Union hungry for more against lowly D.C. United

sebastien-le-toux-slide-usa.jpg

Union hungry for more against lowly D.C. United

CHESTER, Pa. -- Just two weeks ago, the struggling Union created the tough goal of earning seven points in their final five games. It was a magic number they believed would get them into the highly-congested Eastern Conference playoff picture.

But with back-to-back shutout wins and six of their seven desired points already in hand, the Union want more when they face D.C. United on Saturday night at RFK Stadium.

“I think if we can still achieve that goal it would be good,” Union captain Brian Carroll said. “But there are so many teams in the mix right now, who's to say that would be enough? So we’re going to try and get everything we can from every game.”

And that should come easy against a bad D.C. United team.

Ben Olsen’s club, despite coming off an impressive US Open Cup championship win, is just 3-22-6 on the year and reeling from a 3-0 loss to the Chicago Fire and 4-1 loss to Toronto FC. And though the United are in complete roster transition, like usual, the Union aren’t counting their result just yet.

“It’s one of those scary scenarios again,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “No matter where they are in the table right now, they just won the Open Cup, they are an opponent that no matter who we put on the field, we’re always going to go at it and we’re going to go at it very hard. It’s going to be an interesting game down there, and certainly we need to continue to accumulate points and that’s what our goal is.”

D.C. United -- 0-2 against the Union this season -- are in an interesting position as they ride out a nightmarish season. And that roster unpredictability puts the Union at a disadvantage. Against Toronto FC, just prior to the Open Cup final, Olsen played all reserve and bench players and conceded the loss. Facing the Fire, DCU held some of its players back, but brought known starters Chris Pontius and Dwayne De Rosario off the bench.

“I know Ben, and Ben is a competitor,” Hackworth said. “That is evident in how he played the game and how he coaches the game. So there is no question in my mind that he is going to have the guys ready to play. I know that they’ll try to win the game, they’ll put a team on the field that they think can win the game, and mixed in there there’ll probably be some changes and some young players. They have to figure out going forward into next year who makes sense for them. And that I think is what tells me as a coach that this is going to be a very competitive game, one that we should not take lightly at all.”

Yet while United’s roster is in transition, the Union’s starting lineup is also a question.

Losing right back Sheanon Williams to yellow-card accumulation and Fabinho to red-card suspension in last week’s 1-0 win over Toronto FC, the Union’s full back combo will consist of Ray Gaddis and one of Matt Kassel, Chris Albright, Michael Lahoud or even Sebastien Le Toux.

“You never know,” Union defender Amobi Okugo said about what the defensive line will look like on Saturday. “We have guys who are ready, whether it’s Keon [Daniel], Kassel, Albright, Greg Jordan, [Aaron] Wheeler we have a lot of depth. Hopefully guys are going to be ready to step up.”

Playing hero last Saturday against Toronto FC, rarely-used Kleberson entered the game late and cashed in with a dramatic free kick in the 95th minute. And though the Brazilian midfielder didn’t hurt his chances at more playing time, Hackworth still sees him as a secret weapon to only be used for special occasions.

“It depends on the opponent a little bit,” Hackworth said. “Going into Toronto, we thought that that would be a really good situation for Kleberson to come in, just tactically with what we thought Toronto would try to do in that game. So everything is a little dependent on the tactics of the opponent and the situation. But to be fair, he still is working extremely hard. He has some great qualities, and we’re going to try to put the best team on the field against D.C.”

With Kleberson’s heroics, the Union’s winning streak has reached two games. The team currently sits at 12-10-9 -- two points ahead of the Fire and one behind the Montreal Impact for the fourth playoff slot. But despite the recent success, they aren’t getting full of themselves.

“We’ve still got to keep it in perspective,” Okugo said. “We’ve only won two games. Right now we’re above the red line but it can all change after the week. We’ve got to keep getting these wins until we’re officially in the playoffs.”

Union see 4-game winning streak end in shutout loss to Real Salt Lake

Union see 4-game winning streak end in shutout loss to Real Salt Lake

BOX SCORE

SANDY, Utah -- Joao Plata scored his first goal of the season and Real Salt Lake beat the Union, 1-0, on Saturday night to snap Philadelphia's club-record winning streak at four games.

Plata tapped in his goal in the 36th minute after quickly exchanging short passes twice with Jefferson Savarino. Tony Beltran got the play started by saving the ball just before it went over the goal line.

The Union (4-5-5) had a chance to tie it in stoppage time, but goalie Nick Rimando blocked Haris Medunjanin's belt-high free kick and Salt Lake (4-8-2) cleared it after a scramble in front of the net.

Union goalkeeper Andre Blake made seven saves.

Union-Real Salt Lake 5 things: Rolling Union carry 4-game win streak to Utah

Union-Real Salt Lake 5 things: Rolling Union carry 4-game win streak to Utah

Union vs. Real Salt Lake
8:00 p.m. on CSN
 
Hitting the road with a club record four-game win streak at their back, the streaking Union (4-4-4) will face a cross-country test Saturday, as they take on Albert Rusnak and inconsistent Real Salt Lake (3-8-2) at Rio Tinto Stadium.
 
