Philadelphia Union

Union view Saturday's friendly as chance to stay sharp

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Union view Saturday's friendly as chance to stay sharp

CHESTER, Pa. -- Between Freddy Adu being traded, Bakary Soumare’s request to leave and a road test against rival New York Red Bulls the following week, an International Friendly against Club Universidad Nacional A.C. on Saturday at PPL Park has taken a back seat in terms of club importance.

But that doesn’t mean the Union won’t try to make the most of it.

“We’re focused on New York,” Union coach John Hackworth admitted. “Normally, I would have done some scouting on Pumas to this point but I haven’t even done that. I’ve let my assistant handle that because a couple things have come up that require my attention. The reality is that our focus is on New York, but this game allows us a competitive situation to play in and see if what we’re doing in training is working on the game field.”

In the past, the Union’s international friendlies have landed in the dead middle of the season, disrupting whatever flow the team possessed. And though facing Mexico City-based club Pumas comes early in 2013, the 2-1-0 Union aren’t afraid.

“From where I’m sitting, I think it’s good for us. It allows us to push through the week but still keep in the rhythm with a game,” said Hackworth, whose club is on a two-game winning streak. “In the past, when you get out of rhythm and you have a big break, it can throw things off. With us playing well you want to continue along the same process and that’s what we’re doing.”

Hackworth noted that the friendly allows his club to still prepare for a game without the late-week stress. He was also excited about getting non-starters, about 10 to be exact, a chance for playing time.

“It allows us to keep in a rhythm and allows us to take pressure off our preparation,” Hackworth said. “Normally, if we were playing a league game, our Thursday and Friday is dedicated to preparing for that opponent. We don’t necessarily have to do that this week. It’s an international friendly and we want to stay in the same rhythm, get a bunch of guys an opportunity that haven’t been on the field a lot yet. It’s good competition and you will see that on Saturday.”

Trying to dissect what the Pumas are bringing to PPL Park wasn’t an interest for Hackworth, who would rather see what his team brings than strategize around a friendly. Giving playing time and evaluating players like Roger Torres, Leo Fernandes, Antoine Hoppenot, Matt Kassel, Jimmy McLaughlin, Aaron Wheeler and Cristhian Hernandez, is what Hackworth is looking for.

Similarly, Pumas, who currently sit sixth in Liga MX, are expected to field a team of mainly academy players.

“They are a good team, they’ve always been a good team,” Hackworth said of Pumas. “It’s an honor and privilege to play against them at PPL. We’ll treat this the way we’ve treated all of our other international friendlies, we’ll go out and try to win the game. But our focus is providing opportunities and improving on things we need to work on. We’ll focus on that more than preparation for what they will be like.”

Although the young Union players will be seeing a bulk of the time, injured team starters might make an appearance. Players like Gabe Farfan and Conor Casey, who have injured hamstrings, could use Saturday as a step back from rehab.

Yet, whether he plays or not, Farfan sees the friendly as a great chance for everyone in the match to prove something.

“Anytime you get to spend time on the field it’s a quality time,” Farfan said. “You can always impress the coaches, whether it’s in training or in a friendly like this. There’s always an opportunity like this that comes along to help your chances at playing time.”

Inside Doop: Blowing a lead ahead of toughest game of the season

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Inside Doop: Blowing a lead ahead of toughest game of the season

The Union traveled all the way across the country, scored a couple of goals, and came within seconds of pulling off a huge win over a team that rarely loses at home.

In the end, of course, that will only make Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes even more frustrating as Union coaches and players are well aware that stringing together wins is the only way to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive.

In this week’s Inside Doop, we’ll take a look at how a win turned into a draw and the brutally tough week that lies ahead.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. Anyone who’s watched the Union for the last eight seasons knows one-goal leads are never safe in the final minutes, especially on the road. And in San Jose, some of those old ghosts came back to haunt the Union again as a late penalty called on Josh Yaro allowed Chris Wondolowski’s 95th-minute PK to tie the game and spoil an otherwise positive performance. Afterwards, Haris Medunjanin threw his arms up in the air and stormed off the field, the team’s first-year midfielder perhaps learning some of the many frustrations that comes along with being a Union player.

