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's Alejandro Bedoya called up to U.S. national team for key World Cup qualifiers

Union's Alejandro Bedoya called up to U.S. national team for key World Cup qualifiers

Throughout their seven-year history, the Union have had very few active players called up for U.S. national team duty.

That’s about to change now that Alejandro Bedoya is on the team.

On Sunday, it was announced that Bedoya — Philly’s marquee summer acquisition — is one of 26 players selected for important World Cup qualifiers vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.

The U.S. travels first to face St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sept. 2 (3:30 p.m., beIN SPORT) and will close out Group C action against Trinidad & Tobago on Sept. 6 (8 p.m., FS1).

That means Bedoya — who’s started the last four games for the Union, helping the club to a 3-1 mark in that stretch — will miss Philly’s road game vs. the Chicago Fire on Saturday (8:30 p.m., TCN). 

All-star goalkeeper Andre Blake also won’t be available for that contest, traveling with Jamaica for their World Cup qualifiers.

That will leave the Union, who are also managing injuries to midfielders Maurice Edu, Brian Carroll and Ilsinho, a little bit thin as they look to extend their winning streak to three games this weekend. 

But Bedoya’s inclusion on the USMNT roster is something the Union expected. The midfielder has been one of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s steadiest players over the past couple of years, as a starter in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Copa America Centenario. 

He’s already made 53 appearances with the U.S. national team and figures to make his first as a member of the Union on Friday.

If he does, he’ll be the second active Union player ever to play for the USMNT, following a Maurice Edu appearance in April 2014 in the buildup to the World Cup (he was later cut from the preliminary roster, along with Landon Donovan, before the U.S. left for Brazil). Prior to Edu’s appearance, the closest a Union player had come to earning a USMNT cap was when Jack McInerney was selected to the 2013 Gold Cup squad but didn't play in any games.

Super sub Roland Alberg putting on potent show for Union

Super sub Roland Alberg putting on potent show for Union

CHESTER, Pa. -- Roland Alberg has been a terror for opposing teams. 

The latest attack from the Dutch bomber happened Saturday, while the Union were gridlocked in a scoreless draw with Sporting Kansas City. Alberg entered the match in the 65th minute and ended it in the 67th, when he launched a volley that beat goalkeeper Alec Kann. 

“I have to be patient, but when I come on the field, I have to do my thing,” Alberg said. “It’s a great team performance. We did a great job, got three points and we are happy with it.”

He added an assist for the 2-0 win (see game story)

“He’s a wonderful player,” said Union left back Fabinho, who assisted on Alberg's goal. “He came on and changed the game. I saw him and I know what he likes. I give the ball to him and he scores. He has nine goals. It’s nice for him. I hope he scores more.” 

That type of impact hasn’t been irregular for Alberg. With nine goals on the season in just 925 minutes played, the 26-year-old leads MLS in goals-per-90 minutes with 0.88. Only New York City FC’s Frank Lampard is close with .85.

“He’s far and away the leader in our league,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, who originally cited Alberg’s goals-per-90 stat. “He has a special quality.”

Yet, despite that “special quality,” Alberg remains a super sub, buried behind Tranquillo Barnetta at the center attacking midfield spot. He has two goals in his last four games — all coming off the bench.

“I have to show it every training, and then it’s the coach’s decision,” he said. “If [Curtin] uses me as a sub, I’ll do 100 percent my best. And if it’s as a starter, it’s the same thing for me. Of course every player wants to play as a starter, and me too. But it’s a long season. Playoffs, they are coming. So I’m patient.”

Alberg’s potency isn’t lost on Curtin, even if the manager doesn’t switch his winning formula. Though Alberg is pushing for a starting spot, the Union might just be more dangerous with him off the bench.

“He’s a starter on most MLS teams,” Curtin said. “It’s just a matter of having depth at that spot. He’s a very valuable player to our team and shows we have a deep squad. I can’t say enough about how well he’s played in any role. As a starter for us, he’s won us a bunch of games, and his role off the bench, he’s won us some games now, too.”

Roland Alberg's goal, assist propel Union past Sporting Kansas City, 2-0

Roland Alberg's goal, assist propel Union past Sporting Kansas City, 2-0

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- Roland Alberg entered the game at the perfect time.

With his club holding the man advantage as a result of Jimmy Medranda’s second yellow card in the 57th minute, Union manager Jim Curtin tapped Alberg off the bench to replace Fabian Herbers in the 65th minute. 

Two minutes later, the Union took the lead. From the left side, Fabinho found Alberg at the top of the box, where he teed off a shot at that ripped past Alec Kann to open scoring in the eventual 2-0 Union win over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium.

It was Alberg’s ninth goal of the season.

The Union now have wins in back-to-back games for the first time since March, pushing their record to 11-9-7 and temporarily jumping them over the New York Red Bulls for third in the Eastern Conference. SKC falls to 11-12-5.

Facing Sporting Kansas City at Talen Energy Stadium for the first time since the 2015 U.S. Open Cup title game, the Union, who lost that game in penalty kicks, wanted to dictate tempo. However, the club was unable to break down SKC’s stout midfield until the red cards started flying.

Already down a man, things began to unravel for SKC in the 87th minute, when Roger Espinoza was shown a straight red for tossing what appeared like an inadvertent elbow to the midsection of Alberg. 

In stoppage time, up two men, the Union put the exclamation point on the win. Alberg found Tranquillo Barnetta in an open pocket of the SKC defense, and with space, the Swiss veteran placed his shot to the right and in, sealing the 2-0 win.