Union turn focus to Dallas after memorable win

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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.”

Super sub Roland Alberg putting on potent show for Union

Super sub Roland Alberg putting on potent show for Union

CHESTER, Pa. -- Roland Alberg has been a terror for opposing teams. 

The latest attack from the Dutch bomber happened Saturday, while the Union were gridlocked in a scoreless draw with Sporting Kansas City. Alberg entered the match in the 65th minute and ended it in the 67th, when he launched a volley that beat goalkeeper Alec Kann. 

“I have to be patient, but when I come on the field, I have to do my thing,” Alberg said. “It’s a great team performance. We did a great job, got three points and we are happy with it.”

He added an assist for the 2-0 win (see game story)

“He’s a wonderful player,” said Union left back Fabinho, who assisted on Alberg's goal. “He came on and changed the game. I saw him and I know what he likes. I give the ball to him and he scores. He has nine goals. It’s nice for him. I hope he scores more.” 

That type of impact hasn’t been irregular for Alberg. With nine goals on the season in just 925 minutes played, the 26-year-old leads MLS in goals-per-90 minutes with 0.88. Only New York City FC’s Frank Lampard is close with .85.

“He’s far and away the leader in our league,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, who originally cited Alberg’s goals-per-90 stat. “He has a special quality.”

Yet, despite that “special quality,” Alberg remains a super sub, buried behind Tranquillo Barnetta at the center attacking midfield spot. He has two goals in his last four games — all coming off the bench.

“I have to show it every training, and then it’s the coach’s decision,” he said. “If [Curtin] uses me as a sub, I’ll do 100 percent my best. And if it’s as a starter, it’s the same thing for me. Of course every player wants to play as a starter, and me too. But it’s a long season. Playoffs, they are coming. So I’m patient.”

Alberg’s potency isn’t lost on Curtin, even if the manager doesn’t switch his winning formula. Though Alberg is pushing for a starting spot, the Union might just be more dangerous with him off the bench.

“He’s a starter on most MLS teams,” Curtin said. “It’s just a matter of having depth at that spot. He’s a very valuable player to our team and shows we have a deep squad. I can’t say enough about how well he’s played in any role. As a starter for us, he’s won us a bunch of games, and his role off the bench, he’s won us some games now, too.”

Roland Alberg's goal, assist propel Union past Sporting Kansas City, 2-0

Roland Alberg's goal, assist propel Union past Sporting Kansas City, 2-0

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- Roland Alberg entered the game at the perfect time.

With his club holding the man advantage as a result of Jimmy Medranda’s second yellow card in the 57th minute, Union manager Jim Curtin tapped Alberg off the bench to replace Fabian Herbers in the 65th minute. 

Two minutes later, the Union took the lead. From the left side, Fabinho found Alberg at the top of the box, where he teed off a shot at that ripped past Alec Kann to open scoring in the eventual 2-0 Union win over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium.

It was Alberg’s ninth goal of the season.

The Union now have wins in back-to-back games for the first time since March, pushing their record to 11-9-7 and temporarily jumping them over the New York Red Bulls for third in the Eastern Conference. SKC falls to 11-12-5.

Facing Sporting Kansas City at Talen Energy Stadium for the first time since the 2015 U.S. Open Cup title game, the Union, who lost that game in penalty kicks, wanted to dictate tempo. However, the club was unable to break down SKC’s stout midfield until the red cards started flying.

Already down a man, things began to unravel for SKC in the 87th minute, when Roger Espinoza was shown a straight red for tossing what appeared like an inadvertent elbow to the midsection of Alberg. 

In stoppage time, up two men, the Union put the exclamation point on the win. Alberg found Tranquillo Barnetta in an open pocket of the SKC defense, and with space, the Swiss veteran placed his shot to the right and in, sealing the 2-0 win.

