The Inside Doop: Union season hits new low

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The Inside Doop: Union season hits new low

Is this the bottom?

On Saturday, the Philadelphia Unions disappointing season reached a new level when they dropped a 1-0 decision to previously winless and pointless Toronto FC. And afterwards, Union manager Peter Nowak whos already under heavy scrutiny from fans blasted his teams effort and execution.

Heres a closer look at the loss that dropped the Union to 2-7-2 on the season, and a look ahead to whats next for the struggling club:

Three thoughts from Saturdays game

1) Throughout his tenure as Union boss, Nowak has been living dangerously by keeping few natural defenders on his roster. That cost the Union on Saturday when right back Ray Gaddis needed to come out of the game in the first half because he was feeling sick. With no defenders on the bench in part due to the recent trade of Danny Califf, the international absence of Porfirio Lopez and an injury to Chris Albright Nowak plugged midfielder Michael Lahoud into the backline. And it was Lahoud who ended up getting victimized on the play that led to the games only goal in the 88th minute.

2) Nowak was upset with the entire team for putting only two shots on target but specifically called out Freddy Adu for not having a feeling for the game in Toronto. Adus performance was especially disappointing because he was brilliant in the first half against the Red Bulls two weeks ago before missing the next three halves because of a red card. Union fans should pray that red-card suspension didnt stall the momentum the talented midfielder was building and that Adu can regain his footing as the teams top playmaker.

3) Due to injuries to Zac MacMath (concussion symptoms) and Chase Harrison (ankle sprain), the Union started their third goalie in as many games. And just as Harrison did last week, third-string keeper Chris Konopka performed excellently in net, making six saves and keeping his team in the game despite an offensive onslaught from Toronto. The Union have shown they have an impressive collection of goalkeepers, even if all three dont have much MLS experience. Right now, that position is the least of their concerns.

Three questions for the upcoming week

1) The Union have an interesting upcoming schedule. Their next league game is not until June 16 but they have a U.S. Open Cup game Tuesday at PPL Park and then a pair of friendlies against affiliates Reading and Harrisburg on June 9 and June 12, respectively. Some teams value the U.S. Open Cup an expansive tournament involving American clubs from all levels more than others but leading up to Phillys contest against the Rochester Rhinos of the USL-Pro Division, Nowak said he will play his first team. Still, given that its not a league game, it will be interesting to see if the Union boss decides to rest some of his banged-up players.

2) A loss to Toronto FC seemed to really rile up the Union fan base. What will happen if the club loses to a lower-division team at home three days later? It certainly wont be pretty.

3) While Lionard Pajoy and Danny Mwanga have taken hold of the starting striker spots, there looks to be an interesting battle brewing for their top backups. Rookie Antoine Hoppenot, a 2012 supplemental draft pick, got 25 surprising minutes against Toronto (after playing just one minute previously in his MLS career) and Josue Martinez also got some run. Meanwhile, 2010 first-round pick Jack McInerney, who hasnt even made the 18-man roster over the past few weeks, made a case for himself by scoring a pair of goals in the clubs Reserve League game in Toronto. Throw rookie Chandler Hoffman into the mix and the Union have a lot of options up top. The question now is which of those players, if any, can help the Union start to score goals. Speaking of which

Fact of the week: Danny Mwanga has played 1,283 minutes since his last goal.

Quote of the week: I congratulate Toronto coach Aron Winter because they wanted it more. They played better. They competed for every ball. They chased for every ball. Thats how teams should play in this league. Union manager Peter Nowak

Player of the week: Despite it being only his second MLS start of his career, Chris Konopka looked comfortable and in control. He was certainly the Unions best player in what was an otherwise forgettable game in Toronto.

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com and CSNPhilly.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin. The Inside Doop appears every Monday.

Union-Crew 5 things: Still in good position, Jim Curtin's club looks to rebound

Union-Crew 5 things: Still in good position, Jim Curtin's club looks to rebound

Union at Crew
7:30 p.m. on TCN

Despite being dominated by Toronto FC on Saturday, the Union (9-9-7) managed to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, thanks to a handful of fortunate results around the league. But if the club wants to better its odds for the postseason, it needs to take care of business at Mapfre Stadium Wednesday night against the Columbus Crew (4-8-11).

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Playoff push
It hasn’t been a convincing few weeks for the Union. Although the club still sits fourth in the Eastern Conference despite one win in its last six games, it needs points to stay afloat. That quest begins Wednesday against the Crew.

