Union look to finally end curse at Red Bull Arena

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Union look to finally end curse at Red Bull Arena

CHESTER, Pa. -- For the fifth time since entering MLS in 2010, the Union will try to conquer the rival New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena.

But it’s going to take something special.

With an all-time record of 0-4-0 at Red Bull Arena, history is certainly not on the Union’s side come Saturday.

“The guys don’t talk about it too much,” Union forward Aaron Wheeler said about the losing streak at Red Bull Arena. “We have a lot of confidence in our group and we’ve outperformed expectations so far [this season]. The expectation is to go in there and get a result. We’re not going in there preparing to lose or playing for a 0-0 draw. We want to score goals.”

Yet, expecting a result isn’t out of the question, as both clubs are currently situated in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Also, with a 3-2-0 record against the Red Bulls at PPL Park, the Union have found the formula to defeating the conference heavyweights.

So why the sudden change at Red Bull Arena? Wheeler suspects the Red Bulls’ top players simply play better in front of their home crowd.

“It starts with the atmosphere they have there,” he said. “Then, of course, it’s the team they put on the field, starting with [Thierry] Henry and [Tim] Cahill. They are always a force in the league and they have played a very high level for a long time.”

On paper, the Union have a legitimate shot of ending the streak. With 10 games left in the season, the Union are in third place with 37 points while the Red Bulls are in second with 38. Both teams have scored 36 goals in 24 games, with the Union allowing 32 goals against to the Red Bulls’ 31.

“It’s an arena and team that hasn’t been that hospitable to us when we’ve gone up there,” Union coach John Hackworth said. “We feel like we’re in a good way right now and can only control what we can. We want to go up there and put on the kind of performance to get us a result in New York.”

All-time series history at Red Bull Arena

Red Bulls 2, Union 1 -- April 24, 2010
The Union’s first-ever trip to Red Bull Arena was defined by defender Michael Orozco Fiscal’s handball in the 67th minute. The error gave Juan Pablo Angel an easy penalty kick as the Red Bulls took the 2-1 victory. The Union’s lone goal came from Sebastien Le Toux in the 59th minute.

"We played well, we just have to fix mistakes," Le Toux said. "We come back and after there is a mistake, there was a handball. It's unfortunate and we're a little bit frustrated."

Red Bulls 1, Union 0 -- October 20, 2011
In the final match of the 2011 season, the playoff-bound Union went out with a whimper, allowing the Red Bulls to clinch a playoff berth with three points. Dane Richards’ goal in the eighth minute proved the difference maker, as the Red Bulls wiped out Faryd Mondragon’s Union, 1-0.

Red Bulls 2, Union 0 -- July 21, 2012
The third meeting between the rivals could be summarized as two teams headed in much different directions. Kenny Cooper scored twice and Connor Lade had two assists for the dominant Red Bulls, as they defeated Josue Martinez and the lifeless Union, 2-0.

Red Bulls 2, Union 1 -- March 30, 2013
The Union’s first adventure to Harrison in 2013 wasn’t a fruitful one. Despite Conor Casey’s equalizer in the 63rd minute, late dominance from Henry saw the Red Bulls once again prevail over the Union at home.

“I don’t think we did what we needed to do, but in the end it’s still tough to swallow,” Hackworth told PhiladelphiaUnion.com. “We are going to be attack-oriented, we are going to go for wins on the road and unfortunately we fell behind before we made a couple changes. It’s a frustrating loss.”

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."