Union-Sporting Kansas City 5 things: Looking for back-to-back wins

Union-Sporting Kansas City 5 things: Looking for back-to-back wins

Union vs. Sporting Kansas City
7 p.m. on TCN, Pregame Live at 6:30

The Union kept afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race last weekend by completing the season sweep of the Columbus Crew. Now, they have an opportunity to do something they’ve only done once this season — win back-to-back games. The Union (10-9-7) face Sporting Kansas City (11-11-5) Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know for the matchup.

1. Rookie power
In a surprising move, Union manager Jim Curtin tapped Josh Yaro and Fabian Herbers to accompany Keegan Rosenberry as starters on the road against the Crew. 

And the 2016 MLS SuperDraft trio, starting for the first time together, didn’t disappoint. 

“If you were to tell me before the game started that we’d get goals from Herbers and Rosenberry, I would probably tell you you were a little crazy,” Curtin said. “But we’re happy for them. I think it’s a big step in a tough atmosphere.”

Herbers opened the scoring for the Union by powering home a deflection off his own original shot. The goal was followed by a Rosenberry game-winning goal from a Tranquillo Barnetta pass into the box. 

“For Keegan, for Josh, for Herbers to step up the way they did in what I would call a big boy game, I think it shows them growing as players,” Curtin said. “It’s a real game out there where a team is fighting and is desperate to make a playoff push, we had to be alert for 90 minutes.”

The three had such an impact on last Saturday’s match that Curtin is likely to go to the kids again against SKC. Herbers made the start in place of Ilsinho, who is currently fighting off a foot injury.

“We’re a club that trusts young players and believes in playing young players,” Curtin said. “They rewarded us.” 

2. Bedoya’s impact
Although he won’t make the scoresheet, in three games, Alejandro Bedoya has impressed Curtin with his poise in the midfield and big-game calmness with the ball. 

“To think he’s in his preseason now is a scary thing,” said Curtin, who has played Bedoya 90 minutes in his last two games. “Three great performances and it’s only going to get better. I can’t say enough positives about him.”

What Curtin likes the most is Bedoya’s ability to keep possession and relax the game, something that helps a club overflowing with young players. 

“He has been a great influence on us keeping possession,” Curtin said. “It’s the simple balls that don’t show up in the stat sheet, where he catches it and just plays it to our outside back. That gives us time to catch our breath — it’s so valuable.”

SKC has noticed it, too. 

“They added a very good player, someone with a lot of experience and commitment to the game, especially in the midfield” SKC coach Peter Vermes said. “He poses a problem for any team they play against. For us, we have to be compact, we have to be smart and we have to take our chances really well.”

3. Tired SKC
The Union are catching Sporting Kansas City at the right time. Vermes’ club is winded after just one home match in its last seven. 

“We’ve had a lot of travel these last couple weeks, so going into this Philly game we want to conserve as much energy as possible,” SKC’s Benny Feilhaber said. “They are a really good team this year, so we’ll have our hands full. But we’re confident we can go in and get something out of it.” 

And the club has a right to be tired. In 11 days from Saturday’s match, SKC will have played in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago, home at Children’s Mercy Park, then away at BC Place against the Vancouver Whitecaps, before traveling cross-country to face the Union.

“Every game is very important, so we have to be able to give everything we’ve got, even though we’re running on fumes a little bit here,” Vermes said. “We’re going to have to dig down deep and muster up something with Philadelphia being as good as they are.” 

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: It doesn’t appear that Ilsinho will return in time for Saturday’s match, leaving Herbers as a starter on the right side of the midfield. He has two goals and four assists in five starts this season.

SKC: Although Dom Dwyer has four goals in his last five matches, Feilhaber has the ability to get everyone involved. The veteran midfielder has a goal and three assists in his last four matches.

5. This and that
• The Union are 4-5-4 against SKC all-time and an even 2-2-2 at home. 

• Despite being in playoff position, the Union have yet to win back-to-back games more than once this season. The only time they’ve claimed consecutive wins was on March 12 and March 20. And that started with a win over the Crew. 

• Each scoring a goal against the Crew, Rosenberry and Herbers were the first two rookies to score in a match since Colorado Rapids’ Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers did it in 2013.