Union must set tempo in home opener vs. Rapids

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Union must set tempo in home opener vs. Rapids

CHESTER, Pa. -- The two-goal loss in their season opener against the Portland Timbers on Monday did not sit well with the Union players or coaches. Losing is one thing, but getting blown out after earning the second-half lead is something else entirely.

So when the Union return home to PPL Park on Sunday to host the Western Conference Colorado Rapids, they will be working to re-write their cringe-inducing start.

We still have 33 games left, said Union right back Sheanon Williams. There is no reason to hit any panic buttons, its one game. Its a long season and we didnt go undefeated last year, it happens. Wed like to win every game but thats not a realistic goal. We take the positives and look forward to Sunday.

The difference between playing at extremely hostile JELD-WEN Field and coming home is that the rabid fans will be at the Unions back -- an emotional boost that cant go overlooked.

Everybody is extremely excited, its been a long off-season away from PPL, said Williams. Ive talked to a few new guys and its hard to explain, they just have to see for themselves.

What plagued the Union against the Timbers was giving up too much space on the edges and allowing the opposition to make plays. Given an opportunity to create from the outside, the Timbers took full advantage, scoring three unanswered goals. After originally seizing momentum on a Gabriel Gomez goal in the 51st minute, the Union could only watch as the game slipped away.

It was a good first game in terms of intensity, it was especially good for the newcomers, said coach Peter Nowak. I think we adjusted to that environment very well. What happened after that -- we didnt give up -- but we left the space wide open for them and they took advantage. We need to match the intensity, physicality and do better all around.

The Rapids dominated the Columbus Crew, 2-0, in their opener. Similar to how the Timbers found space and made the Union pay for defensive mistakes, the Rapids took what the Crew gave them in the offensive third and capitalized with goals from Drew Moor and Quincy Amarikwa.

But instead of react to how the Rapids want to play, the Union are focused on setting the tempo early and following it throughout.

Were focusing on ourselves and forcing what we do well, said Williams. The game is at PPL, so we want to impose our game on them and play how we like to play. We dont want them coming into here and dictating how the game is played.

To do that, Nowak says his club needs to win the individual battles.

Colorado is a lot like Portland, they are very physical and they rely on speed and strength, said Nowak. you have to win the match-ups on the field. We need to make sure we stay compact, organized. We need to make sure our guys have all the information and are ready for the game.

Im sure they are going to be excited about the home opener and they will enjoy the crowd. But first things first, we need to match the physicality and intensity of the game.

The Union did receive from good news on the injury situations involving midfielder Roger Torres and defensive depth piece Chris Albright. Nowak noted that both are expected to be on the game-day lineup on Sunday.

E-mail Ryan Bright at ryanbright13@gmail.com

Union Notes: With Yaro sidelined, 'Gooch' poised to be a starter

Union Notes: With Yaro sidelined, 'Gooch' poised to be a starter

It’s been roughly two years since Oguchi Onyewu last played a professional soccer game. But with Joshua Yaro out for at least the next three months after dislocating his shoulder, Onyewu will likely be the team’s opening day starter when the Union’s 2017 season begins in Vancouver on March 5. 

“Gooch has been really good in the preseason,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said after the team wrapped up a training session from inside the Penn Park Bubble on Monday. “Him and Richie (Marquez) have established themselves as the guys that, at least at this stage, we’ll go with going into this final phase between MLS games.”

Ken Tribbett, who started 19 games a rookie last season, is also “pushing for minutes,” Curtin acknowledged. And 18-year-old Auston Trusty is an intriguing option to perhaps make his MLS debut at some point this season.

But no matter what the Union plan to do, the injury to Yaro will certainly be a big blow. The second-year player, who battled injuries and concussion problems last season, was prepared to make a big leap in 2017 and show the kind of promise that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft.

“Josh is a starter,” Curtin said. “When he’s healthy, he’s established himself as such. It’s a big loss, a speed loss on the backline. It will call upon guys to step up in his absence. Hopefully, we get him back sooner rather than later.”

Calling the injury both “tricky” and “painful,” Curtin knows the recovery process can’t be rushed though. Yaro actually dislocated the same shoulder last May in a game vs. Orlando but the team decided at the time that surgery wasn’t necessary. This time, after Yaro dislocated his shoulder in a non-contact drill about a week-and-a-half ago, they decided to go the surgery route, which they hope will prevent any more issues.

