Union turn focus to Dallas after memorable win


Union turn focus to Dallas after memorable win

CHESTER -- With a dominating win over the New York Red Bulls last Saturday, the Union moved to the top end of the Eastern Conference, while also delivering one of the most memorable victories in team history.

But with dangerous FC Dallas entering PPL Park on Saturday, head coach John Hackworth has ordered a club-wide refocusing.

“We need to try and stay focused and stop thinking about New York,” Hackworth said. “So far this week, the team has responded positively. We’re focused on Dallas. There’s always a letdown because you build up the rivalry game and that importance, but we knew this stretch would be tough the whole time, so in our planning and the way we presented it, we talked about this four-game stretch being pivotal to our season.”

The players seem to have received the coach’s point.

“We can’t take any breaks or feel too good about ourselves,” Brian Carroll said. “We need to be focused all the time or [not] think too highly of ourselves. We don’t have that luxury. We understand how good Dallas is. Everybody is grounded and focused on what we need to do.

“They are one of the best teams in the league. They are dangerous, experienced and have a lot of young talent. It’s going to take everything we have for us to get a good result here.”

Yet, shedding potential overconfidence and contending with FC Dallas is easier said than done.

Armed with Union-killer Kenny Cooper and leading goal scorer Blas Perez, FC Dallas, 8-3-5 overall, poses difficult matchup problems for the Union with its size up front. In five career games against the Union, Cooper has scored five goals, including a pair of two-goal games.

“[Cooper] has been a player against this club in particular, he’s been tough to contain,” Hackworth said. “We’ll have to do a good job against Kenny. And if they are able to put both Kenny and Blas on the field at the same time, it gives you a two-headed monster. They haven’t gone that way much but we’re preparing for it. We will have to contend with some big-target forwards.”

Though FC Dallas is 1-2-3 in their last six and 1-3-3 on the road -- a record which saw them drop to third in the West, Hackworth hasn’t been able to find their vulnerability.

“FC Dallas has had a great start to the year, they’ve been near the top of the table all year,” the coach said. “They’ve had a very productive first half and are a very good team in all ways. We don’t see many weaknesses in their lineup. They’ve been consistent in the way they’ve played and it will be another big challenge at PPL.”

The confidence that Hackworth is trying to keep measured is also what could help the 7-5-4 Union come away with a result. While the club is coming off a pair of 3-0 wins over the Columbus Crew and Red Bulls, it’s how they’ve done it that’s been impressive.

Over the two-game winning run, the Union received three goals from veteran Conor Casey and single goals from Carroll, Sheanon Williams and Antoine Hoppenot. Union leading scorer Jack McInerney, who will miss much of July as part of the US Men’s National Team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, was kept off the board.

“What we’re doing right now is working pretty well,” Hoppenot said. “We’ve won a few games and offensively, we’re creating a lot of chances. We’re hitting our stride right now and it’s the perfect time to do that.”

Coinciding with red-hot offensive output, the Union also feel that by defeating the Red Bulls, a mental hurdle has been cleared -- a hurdle that can help them on Saturday.

“Our team knew we had to beat someone above us and that we hadn’t done it this year,” Hackworth said. “So beating a team in front of us in the standings, in particular, one of our rivals, was really important. We know we can do it.”

While spirits are high, the Union’s roster is at a low. Losing Keon Daniel to the Trinidad and Tobago Gold Cup team, the Union will also be without Kleberson (hamstring) and potentially Danny Cruz (bone bruise).

“The midfield is a little thin,” Hackworth said. “Kleberson is about the same place he was last week and that’s a negative. You would think he’d be getting better. Danny has been evaluated and got an MRI. While he doesn’t have a fracture, he can’t train right now. He is questionable for this week.”

Michael Farfan is expected to fill in for Daniel and Kleberson at center attack midfielder. As for potential Cruz replacements as an attacking winger, the cupboard is thin.  

“Hoppenot, [Leo] Fernandes, [Don] Anding -- We have guys that are ready,” Hackworth said. “A lot of those guys give you similar things to what Danny does. We’re also hopeful that he can play, we’re not counting him out yet. If I know Danny, he’ll do anything he can to put himself on the field Saturday.”

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.