Union looking to keep cool vs. rival DC United


Union looking to keep cool vs. rival DC United

With seven yellow cards, one red and 35 combined fouls against Toronto FC last Saturday, the Union were frustrated by the physical play, angered by the refereeing and close to unraveling, before Jack McInerney tied the game in stoppage time.

Now set to face bitter rival DC United at RFK Stadium on Sunday in what will likely be a another volatile contest, coach John Hackworth is asking his veterans for more on-field leadership.

“There were a couple incidents against Toronto where I would have preferred some better leadership out there,” Hackworth said. “Not better, because I don’t want to criticize [captain] Brian [Carroll] or anyone else, but I think there was a place for guys to say, ‘Hey, look. This is clearly what’s happening in this game, let’s settle down. Let's not worry about all this BS going on.’ We can’t control the officials and we can’t control the antics, it’s not our problem, so let's focus on us. We talked about it already and every guy in that locker room feels the same way.”

Since the Union joined the MLS in 2010, their battles with DC United have been extra physical and rife with fouls and bad blood. In 2012 alone, the Union and the United racked up 16 yellow cards and five red cards in just four US Open Cup and MLS regular-season games.

“I think just from the cities,” Union right back Sheanon Williams said. “Philly doesn’t like Washington and Washington doesn’t like Philly. I think we can sense that between the fans. And obviously them being an Eastern Conference team, that makes them a foe. I don’t know what makes it so much bad blood but there’s definitely something there. It just gets heated sometimes. Hopefully there won’t be any red cards or anything like that. We want to play a good game. We want to do what we like to do. That doesn’t include red cards and stupid fouls.”

The rivalry has been so heated, that even during preseason exhibition games the two clubs bumped heads. On Feb. 23 in Orlando, DC United’s Dwayne De Rosario got into an altercation with Danny Cruz, which saw De Rosario shown a straight red card and ejection.

“It happened again in preseason when we played them and we got a couple of red cards and a couple of other things,” Williams said. “It’s just a heated game any time we play them. Obviously, both teams want to win. And with the position both teams are in, these points are going to be pretty big.”

With DC United holding a 1-4-1 record and the Union sitting at 2-2-2, both clubs enter Sunday with a much-needed win on their mind. The contest is so vital to the Union’s Eastern Conference success, that both Union players and coaches want to avoid an emotional foul-fest on the road.

“It’s definitely tough,” Williams said on suppressing the high emotion. “You get some blood rushing to your head and you want to do something that maybe you wouldn’t do normally. You just have to think about how that will effect your team, and if it’s going to be in a negative way then you try to hold back and restrain yourself. You go out there to help the team, not to hurt them. So anything you do you’re going to be held responsible for in the long run. You have to keep your cool and do what you need to do.”

As playoffs near, newcomer Alejandro Bedoya delivers message to Union

As playoffs near, newcomer Alejandro Bedoya delivers message to Union

CHESTER, Pa. — When the Union coaches were about to wrap up a team meeting earlier this week, Alejandro Bedoya raised his hand.

The new midfielder had something he wanted to say.

“I was able to give a talk to the team Monday and let them know we’re all in this together, this is the end of the season, guys are playing for their livelihoods really,” Bedoya said Wednesday. “We don’t know what’s gonna happen next season. Some guys are gonna retire, some guys are gonna leave, get traded, go somewhere else. 

“This is a great opportunity we have in front of us now with the playoffs and trying to win an MLS Cup here in Philly.”

Bedoya, of course, is one of the team’s least-tenured players, coming over in August from France for his first stint in MLS. And there are other players on the team who have worn the captain’s armband, including Brian Carroll, Tranquillo Barnetta and Maurice Edu.

But Bedoya, a U.S. national team starter who forged a successful career in Europe, brings a unique viewpoint into what will be his first foray into the MLS Cup playoffs. And Curtin was happy to see his new midfielder emerge as a locker room leader after a lifeless 2-0 loss to Orlando City SC on Sunday sunk the Union's chances of possibly hosting a game when the playoffs begin next week.

“To be honest, it’s one of the first time it’s happened, where guys put their hand up and looked in the mirror, which is important,” Curtin said. “I think that shows good leadership, it shows we are a team that’s in this thing together. It’s kind of commonplace for the coach to take blame and put his hand up because I am ultimately in charge of the lineup and what goes out there. But for whatever reason, on the day it just wasn’t us, it didn’t feel like us. And to have guys recognize that was important.”