“It’s tough because he plays so aggressive and physical,” Curtin said. “So to be out there a little wounded and already a little undersized is difficult. We thought it was best to get the surgery taken care of. He’s a really important piece we’ll miss but everyone else has to step up.”

For what it’s worth, Onyewu seems more than ready to fill the void. A former US national team star, the 34-year-old center back confidently stated when he was signed: “My ambition and my goal is to start every minute.”

“Looking at things in reality, I’m 34 years old, so I’m not gonna play for another 15 years,” Onyewu added at the time. “But if the question is, ‘Do I have more left in my tank?’ I definitely do. You’re gonna see that this season.”

From New York to Philly
It’s been an interesting last couple of months for Adam Najem, a star player at the University of Akron who bypassed this year’s MLS draft because his homegrown rights were owned by the New York Red Bulls … who then traded those rights to the Philadelphia Union … who then signed him last Wednesday.

But now that a little bit of the uncertainty has passed, he’s ready to make Philly his new home. 

“I grew up a Red Bull fan,” Najem told reporters Monday. “I played there since I was 12 years old. But my heart and everything else is with the Philly Union. I’m gonna give everything I can to the organization. That’s all I’m thinking about right now.” 

Perhaps the most interesting part of Najem’s move from New York to Philly is that his brother, David, is part of the Red Bulls' system.

Might the two siblings face off in a rivalry game down the road?

“We grew up playing against each other all the time — one-vs.-one battles in the backyard,” the Union midfielder said. “It will be fun to see him on the other side of the field.”

The Bosnian has arrived
It’s been nearly two weeks since Haris Medunjanin was signed but the Bosnian midfielder just arrived in Philly this week after working to attain his visa.

Medunjanin, who’s expected to be a major piece in the Union midfield, didn’t practice with the team at Penn on Monday but will fly out with them to Florida on Tuesday for the third and final phase of the preseason and should be available to play in the next three preseason games at the Suncoast Invitational.

In the meantime, he took a physical on Monday and enjoyed a tour of the Power Training Complex, which he told Curtin was better than many training centers he’s seen in Europe.

“He’s excited,” Curtin said. “He really wants to fit in well with the group, which we know he will.” 

Union look to add resident tattoo artist 
The Union’s roster may be just about complete as they prepare for their start of the 2017 season but they are still looking to fill at least one position … a chief tattoo officer.

Wait, what?

Yes, Union vice president of Marketing Doug Vosik announced on CSN’s Philly Sports Talk on Monday that the team would be the first professional sports organization to make such a hire with the person acting as a resident tattoo artist for players and staff.

All interested tattoo artists may apply for the position by emailing portfolio images to tattoos@philadelphiaunion.com.

“This is an exciting initiative for all of us here at Philadelphia Union as we look to provide a revolutionary service for our players and front office, particularly those new to the area,” said Vosik, who will be the first to get a Union tattoo. “Our hiring process begins immediately; we are looking for a partner with a wide variety of talents and skills, and someone who can offer a broad range including American traditional, as well as Japanese, realism, new school and more.”

Report: Carli Lloyd likely to accept contract offer from Manchester City

Report: Carli Lloyd likely to accept contract offer from Manchester City

It looked unlikely at first but U.S. soccer star and Delran, N.J. product Carli Lloyd is on the verge of accepting a contract offer from Manchester City, according to Philly.com’s Jonathan Tannewald. 

Details of the contract have not surfaced yet but it is speculated that Lloyd will sign this week, according to the report. This presents a perfect situation for Lloyd if she decides to sign now because the league is in a shortened season. The league transitioned to the new format in 2017 -- it's calling it "Spring Series" and is played from April to June. 

This could give Lloyd a sample taste of playing overseas, also allowing her to return to the Houston Dash by June to finish the National Women's Soccer League season.

“That is just one possible scenario, and it admittedly includes some speculation on my part,” wrote Tannewald. “But it is worth knowing, not least because a short deal would be similar to the deal Alex Morgan signed with French club Lyon. Morgan will be in France until the end of the French league and UEFA Champions League campaigns in early June, then return to the Orlando Pride.”

If Lloyd accepts the offer she will become the third U.S. national team player to sign with the English league this year. The other two: Crystal Dunn who signed with Chelsea and Heather O’Reilly signing with Arsenal shortly after.