Union Notes: Carroll named team captain

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Union Notes: Carroll named team captain

WAYNE, Pa. -- From Danny Califf to Faryd Mondragon, Califf again and Carlos Valdes, another year brings yet another captain for the Union.

But as Union coach John Hackworth announced his on-field general for 2013 on Monday at YSC Sports, he also made it clear that the physical armband means very little when the leadership has been there the entire time.

We have named a captain and it will be Brian Carroll, Hackworth announced following the Unions first day of training camp on Monday. Were very excited about that. Brian has earned it through his actions, his character and way he exemplified fantastic leadership last year in support of Carlos Valdes. The team was made aware of it last night.

Brian Carroll has been here for three years and the fact that hes now wearing the armband does not change the fact that he was a leader for the last three years. Honestly, you guys probably worry about that stuff more than the players or I worry about it. The fact is, we have good leaders in our locker room and Brian epitomizes that and he has the full support of our locker room. And thats what you want in a leader.

Articulate and soft-spoken, Carroll, 31, has been with the Union since late 2010. A veteran of two MLS Cups, 268 regular season and 20 MLS playoff games, the midfielder has been one of the most constant features on the Unions consistently fluctuating roster.

Helping Carroll is the Unions fresh, new experience. Unlike Valdes, a former captain in 2012, Carroll will have a nice supporting cast of veterans to help him -- a list that includes 31-year-old Conor Casey, 34-year-old Chris Albright, 29-year-old Sebastien Le Toux and 30-year-old Jeff Parke.

Brian has a really good group of senior leadership around him, Hackworth said. Guys like Chris Albright, who was extremely influential in helping Carlos last year. He will continue to do that. We have some new guys who are experienced players as well and have all, during different times in their careers, wore the captains armband. We feel good about that.

Carroll takes over the Union leadership from Valdes, who was loaned to Independiente Santa Fe for the entirety of the Primera A season. The nature of the loan is for one year, meaning Valdes could return to the Union

I dont think Carlos would have a problem with it at all, Hackworth said. Carlos and Brian worked very well together last year. Brian was a very important leader in our locker room. What it means for the future? We have a challenge ahead to get through this season successfully and thats what were focused on. When Carlos returns after a year, well reassess and sit down. You cant have too many good leaders, as long as they are working together to one common goal.

Banking on Valdes' return?
When Valdes was loaned for one year to Sante Fe this offseason, the prevailing thought was that the pugnacious central defender would likely never return to the Union. That Colombian National Team success would either keep Valdes closer to home through the 2014 FIFA World Cup or set him on a path to worldwide soccer stardom.

Hackworth, however, is staying optimistic.

Right now Im planning on the fact that he will be back next year, Hackworth said. But the reality is, if he starts for Colombia and if they get close to qualifying or qualify for the World Cup, that changes life for Carlos and for us in a big way. I dont want to speculate on what can or cant happen. But its an opportunity that we feel is good for Carlos. Were trying to make the best out of it. But at no point are we saying that this is the last time well see Valdes in a Union uniform -- because we dont look at it that way. Its simply a loan and it happens all the time in this business. It was good for both the player and club.

Left back problems? Hack no
Entering preparations for the 2013 season, the reigning belief surrounding the Union roster is that they needed an upgrade at left back -- a notoriously tough position to fill.

With Gabe Farfan, a midfielder currently doing a satisfactory job but playing out of position, it was thought that Hackworth would find a natural left back to allow Farfan to move back into the midfield.

On Monday, just days after the Union passed on all left back talent in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, Hackworth shot down the idea that the Union were in need.

As a starting point, it should be said that Gabe Farfan is our starting left back, Hackworth said. He is one of the best left backs in terms of pure soccer ability. He might be a true left back but the way that we play and in our style, we want our left back to be an attacking player and hes very good at that. Not to say that he was perfect last year -- hes still a young guy developing into that position. Thats where we start from, then we have some guys who can play both right and left -- Sheanon Williams, Ray Gaddis, players that we could put there if needed and well certainly try those guys throughout the year.

However, the Union did make a move at left back, albeit for the future, in signing 18-year-old Trinidad and Tobago national, Damani Richards.

We have Damani coming in as a left back, Hackworth said. Hes an extremely talented individual but he needs time to develop and professional experience. We have a good nucleus of guys and I think it was a misconception that we were automatically going for a left back. It gives us a lot more depth.

E-mail Ryan Bright at ryanbright13@gmail.com.

Union see 4-game winning streak end in shutout loss to Real Salt Lake

Union see 4-game winning streak end in shutout loss to Real Salt Lake

BOX SCORE

SANDY, Utah -- Joao Plata scored his first goal of the season and Real Salt Lake beat the Union, 1-0, on Saturday night to snap Philadelphia's club-record winning streak at four games.

Plata tapped in his goal in the 36th minute after quickly exchanging short passes twice with Jefferson Savarino. Tony Beltran got the play started by saving the ball just before it went over the goal line.

The Union (4-5-5) had a chance to tie it in stoppage time, but goalie Nick Rimando blocked Haris Medunjanin's belt-high free kick and Salt Lake (4-8-2) cleared it after a scramble in front of the net.

Union goalkeeper Andre Blake made seven saves.