Bedoya certainly took his share of the blame for the loss to Orlando, admitting he wasn’t at his best after returning from a rib injury that held him out of two recent U.S. national team games.

To be fair though, nobody was at their best, which made for an awkward situation after the game when the Union learned they all but guaranteed a playoff berth — thanks to a Chicago Fire win over the New England Revolution — but didn’t much feel like celebrating.

“It doesn’t take a genius to look at that game and say that was a lackluster effort at best,” Bedoya said. “For us, it’s just staying optimistic. We know we have a great group of guys. We know we have a good team. When we’re playing well, when we’re on our game, we can compete with anybody in this league.”

The Union will get a chance to show that when they host the New York Red Bulls in Sunday’s regular-season finale (4 p.m., TCN). 

The Red Bulls are an MLS Cup contender and have the top seed in the East all but locked up. The Union are also firmly planted into their own spot, so the game doesn’t have many implications aside from Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips’ Golden Boot chase.

But for the Union, the game is still being viewed as a big one because the last thing they want is to enter the playoffs on a seven-game winless streak — and then, perhaps, enter the offseason on an eight-game winless streak, a dubious distinction that would cast a shadow over the accomplishment of making the playoffs for just the second time in club history.

“It’s very important,” Bedoya said. “I think it’s more than about pride. You gotta play for yourself, for each other. You’re representing this club, this organization, this city. I think we know the last performance was not good enough, not nearly good enough at all. It can only be better. We just have to try to get a result and play our best so we can get some momentum going into the playoffs.”

Considering the Union are playing the best team in the East followed by a playoff game against possibly Toronto FC or New York City FC — two teams loaded with stars — any win from here on out would be considered an upset. 

But Bedoya is a star in his own right, and the team’s new Designated Player is trying his best to spread a positive message heading into what will be the defining moments of the 2016 season.

And his teammates are listening.

“Definitely, he is a big-time player, a guy who can make big plays and make stuff for us and it’s great to have him,” goalkeeper Andre Blake said. “I think on any given day, when all the guys are bought-in and sharp, we can stand up against any team and give it a good run. And I think hopefully this Sunday, we can get back on a run going into the playoffs.”

Winless in 6 straight, Union struggling heading into playoffs

Winless in 6 straight, Union struggling heading into playoffs

CHESTER, Pa. — The Union have mixed emotions about Sunday’s loss. 

Despite an inexplicable and disappointing 2-0 defeat to Orlando City SC at Talen Energy Stadium, the club effectively fell forward into the playoffs (see story)

“It feels funny,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I’m not sure how to feel good about it because we know we can do better.”

That’s because the Union needed help to get in. The New England Revolution, who lost to the Chicago Fire on Sunday, 2-1, would now need a win, a Union loss and gain plus-12 in goal differential in their season finale to unseat the Union. 

The Revs have 39 points and the Union have 42, with one match remaining. In other words, the Union will make the postseason for the first time since 2011. Still, Curtin isn't pleased.

“We could have set ourselves up with a home game,” said Curtin, whose club is assured the No. 5 or No. 6 seed depending on next weekend’s season finale result. “That’s slipped away now. That’s the reality of things and we have to deal with that.”

Aside from the loss bringing the Union down, the club is in a terrible slump that just seems to be getting worse. Curtin’s team is winless in its last six games and hasn’t won a game since late August. The way the Union are trending, making the playoffs but getting unceremoniously ejected in one game is nothing to celebrate.

“You can’t just limp into the playoffs and expect to turn it on,” veteran Chris Pontius said. “That doesn’t happen. If you look at teams that were lower seeds that have made runs, they made runs late in the season leading up to the playoffs, they were good. It could be amazing what one good game could do for people’s confidence so next weekend is big for us.”

If there is good news for the Union, it’s that there is time to recover. The club hosts the New York Red Bulls on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium. And a win could mean the difference between playing Toronto FC, New York City FC or D.C. United. It could also mean much-needed confidence. 

“We will use this last game to have a good performance and something to be proud of for our fans, because they deserve that,” Curtin said. “They deserve better than today. Again, I still wouldn’t want to play us.