Union roster issues open opportunities for non-starters

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Union roster issues open opportunities for non-starters

CHESTER, Pa. -- With Jeff Parke likely out and Sheanon Williams suspended for Saturday’s road match against the Chicago Fire, the Union were already looking at a substantial roster shift on the defensive line.

Throw in playing three games in the next seven days and coach John Hackworth’s roster changes might not stop with defenders.

“We have to manage our roster,” Hackworth said. “There will be multiple guys who get an opportunity that haven’t been playing a lot or haven’t played a starting role. We have to manage these three games. We feel like we have good depth and we’re ready to do that.”

Smelling a chance to get playing time, the Union players have kicked up the intensity on the practice field. Hackworth is excited by his team’s hunger to compete for playing time and feels that only good things can come from it.

“[Bakary Soumare] has looked good in training, Gabe Farfan always looks good and has been very consistent for us,” said Hackworth, who will likely play Gabe Farfan and Soumare on the defense. “Kleberson and Sebastien [Le Toux] -- Sebastien has looked particular good in finishing this week. Antoine [Hoppenot] constantly tries to push himself as someone who doesn’t just come off the bench. The competition has been really good there. Guys can sense there’s a little bit of an opportunity and that turns up the intensity and reality that they might have a shot.”

Set to fill in the defensive gaps are Soumare at center back and Farfan at left back. Other than that, the Union’s roster is up for grabs. That includes the bench.

“It certainly changes the selection for the 18 in a big way,” Hackworth said. “If something ever happened to our back line, we would move Sheanon into the middle. We don’t have him this weekend, so we’ll probably add some defensive depth to our bench. We also have guys who are versatile like Michael Lahoud, who started all over for us. He can fill in as a back.”

The Union players are well aware of the changes coming.

“People are going to have to step up, myself included,” said defender Amobi Okugo. “These games coming up are really important for us.

“It’s going to be different but we have a whole week to prepare.”

Though putting together a new lineup for Saturday could be viewed as a chemistry-buster for the 3-3-3 Union, Hackworth is serving it up as an opportunity for players to prove themselves in game action. Players like Kleberson, Le Toux, Soumare and even Chris Albright haven’t seen much or any on-field time in the opening nine games, but could be a factor moving forward.

“Jack McInerney got a chance last year to come in and be a starter,” Hackworth said. “He was ready for that opportunity and he took that opportunity. He hasn’t relinquished that role since then. Anytime a professional player, who works so hard in training, has a chance to represent himself as a starting player, it’s fantastic. In my experience, things can change once players get these chances.”

While things could change for other players on Hackworth’s short list, could it change for Soumare? The 6-foot-4 defender requested a trade after the first game of the season when he was beat out by Okugo for the position.

Now set to play for just the second time since June, 2012, Soumare is finally getting his wish.

“We’re fortunate to have Baky here and in good form,” Hackworth said. “He’s trained hard every single day that he’s been here. We don’t have a question about his fitness. It will be an adjustment because he hasn’t played game minutes, but he’s working awful hard on his own. My expectation is that he makes the most of this. Depth is very important to a team in this league.”

And depth is what the Union will lean on to get them through Saturday and beyond.

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."