Union-Real Salt Lake 5 things: Rolling Union carry 4-game win streak to Utah

Union-Real Salt Lake 5 things: Rolling Union carry 4-game win streak to Utah

Union vs. Real Salt Lake
8:00 p.m. on CSN
 
Hitting the road with a club record four-game win streak at their back, the streaking Union (4-4-4) will face a cross-country test Saturday, as they take on Albert Rusnak and inconsistent Real Salt Lake (3-8-2) at Rio Tinto Stadium.
 
Here are five things to know.
 
1. Keeping momentum
With four-straight wins and six unbeaten to catapult them up the Eastern Conference standings and nearly in playoff position, the Union are rolling. 
 
But despite the hot streak, Union manager Jim Curtin doesn’t want his club’s demons returning.
 
“The biggest thing we’ve tried to stress how hard we had to work to get out of that hole and the feeling we had while we were in that hole, we don’t want that back ever against,” Curtin said, with regards to the Union going winless in their first eight games of the season. “The good run of games helps that and the performances have been really good, but you’re guarding against that ever creeping back in and kicking it down when it does.”
 
Curtin shouldn’t have to worry about that. His players have proven to possess a steady mental quality, one they put on display throughout the eight-game winless streak to start the season. There wasn’t infighting or finger-pointing, the club went to work and are now fighting for a playoff position.
 
“We’re not going to get too high or get too low,” Curtin said. “We’re going to stick with what we believe in.”
 
Along with mental strength, Union leading scorer C.J. Sapong, who has eight goals on the season, believes it’s positive vibes that will help the team continue its streak in Utah.
 
“It’s the collective energy of the group,” he said. “Through our rough spell, we still had belief in ourselves. We finally got that one win and have been flying high since then.”  
 
2. Haris on fire
Playing quarterback of the Union’s offense and spearheading his club’s recent hot streak, Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin is quickly warming up to MLS.
 
“Haris has been excellent for us,” Curtin said. “There’s a couple statistics now where we’re at the top of the league and he has one — it’s called usage percentage. Fourteen-percent of our touches are distributed by him, so if you want him to be a quarterback, point guard, he’s third in the league in that. We want him on the ball as much as possible and that’s including restarts where he’s proven to be lethal.”
 
Lethal is right. After registering three assists in his first nine MLS games, the veteran defensive midfielder is pacing the Union’s attack, scoring two goals and two assists over the Union’s last four wins. That includes the game-winner against the Colorado Rapids last Saturday, where he ripped a free kick through the Rapids’ defensive wall to beat Tim Howard from just outside the box.
 
And while Medunjanin is known as an adept playmaker, it’s that free-kick scoring ability that takes his game, and the Union offense, to another level.
 
“He has an ability to serve a ball to get an assist and the shooting he possesses to win a game for you, it’s huge,” Curtin said. “Other teams have to be cautious in and around the box which leads to us being more dangerous around the box.” 
 
3. Trusting the process
The Union and RSL have a lot in common this season. Both teams went winless from August onward to finish the 2016 season and both clubs suffered losses in the early going of 2017, falling to the bottom of their respective conferences.
 
The difference is while the Union have recovered from that depressing ordeal, RSL hasn’t.
 
“The process is going,” said RSL coach Mike Petke, who took over the team in late March. “It takes a while and you have to be willing to go over a lot of speed bumps. We’re working through some stuff and we’ll be better off in the end.” 
 
While RSL has five losses in their last six matches, the players do feel that tide turning. 
 
“You gotta keep pulling out the positives of every game we play and keep building on them,” RSL’s Luke Mulholland said. “We have to keep working on the positives, shooting and hopefully we’ll find the back of the net here.” 
 
With a 2-1 home win over New York City FC on May 17, RSL traveled to CenturyLink Field last weekend, where they stood toe-to-toe in a 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders. They were not outmatched, which should give the Union pause. 
 
“I consider it a loss on paper but we gained so much in there,” Petke said. “To look at the game and rewatch it again, the players did 95% of what we wanted. It was ugly, we dumbed it down because that’s what we had to do. We were bleeding goals so we wanted to limit certain things. It’s an incredible stepping stone. But it’s all for nothing if they don’t carry it into the Philadelphia game.” 
 
4. Keep an eye on …
Albert Rusnak: While RSL doesn’t have much going for it offensively, it’s not for lack of trying from Rusnak. The 22-year-old first-year MLS midfielder has three goals and four assists in 11 games. He’s the player the Union will have to stop Saturday.

Haris Medunjanin: The midfielder will look to keep his hot streak alive Saturday, as he goes for his fifth point in five games. It’s becoming abundantly clear that as Medunjanin goes, so does the Union.

5. This and that
• In the Union’s history, they have never defeated RSL. The club is 0-3-6 all-time against the Western Conference side.

• During the Union’s 4-0-0 streak, they have outscored opponents, 11-1. The lone goal against came in the first half of the Union’s come-from-behind win over the Rapids on Saturday.

• Despite a very success past few weeks, the Union are picking up injuries. Midfielder Fabian Herbers strained his hip/groin against the Rapids. He’s out two-to-four weeks. Roland Alberg is also expected to be out with a quad injury. Defender Josh Yaro is healthy and training with the team but is a conditioning track. 

• For the hosts, MLS veteran Tony Beltran is expected back in the lineup against the Union. The defender missed 10 matches with back and calf injuries.