Philadelphia Union

Union wary of trap vs. winless Toronto FC

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Union wary of trap vs. winless Toronto FC

When they left Texas following a gutsy 1-1 draw with FC Dallas last Saturday, the Union had reason to believe their lackluster season could take a turn for the positive.

Their three-game losing streak had ended, they had scored for the second-straight time and with Toronto FC next on their schedule, the only winless MLS team, the Union were handed a golden opportunity to build on their momentum.

Yet, even though Saturday at BMO Field provides the perfect chance to beat up on a downed opponent, the Union, holding the league second-lowest point total, cant count anything as a guarantee.

They have no pressure on them, said Union defender Sheanon Williams of Toronto FC. The only way they can look is up and thats definitely dangerous for us. But were just looking at ourselves, we need wins as well and you cant really take anyone for granted. Were not sitting on top of the league looking down on everybody, were still looking up as well. So we need to keep inching forward. In this league, anyone can beat anyone on any given day.

Though Toronto FC is winless in its MLS campaign at 0-9-0, the Canadian club took the Canadian Championship with a 1-0 shutout win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday night. That, mixed with a bit of winless desperation, and the 2-6-2 Union are wary of walking into a trap.

Were not looking at the fact that they havent won a game yet, said Williams. Were looking at what they do well and what we need to do to succeed and get points out of the game.

We want to win all our games and we are going to Toronto with the intent that were going to get points. If we play like we've been playing and fight and be aggressive, I think we have a good chance of getting a good result.

Union coach Peter Nowak agreed that his team wont be looking past Saturday and hung his hope on the belief that his offense will continue to contribute. The Union, tied for the second-lowest goal total in the league, received two goals from Lionard Pajoy in a 3-2 loss to the New York Red Bulls two weeks ago and a goal by Gabriel Gomez on Saturday.

They have not been successful for seven, eight games,and we know they are desperate, said the coach of Toronto FC. We will not change our mentality, its important for us to continue the same way weve been playing. The second half against FC Dallas when we discussed things in the locker room, it gave the players confidence to know thats how were supposed to play. We executed very well in the second half. We were more dangerous and I think against Toronto will be another step forward in this direction.

While things are looking up for the Union, injuries could slow them down. Without goalkeeper Zac MacMath against FC Dallas because of concussion symptoms he suffered in practice and losing Carlos Valdes and Gomez to afflictions during the physical contest, Nowak is trying to play the prediction game with regards to who will be ready against Toronto FC.

Carlos is OK, said Nowak. He doesnt have any kind of problems. He received nine stitches, so it was a pretty open cut. But he had no complications after the game so hes going to try tomorrow. Gomez is still pretty banged up and has swelling in his knee. Back-up goalkeeper Chase Harrisons ankle doesnt have any fracture but is still swollen. The swelling is coming down but is still pretty purple and is bothering him.

The good news is that MacMath appears to be ready to make a return. However, because it is a concussion, the team has to follow specific rules set forth by the MLS.

Zac is coming back, said Nowak. Because of the protocol, even though hes clear of the symptoms, you cannot just throw him into practice. He needs to go and follow protocol with rest of the guys. The goalkeepers right now are going to train with helmets, all of them. I dont want to have any kind of problems in the future.

Open Cup vs. the Rhinos
One of the interesting facets of the annual Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is that all levels of organizations compete for a chance at the title. From semi-pro to the MLS, every club invited has a shot.

On Tuesday, three days after the Union take on Toronto FC in MLS play, the United Soccer Leagues Rochester Rhinos visit PPL Park to battle the Union in the third round of the Open Cup tournament.

The Union received a bye for the first two legs and arent taking the Rhinos lightly, as the USL is the primary minor league for MLS talent, which also features the Harrisburg City Islanders -- the Unions affiliate.

I played in Rochester and it wasnt pretty, said Nowak. And then coached twice over there and wasnt successful. Guys, especially in USL-PRO, are always looking to go back to the MLS and always want to show their best. For them its a chance. For us, after the Toronto game, we have to switch gears but were gonna play with the first team, thats for sure.

The Rhinos defeated the Brooklyn Italians to advance. The winner of the Rhinos and Union will face the the winner of the Richmond Kickers and DC United on June 5.

E-mail Ryan Bright at ryanbright13@gmail.com

Inside Doop: Andre Blake stars but Union offense lifeless again

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Inside Doop: Andre Blake stars but Union offense lifeless again

Under normal circumstances, finding a way to earn a point at Red Bull Arena would be a decent accomplishment for a Union team that’s won only one time there in 10 trips.

But considering where they are in the standings and how little excitement came from the game — except for the performance of one player — you’ll have to forgive Philly fans for not getting fired up about Sunday’s nationally televised scoreless draw vs. the New York Red Bulls.