“The focus is getting points,” Union defender Richie Marquez said. “For us, home or away, we need three points because we need to solidify that playoff spot.”

As of now the Union are in snug playoff position with 34 points — one ahead of the Montreal Impact and six in front of D.C. United and Orlando City for the sixth and final playoff spot. On the plus side, the club is one point behind the New York Red Bulls with a game in hand.

“It’s a push to get into the playoffs and try to see how high we can end up in the table,” Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “It’s important we don’t look too much at the standings because anything can happen in this league. It’s all really tight. It’s important we go to Columbus with the right mentality and come back to Philly with three points.”

2. Coming off a loss
Speaking of the playoff push, the Union’s dream of being a top-two seed in the East took a major hit Saturday in a 3-1 bashing by Toronto FC. The loss put Toronto up six and New York City FC up seven on the Union. 

Worst of all, it crushed all Union momentum coming out of a 4-0 win over the New England Revolution a week prior. Still, the club maintains its confidence heading into Wednesday.

“I feel good about this team and the players we have,” Bedoya said. “The goals we gave up were too easy. We have talent on this team, but there’s little things we have to fix. Once we get those right, we’ll be tough to break down.” 

As Jim Curtin explained, the short turnaround from Saturday actually works in the Union’s favor. 

“We were smart with how we managed the past two days in terms of getting the guys massages, taking care of their bodies, eating right and getting enough sleep,” he said. “They’ll be ready to go, they’re itching to get the bad taste out of their mouth after the Toronto game.”

3. Win-starved Crew
With the help of Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain, the Crew took down the floundering Revolution over the weekend. But that’s nothing to celebrate over. It was just the club’s fourth win of the season and second since May 28. 

The Crew are currently closer to having the lowest point total in MLS than a playoff spot.

“It’s been tough,” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It’s a team that I believe in deeply but it’s natural that confidence dips when you don’t get the results. It’s about believing in our playing style and fine-tuning things, approving in some areas. I think we did that in the last game.” 

Though the Crew attempt to climb out of the basement Wednesday, they know what they are up against. The Union took the first season meeting against the Crew, 2-1, and the second, 3-2. 

“They added Bedoya, who is a quality player,” Berhalter said. “Other than that, it’s similar to what they’ve been doing all year with [C.J.] Sapong and talented players behind him. Bedoya makes a good difference there, but they are a solid group and they’ll play with intensity. From our side, we’ll have to be smart how we approach the game.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: Facing the Crew twice this season, the Union have five goals. Chris Pontius has three of them. The Union forward scored the brace on March 12, then buried another on June 1. 

Crew: MLS rookie Ola Kamara leads the Crew with 10 goals, including one against the Union on June 1. Since May 28, the forward has 10 goals and one assist in 12 games.

5. This and that
• Facing the Crew has always been tough for the Union. Including two wins this season, the Union are 6-10-1 against the Crew all-time.

• The Union have only suffered back-to-back losses twice this season, and both times it happened in the club’s last 10 games.

• Of Kamara’s 10 goals this season, six have come at home. 

• The first-ever meeting between the Union and Crew happened on Aug. 5, 2010, and was a 2-1 loss for the Union. Sebastien Le Toux scored a penalty kick but Steven Lenhart buried the brace.

Jim Curtin downplays Ken Tribbett benching, considers it learning experience

Jim Curtin downplays Ken Tribbett benching, considers it learning experience

CHESTER, Pa. -- Ken Tribbett had a bad night. 

The rookie defender was tabbed for three first-half goals against, causing Union manager Jim Curtin to pull him at halftime for Josh Yaro, in the club’s eventual 3-1 loss to Toronto FC at Talen Energy Stadium (see game story).

“It’s hard, it’s a hard decision,” Curtin said. “Obviously, three goals is unacceptable at home. It’s not all on Ken, we’re a team and we’re together, but at the same time, I think he had a tough half.”

In his club suit, sitting alone in his locker room stall, Tribbett didn’t run from the situation.

“He didn’t say too much, but to just keep my head up,” he said, of Curtin’s halftime response. “[Toronto FC players] are fast, they’re strong and had good finishes. The situation called for a quicker type player in Yaro.” 

Although Tribbett has been mistake-prone since taking over the starter spot from Yaro in late March, Curtin has stuck with his player throughout almost any matchup. But on Saturday, the manager hit a breaking point, leaving the quicker Yaro, another rookie, in charge of marking Toronto FC’s speedy forward Sebastian Giovinco, who scored his club’s first goal of the match. 

