better to get one of those. We didn’t.”