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.”

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."