Here are five things to know.
 
1. Keeping momentum
With four-straight wins and six unbeaten to catapult them up the Eastern Conference standings and nearly in playoff position, the Union are rolling. 
 
But despite the hot streak, Union manager Jim Curtin doesn’t want his club’s demons returning.
 
“The biggest thing we’ve tried to stress how hard we had to work to get out of that hole and the feeling we had while we were in that hole, we don’t want that back ever against,” Curtin said, with regards to the Union going winless in their first eight games of the season. “The good run of games helps that and the performances have been really good, but you’re guarding against that ever creeping back in and kicking it down when it does.”
 
Curtin shouldn’t have to worry about that. His players have proven to possess a steady mental quality, one they put on display throughout the eight-game winless streak to start the season. There wasn’t infighting or finger-pointing, the club went to work and are now fighting for a playoff position.
 
“We’re not going to get too high or get too low,” Curtin said. “We’re going to stick with what we believe in.”
 
Along with mental strength, Union leading scorer C.J. Sapong, who has eight goals on the season, believes it’s positive vibes that will help the team continue its streak in Utah.
 
“It’s the collective energy of the group,” he said. “Through our rough spell, we still had belief in ourselves. We finally got that one win and have been flying high since then.”  
 
2. Haris on fire
Playing quarterback of the Union’s offense and spearheading his club’s recent hot streak, Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin is quickly warming up to MLS.
 
“Haris has been excellent for us,” Curtin said. “There’s a couple statistics now where we’re at the top of the league and he has one — it’s called usage percentage. Fourteen-percent of our touches are distributed by him, so if you want him to be a quarterback, point guard, he’s third in the league in that. We want him on the ball as much as possible and that’s including restarts where he’s proven to be lethal.”
 
Lethal is right. After registering three assists in his first nine MLS games, the veteran defensive midfielder is pacing the Union’s attack, scoring two goals and two assists over the Union’s last four wins. That includes the game-winner against the Colorado Rapids last Saturday, where he ripped a free kick through the Rapids’ defensive wall to beat Tim Howard from just outside the box.
 
And while Medunjanin is known as an adept playmaker, it’s that free-kick scoring ability that takes his game, and the Union offense, to another level.
 
“He has an ability to serve a ball to get an assist and the shooting he possesses to win a game for you, it’s huge,” Curtin said. “Other teams have to be cautious in and around the box which leads to us being more dangerous around the box.” 
 
3. Trusting the process
The Union and RSL have a lot in common this season. Both teams went winless from August onward to finish the 2016 season and both clubs suffered losses in the early going of 2017, falling to the bottom of their respective conferences.
 
The difference is while the Union have recovered from that depressing ordeal, RSL hasn’t.
 
“The process is going,” said RSL coach Mike Petke, who took over the team in late March. “It takes a while and you have to be willing to go over a lot of speed bumps. We’re working through some stuff and we’ll be better off in the end.” 
 
While RSL has five losses in their last six matches, the players do feel that tide turning. 
 
“You gotta keep pulling out the positives of every game we play and keep building on them,” RSL’s Luke Mulholland said. “We have to keep working on the positives, shooting and hopefully we’ll find the back of the net here.” 
 
With a 2-1 home win over New York City FC on May 17, RSL traveled to CenturyLink Field last weekend, where they stood toe-to-toe in a 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders. They were not outmatched, which should give the Union pause. 
 
“I consider it a loss on paper but we gained so much in there,” Petke said. “To look at the game and rewatch it again, the players did 95% of what we wanted. It was ugly, we dumbed it down because that’s what we had to do. We were bleeding goals so we wanted to limit certain things. It’s an incredible stepping stone. But it’s all for nothing if they don’t carry it into the Philadelphia game.” 
 
4. Keep an eye on …
Albert Rusnak: While RSL doesn’t have much going for it offensively, it’s not for lack of trying from Rusnak. The 22-year-old first-year MLS midfielder has three goals and four assists in 11 games. He’s the player the Union will have to stop Saturday.

Haris Medunjanin: The midfielder will look to keep his hot streak alive Saturday, as he goes for his fifth point in five games. It’s becoming abundantly clear that as Medunjanin goes, so does the Union.

5. This and that
• In the Union’s history, they have never defeated RSL. The club is 0-3-6 all-time against the Western Conference side.

• During the Union’s 4-0-0 streak, they have outscored opponents, 11-1. The lone goal against came in the first half of the Union’s come-from-behind win over the Rapids on Saturday.

• Despite a very success past few weeks, the Union are picking up injuries. Midfielder Fabian Herbers strained his hip/groin against the Rapids. He’s out two-to-four weeks. Roland Alberg is also expected to be out with a quad injury. Defender Josh Yaro is healthy and training with the team but is a conditioning track. 

• For the hosts, MLS veteran Tony Beltran is expected back in the lineup against the Union. The defender missed 10 matches with back and calf injuries.