“With the speed of Josh, I thought maybe that was a better matchup dealing with Giovinco,” Curtin said. “It’s a hard decision but it’s a young back line that’s still learning every day, getting better every day.”

If Yaro was the better match for Giovinco’s speed, then why wouldn’t Curtin have gone with that lineup for Saturday? The manager's thought process began with the 4-0 shutout win over the New England Revolution last weekend.

“It’s tough to change my thinking after a 4-0 performance,” Curtin said. “It’s tough to change the lineup. It would be over-tinkering, I think. Tonight it didn’t work out. At the same time, we learn from it. We will watch the tape, there’s things we can do better.”

But while the result was poor for Tribbett, the ask was astronomical. Tribbett couldn’t contain Giovinco on Toronto FC’s first goal, lost his mark on the club’s second goal and was unable to dispossess Jozy Altidore on the third goal. Not many people can stop Giovinco and Altidore, which is why Curtin is building up, not beating down his fresh-faced defender.

“As hard as the night was for Ken, you still learn from it,” he said. “You have to. He’ll be fine. You learn in these big games against top forwards.” 

But in the end, Tribbett’s night wasn’t all gloom. Getting on the end of a Tranquillo Barnetta free kick, the 23-year-old buried his second goal of the season off a strong header. That, not the benching, is what he’ll remember most. 

“It felt good, the ball was whipped in with pace so I was able to whip it in as well,” he said. “It was a special one, special for me, the first one at home.”

Tribbett, Union out-classed by Toronto FC in 3-1 loss

Tribbett, Union out-classed by Toronto FC in 3-1 loss

CHESTER, Pa. -- What was supposed to be a memorable home debut for Alejandro Bedoya and Charlie Davies ended in a bitter and lopsided loss, as the Union were steamrolled by high-powered Toronto FC on Saturday, 3-1, at Talen Energy Stadium.

“It just wasn’t our night,” said Union manager Jim Curtin. “Credit to Toronto, they are a very good team. Organized, tough to break down. They have guys that punish you if you make a mistake. They were clinical with their chances.”

The loss drops the Union, now 9-9-7, six points behind second-place Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference standings. The Canadian side moves to 11-7-7.

“We still know we’re doing a lot of things the right way,” Curtin said. “We’ve earned 34 points in this league, which is good. We’ll continue to pick up points down the stretch and get into the playoffs.” 

It was an eventful first half for Ken Tribbett that ended in the center back being pulled in favor of Josh Yaro at halftime. 

“The situation called for a quicker type player in Yaro,” Tribbett said.

With one sub down, Curtin tapped Roland Alberg and Fabian Herbers as his final two subs, leaving Davies on the bench, while Bedoya played the full 90.

“I didn’t think I would go 90 tonight but with the circumstances of the situation, I did,” Bedoya said. “It’s good I was able to go 90, get my fitness up.” 

In the 18th minute, Marco Delgado found Sebastien Giovinco with a lead pass that placed the Italian along with Tribbett in the Union box. With ease, Giovinco flew by by the Union defender and fired off a shot that deflected off the right post and in for the 1-0 Toronto lead. 

“It’s easy to play with good players,” said Toronto forward Jozy Altidore. “Seba’s first touch is nothing short of sublime, he puts himself in a good position to make the finish.” 

It was his league-leading 16th goal this season.

“You don’t want to get beat by one pass, but that pass Delgado plays is an unbelievable ball,” Curtin said. “And the way Giovinco handles it without breaking stride is next level stuff.” 

Then it was Tribbett’s turn. In the 24th minute, Tranquillo Barnetta absorbed a foul just yards from the Toronto FC box, giving himself a golden opportunity at goal. The Swiss playmaker placed a perfect free kick that found the head of streaking, 6-foot-2, Tribbett for the equalizer. 

“I’d give more credit to Tranquillo because he put it in the absolute perfect place,” Tribbett said. “All I did was run and put my head on it. Perfect goal.” 

Yet, the match would change for good in the 30th minute, when a Michael Bradley free kick found net off a diving header from Drew Moor, who beat Tribbett and squeaked his attempt between Blake and the right post for the 2-1 advantage. The visitors made it 3-1 in the 44th minute, when Jozy Altidore out-muscled Tribbett, then the entire Union defense before placing a shot past Blake.

“The second and third for me are unacceptable,” Curtin said. “As a back line, we need to do a good job but everyone needs to do a good job, as well.”