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.

'I've never seen that' - Rare violation works in Union's favor vs. Colorado

'I've never seen that' - Rare violation works in Union's favor vs. Colorado

CHESTER, Pa. -- The situation was growing dire for the Union.

With the game tied at one in the second half and facing a Colorado Rapids team that happily parked the defensive bus in order to grind out an ugly draw, the Union got a break when Rapids forward Caleb Calvert received a red-card ejection for entering the field illegally.

Five minutes later, the Union claimed the 2-1 lead and eventual victory (see game story).

“I’ve never seen that to be honest with you,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Where you reenter the field like a sneak attack from behind the goal. You knew something was wrong with it when you saw it, just the eyeball test. But the laws of the game, that’s a violation.”

How it all happened was unique. In the 69th minute, Calvert went down injured on the Union goal line and remained there, writhing in pain. Not buying his injury, referee Jose Carlos Rivero went over to the player, held a conversation and immediately threw up the yellow card for dissent.

“The second yellow and yellows in that quick succession,” Curtin said, “it was probably in the referee's mind that something verbal was said and he was upset.”

With a warning on his name and with a trainer now at his side, Calvert, who scored his first MLS goal in the 15th minute but was unavailable to the media after the match, got to his feet and left the playing field behind the Union goal. Confused as to whether he could or couldn’t reenter the match, the 20-year-old forward hesitated briefly before sneaking back onto the field.

“They told me they were trying to tell him to stay off the field,” Rapids left back Eric Miller said. “But how many people were here tonight? 20,000? 20,000 people and the referee was 60 yards away, it’s gonna be tough to hear him probably.”

Calvert was carded again, this time with Rivero showing red, ejecting the youngster from the game.

“You don’t just quickly send a guy off for two dumb things in a row,” Miller said. “I’m sure he thinks he made the right call.”

Rapids assistant coach and former Union striker Conor Casey was also ejected. Head coach Pablo Mastroeni didn't make himself available to the media after the game.

“It’s tough when a referee has such a massive impact on the outcome of the game,” Miller said.

But the Union feel like the game was decided even before Calvert's ejection. While it did change the contest and made taking the lead with a Haris Medunjanin free kick goal a bit easier, Union attacker Chris Pontius believes C.J. Sapong’s game-tying penalty kick minutes before the incident is what stole momentum.

“I think they were rattled when we got the first goal,” said Pontius, who said he’s never witnessed anything like what happened Saturday. “I don’t think they knew what to do. I think even if they had 11 men, we were still getting another goal.”

Union battle back to beat Rapids for club record 4th-straight win

Union battle back to beat Rapids for club record 4th-straight win

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- With a second-half flurry and some help from referee Jose Carlos Rivero, Haris Medunjanin and the Union overcame a one-goal deficit to take down the Colorado Rapids, 2-1, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

The victory pushes the Union's win streak to a club record four games.

“Confidence is a heck of a thing,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “If you could bottle it up and sell it, you could make a heck of a lot of money. You see a group now that previously when we gave up a goal, we might lay down. We might panic. I don’t think we handled it perfectly, but we did push the game in the second half.” 

Playing their third match in eight days, the now 4-4-4 Union weren’t at their best Saturday against a Rapids team who are sitting dead last in MLS at 2-1-8. 

“Not all wins are going to be pretty,” Union attacker Chris Pontius said. “The first half definitely wasn’t us at all, we weren’t connecting passes, we were a little late with everything and played right into their hands.”

But trailing for the first time in four matches after a Caleb Calvert fast-break goal in the 15th minute, the hosts persisted and began to climb back into the game in the second half.

“I want to speak about the first 45 minutes. It was not us. It was very bad,” Medunjanin said. “We need to know that we can’t play arrogant and think we can easily beat every team. If we don’t fight for every yard, we are nothing.” 

From the right side of Rapids territory, Ilsinho fired a cross into the box that was pounced on by Jay Simpson, who entered for Fafa Picault just three minutes earlier. The forward’s shot hit Kortne Ford, who fell and practically hugged the ball, earning the in-box handball call and penalty kick. 

“We spoke with each other at halftime and we knew we had to stick with each other,” Medunjanin said. “We knew if we scored the first goal, we were going to win this game.” 

C.J. Sapong lined up at the spot and launched a high shot that found that first goal to tie the game at one. It was Sapong’s eighth of the season.

“The guy clearly made a hand ball and we got the PK,” Sapong said. “I tried to keep it on goal and it went in. It gave us a little bit of life.”

Then things got crazy. 

Embellishing an injury in an attempt to waste time, Calvert received a yellow card for dissent and was forced off the field as the trainer was called out. A confused Calvert then reentered the game without permission and received a second yellow and red-card ejection. In protest, former Union striker Conor Casey, now an assistant coach with the Rapids, was ejected in the 70th minute.

“Nothing’s going our way right now,” Rapids’ Eric Miller said. “So I think we’re pretty used to calls like that.”

Up a man, the Union rolled. Alejandro Bedoya suffered a foul just outside the box, allowing Medunjanin to lace the free kick over the Rapids’ defensive wall and inside the right post for the 2-1 Union lead.

“I know I can shoot from there and when I hit the ball, I knew it was going to go in,” Medunjanin said. “We don’t have star players. We need to fight with each other and take the three points with each other, even the bench and everybody out of the squad.” 

Having played Wednesday, the Union shifted their roster to stay fresh. Most notable was the absence of Fabinho, who was replaced in favor of Giliano Wijnaldum, who made his MLS debut. Fabian Herbers also made the start for Pontius on the right side of the midfield but was forced out in the 26th because of a hip injury.

“It was an opportunity for him,” Curtin said of Herbers. “Unfortunately, he could be out for some time.”