Here’s a closer look at the game — and more — in this week’s Inside Doop.

Three thoughts about Sunday’s game
1. What more can you say about Andre Blake at this point? The star goalkeeper has been the team’s brightest star over the past two years, winning the Union points in games in which they had no business winning points. Sunday’s game was the latest example as Blake made eight sparkling saves, including seven in the first half, to keep the Red Bulls off the board. And Union fans can exhale after the goalie went down with what looked like a neck injury before popping back up. This was easily his best game since returning from his Gold Cup injury and a good sign heading into the offseason next month.

2. The team’s center back pairing has been in flux for much of the season, and on Sunday, Richie Marquez made his first start since April, alongside rookie Jack Elliott. Perhaps the most interesting part of this pairing is that Elliott, a fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft, has been the best and most reliable center back of a group that also includes veteran Oguchi Onyewu and Joshua Yaro, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft. And Marquez, a former late-round pick himself who emerged as one of the team’s top young players in 2015 and 2016, had fallen off the map until this weekend. So the biggest question now is whether Elliott continues his upward trajectory — the rookie put in another strong shift vs. the Red Bulls — or if he plummets on the depth chart like Marquez, who likely didn’t do enough to win back a starting role when everyone is healthy and available.

3. There was nothing doing offensively for the Union, who have generated very little in that department in road games this season. Against the Red Bulls, they had only two shots on target, missed a lot of passes, won only two corner kicks, and had less than 40 percent of the possession. The problems? Ilsinho getting yanked after playing only the first 45 minutes and Roland Alberg not getting on the field is another example of their inconsistency at playmaker. And over on the wings, Chris Pontius remains stuck on zero goals this season, Fafa Picault was absent with an illness, and Fabian Herbers’ injury absence continues to be a noticeable void. Aside from striker CJ Sapong, who’s enjoying a career year, which offensive player can you really count on going into 2018?

Three thoughts for the week ahead
1. What will the reception be like from Union fans when they return home to face the Chicago Fire on Saturday (7 p.m., TCN) for their first game at Talen Energy Stadium in nearly a month? Although not yet officially mathematically eliminated from the playoff race with five games left, the Union have less than a one-percent chance to get in thanks to a six-game winless streak. And although there have been a smattering of boos for head coach Jim Curtin in recent games, it seems apathy has set in for most of the fanbase as they come to terms with another lost season.

2. The biggest noise from the crowd may be for Bastian Schweinsteiger if he takes the field for Chicago; the German legend has been nursing an injury. But the Fire, in third place in the East and coming off a 3-0 shellacking of D.C. United, still have plenty of other weapons if he can’t go. And, in many ways, their rise from last place in the East the last two seasons to a legitimate MLS contender shows how quickly teams can turn things around — if they make shrewd moves and spend money in the right places. Can the Union learn from that this offseason?

3. Who will start at center back with Onyewu poised to return from a suspension and Yaro potentially back from a minor knee injury? Curtin has said he doesn’t want to just throw young guys in there but it might be nice to use a few games — especially against high-octane offensive teams like Chicago, Atlanta and Seattle — to try to figure out who would be a better option between Yaro or Marquez to play beside Elliott next year. Or maybe Onyewu showed he has enough left in the tank to return to a starting role next season? Or will they have to bring in someone else? There will, for sure, be some interesting offseason decisions at center back.

Stat of the week
The Union have won just one game and earned only nine road points through 15 contests this year (with two road games left). Aside from their 2010 expansion team, when they earned seven points in 15 road games, their lowest road point total for a season is 13 (2012 and 2015).

Quote of the week
“These are results now, on the road in recent weeks, where if we did our work early on in the season, they would be positive results. But right now, as we chase from behind, it’s difficult.”

— Union head coach Jim Curtin

Player of the week
Blake is the easy choice here. The final score could have been ugly without him.

Andre Blake spotless as Union draw Red Bulls

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Andre Blake spotless as Union draw Red Bulls

BOX SCORE

HARRISON, N.J.  -- Andre Blake made eight saves for Philadelphia and the Union and the New York Red Bulls played to a scoreless draw Sunday.

Philadelphia (8-12-9) and New York (12-10-6) are both winless in five straight games.

Blake denied Gonzalo Veron three times in the first half -- on a breakaway in the 32nd and on a close-range redirection in the 40th.

New York stars Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips entered as second-half substitutes and nearly combined on a goal in the 77th minute. Kljestan's free kick from the edge of the 18-yard box was punched away by Blake and Wright-Phillips' rebound attempt was deflected by Blake's foot and cleared off the line by Chris Pontius.

Blake was two saves shy of tying his career high, set against the New England Revolution on Sept. 26, 2015.