Union hungry for more against lowly D.C. United

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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.”

Fragile Union doomed to draw with Impact by 'soft defense'

Fragile Union doomed to draw with Impact by 'soft defense'

CHESTER, Pa. -- For 46 minutes, the Union suffered in slow motion. 

After claiming an impressive 3-0 lead, the winless club allowed unanswered goals in the 41st, 69th and 87th minute, as they gradually deteriorated against the Montreal Impact on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium (see Game Recap).

"It feels like a loss," Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. "It's hard to stomach."

The decline started with Ignacio Piatti. With his club trailing by three, the Impact's most dangerous player sliced through the Union midfield and took advantage of sagging Union defenders, reached the top of the box and fired off a low shot that beat Andre Blake.

"We let up a soft goal with Piatti coming inside," Bedoya said. "I probably should have fouled him first. Chris [Pontius] could have fouled him. We didn't step up in time."

The goal lit a fire under the Impact. It was a momentum-turner that gave the visitors life and squashed the Union's morale, setting in motion a crushing second half. 

"Goals change games," said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club, led by goals from C.J. Sapong and Roland Alberg dominated the early portion of the first half. "The one before half gives them a little bit of life, a little bit of hope that it's not just going to be a day where they lay down. They continued to fight."

If the fragile Union weren't panicking at the half, they certainly began to tense up in the 69th minute, when a left-side cross from Ambroise Oyongo allowed Anthony Jackson-Hamel to beat Richie Marquez to the inside for the header. 

"It was truly one where you can say they made a good play," Curtin said. "It's a very good cross, a good header where the guy gets in between the center backs. You can tip your cap and say that's a good goal."

Bedoya thought it was a case of soft defense.

"If you keep dropping back and play soft defense and allow second balls in the box, and don't put bodies on guys in the box, you get punished," Bedoya said. "That's what happened to us today."

Eighteen minutes later, the Union were crushed. Jackson-Hamel scored his second and tied the match when a Matteo Mancuso bounce shot hit the hands of Andre Blake and dribbled into the goal. The Impact attacker caught Union defender Jack Elliott ball watching and punished Blake for the gaffe with an easy goal off the rebound.

The collapse was complete.

"We had enough guys in the box, you can see there was five defenders in the box," Curtin said. "The guy shoots from outside the box, it takes a skip and it's a tough hop for Andre. We had enough guys behind the ball, it's about making individual plays. That is killing us right now."

Union spoil 3-goal lead to Impact, remain winless with draw

Union spoil 3-goal lead to Impact, remain winless with draw

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- Under normal circumstances, ending a four-game losing streak with a draw would be a welcome sight for the struggling Union

But after giving up three consecutive goals to draw the Montreal Impact, 3-3, Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium, Jim Curtin's club won't be celebrating this one. 

"Pure frustration," Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. "I'm at a loss for words. To be up 3-0 at home and lose, I mean, it feels like a loss, it's hard to stomach. This team deserves a lot better. The fans deserve a lot better."

Through the first 40 minutes, the winless Union (0-4-3) were on track to an easy victory.

Pressing the Impact back line, C.J. Sapong, in the fifth minute, pounced on a turnover just outside the Impact box and while being hauled down, slid a pass to a trailing Roland Alberg, who beat his man and played a shot gently past Evan Bush for the easy goal and 1-0 Union lead.

"Haris played the ball in and it went over my head, so I tried to get closer to the goal," Sapong said. "Pontius put it back across, and pretty easy finish for me."

With momentum, the Union doubled and triple their lead in the 23rd and 38th minute. First, a perfectly placed ball by Haris Medunjanin was headed back across the box by Chris Pontius to Sapong, who made no mistake with his fourth of the season. That goal was followed by an in-box foul on rookie defender Jack Elliott, which gave Alberg a penalty kick and his second of the game.

"We talked about intensity, we talked about out-competing and winning our one-on-one battles," Bedoya said. "We were able to do that."

Taking the shot, Alberg banked it off Bush and in for the 3-0 Union advantage. It was exactly what the winless Union needed. But then the situation drastically.

Ignacio Piatti began the 1-2-4 Impact's climb back in the 41st minute, making it 3-1 when he fired through the Union's backline before finding a gap and taking a shot that beat Andre Blake to the right side. 

"It hurt," Curtin said about the goal. "To go into half 3-0 is better than the scenario where they get a little life and momentum on their side. It's disappointing. Piatti is a special player. We had a lot of things we could have done better on that goal, but at the same time, to score three goals in a half should be good enough to finish off and get three points."

The situation became direr in the 69th minute, as Anthony Jackson-Hamel smoothly placed a perfect header past Blake off a cross from Ambroise Oyongo. The Impact then tied the game in the 87th with another from Jackson-Hamel. 

"When I came to this club, we were all ambitious and this is not the start we wanted," Bedoya said. "I wear my emotions on my sleeve and I thought today I worked my butt off and so did all the guys. And to give up three soft goals, what I think were soft goals, it sucks. It's disappointing. Frustrating."

The Union, with a slightly defensive lineup featuring Ray Gaddis for Keegan Rosenberry, haven't won a game since Aug. 27, 2016 and had no answer for the Impact.

"I thought we had some breaks in the first half, played well and scored some goals," Curtin said. "We could have scored more. That killer instinct to finish off the game is something we talk about, something we work on. We came up short."