2. Yaro has now made critical mistakes in each of his last three starts, all filling in for Oguchi Onyewu. That’s surely a tough thing for Union fans to swallow considering Yaro was the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft and is not really progressing as well as he should be, injuries aside. Contrast that, meanwhile, with Jack Elliott, the 77th pick in the 2017 draft. Elliott continued to build his case for Rookie of the Year with maybe his pest performance yet, scoring his first MLS goal and looking far more comfortable defensively than Yaro, his center back partner.

3. Questions certainly remain about Roland Alberg’s consistency and chemistry with teammates, but we can’t forget that he’s one of the better ball strikers this team has ever had. He showed that again Saturday with a very nice goal that put the Union ahead 2-1 early in the second half. With Ilsinho hurt, some may have thought promising rookie Adam Najem would assume the No. 10 role. But until the team is eliminated from the playoff contention, Alberg will likely still get the chance to show just how dangerous he can be and perhaps keep racking up the goals.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. Any time a team has to play games Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday, it’s a rough stretch. This one is even harder for the Union considering they had to fly back to Philly from San Jose before they quickly turn around to head to Toronto and face the league’s best team Wednesday, and then come back home to host upstart expansion side Atlanta United FC on Saturday. As always, there will be questions as how head coach Jim Curtin deals with minute management to keep everyone fresh. It might be especially interesting to see if he’d consider resting anyone in Toronto considering even a full-strength Union team has little chance of knocking off Toronto FC, who are currently 9-0-3 at home and maybe even one of the best MLS teams ever assembled. That said, if the Union can pull off the upset, it would be a huge boost toward their playoff push and a moment they’ll remember for a long time.

2. Remember Maurice Edu? The Union midfielder hasn’t played an MLS minute in nearly two years but suited up for USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel on Sunday, playing just over 30 minutes vs. Louisville City. Does that mean he’s ready to play for the Union? Not necessarily. Last year, he made three rehab appearances with Bethlehem, before then getting hurt as he was set to play for the Union. So the coaches may still want to give it a bit more time with the Steel, meaning a trip to Toronto is unlikely.

3. Another player who’s probably closer to returning is Andre Blake, who’s now missed eight straight games because of the Gold Cup and hurting his hand in the tournament final. John McCarthy continues to play well in his absence, but getting Blake back in time to face a star-studded Toronto attack could make a huge difference north of the border.

Stat of the week
With his goal Saturday, Alberg is tied for second on the team in goals this season with five. He also finished second on the team last season in that category, and his 14 total goals in nearly two seasons ranks fifth all time.

Quote of the week
“Both teams needed three points to be honest, so a tie kind of doesn’t do much for either of us at this stage.”

— Union head coach Jim Curtin, after Saturday’s 2-2 draw

Player of the week
On top of his goal, Elliott also helped set up the team’s second goal and made a couple of huge clearances in the box. The rookie was, by far, the team’s best player on the night.

Union squander late lead in San Jose, finish with draw against Earthquakes

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Union squander late lead in San Jose, finish with draw against Earthquakes

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Chris Wondolowski scored on a penalty kick in stoppage time to give the San Jose Earthquakes a 2-2 tie with the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night.

Shea Salinas drew a foul on Joshua Yaro in the penalty area to set up the penalty kick in the 95th minute. With his 10th goal, Wondolowski became the first player in MLS history with eight straight double-digit seasons.

Roland Alberg scored in the 55th to put Philadelphia (8-11-6) up 2-1.

Valeri Qazaishvili scored three minutes for San Joe (9-10-6). He eluded two defenders before punching it between two more defenders.

Jack Elliott tied it in the 35th with his first goal of the season, knocking the ball in on the left side of the net.