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's red-hot Roland Alberg named MLS Player of the Week

Union's red-hot Roland Alberg named MLS Player of the Week

CHESTER, Pa. — Roland Alberg has never in his life been on a tear like he’s on right now.

And he’s being rewarded for it.

On Tuesday, the Union midfielder was named MLS Player of the Week after scoring four goals in his last two games, including the second hat trick in franchise history in Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Chicago Fire.

“It’s a good honor,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said following Tuesday’s practice. “I’m really happy with his contribution right now. And I think it’s the just start of something.”

Before his four-goal week, Alberg scored on a penalty kick in last Saturday’s 3-2 loss in New York City FC and logged a pair of goals in Philly’s 3-2 U.S. Open Cup victory on June 15.

That win set the Union up for a U.S. Open Cup showdown with the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium, where Alberg will once again likely be asked to carry much of the offensive load with standout striker C.J. Sapong questionable with an ankle injury.

“You need multiple players that can score goals,” Curtin said. “And he’s a guy that can, whether it’s with his right foot, left foot. You’ve seen in very limited minutes, he’s already second on the team in shots on goal. He gets on the ball and his first look is to play forward and go to the goal.”

Curtin still hopes to see some defensive improvements from Alberg, whose playing time sharply increased following the sudden departure of Vincent Nogueira due to personal health reasons.

For now, though, the Union are thrilled with the offensive production of a player who now has five league goals in only 512 minutes. He’s second on the team in scoring to Chris Pontius, who was named MLS Player of the Week earlier this month.

Alberg’s honor marks the first time in club history two players have been named MLS Player of the Week in the same season.

Before this season, the only players to win the award were Jack McInerney (2013), Justin Mapp (2011) and Sebastien Le Toux (twice in 2010).

'Silly goals' have Union defense searching for answers after loss to Whitecaps

'Silly goals' have Union defense searching for answers after loss to Whitecaps

CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union have a defensive problem.

It’s clear, following the club’s 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday (see story), that Jim Curtin’s once defensively stout team has sprung a leak. The Union have allowed nine goals in their last three MLS games.

“It’s a lot [of goals against] and I’m pissed about that,” Curtin, whose club is 1-2-0 since the Copa America break ended, said. “Don’t get me wrong, we’ll get it fixed, but it’s a lot of silly goals.”

The goals allowed, while plentiful, have been preventable. Like on Saturday, when Union goalkeeper Andre Blake bobbled a corner that ended up in his net. That was followed by a turnover in the midfield by Tranquillo Barnetta that left rookie Josh Yaro out to dry on a fast break in the open field.

“It’s preventable for us, as opposed to teams picking us apart with 20 passes at a time and a good finish,” Union full back Keegan Rosenberry said. “This is completely different.”

So, what's the root cause of these preventable goals? Is it the loss of Vincent Nogueira, who left the team three games ago because of health reasons? Is it Barnetta’s move to a more defensive midfield role shaking up the on-field chemistry?

“I probably can’t pinpoint one thing,” Blake said. “I think that some bounces aren’t going our way and the times we blocked the ball before, now we’re blocking and it’s going in. I think it’s one of those phases where you don’t want to think too much about it.”

Whether the Union want to think about it or not, the goals are pouring in. They allowed just 16 in 14 games prior to the Copa America break and nine in three since returning — not a healthy sign for a team clinging to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

“There’s no way we’re happy giving up this many goals,” Blake said. “I think we’re going through a phase and we have to hang tight, stick together and ride out the storm.”

Union's home win streak snapped, fall to Whitecaps, 3-2

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Union's home win streak snapped, fall to Whitecaps, 3-2

CHESTER, Pa. — Roland Alberg continued his scoring run (see story), but it couldn’t cover up for defensive mistakes, as the frustrated Union fell to the Vancouver Whitecaps, 3-2, on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

It’s not a feeling the group is used to or likes,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “The guys are disappointed, upset, frustrated.”

The loss, their second in three games, snaps a 10-game home unbeaten streak for the Union and sinks their record to 7-5-5 on the season and 6-1-2 at home. The Whitecaps move to 7-7-3.

“It’s difficult to lose at home here,” Curtin said. “But we had a good undefeated run and we’re going to start another one.”

Thing were looking up for the Union early. The hosts opened scoring in the 14th minute with an eye-opening display of skill from Tranquillo Barnetta, Ilsinho, Fabian Herbers and Alberg.

Barnetta began the play upfield off a turnover from Pedro Morales. And after ticky-tac passing at the top of the Whitecaps box, a one-touch delivery eventually found the feet of Herbers on the right side, giving the rookie space to fire off a right-footed volley that decked the upper left corner post.

That’s where Alberg pounced. The red-hot midfielder settled it off a Sebastien Le Toux deflection and easily placed it home for his fifth goal of the season — all of which came in the Union’s last three games.

“The feeling is great, but it’s a different feeling than Wednesday,” Alberg said, recalling his three-goal game against the Chicago Fire. “I’m disappointed about the result. I think we deserved more today, we played a great game. But in the end, no points and that’s a disappointment."

But the Whitecaps would counter just five minutes later on one of many Union mistakes. A corner cross into the box slipped through the hands of Andre Blake and onto the head of Andrew Jacobson and in.

“I’m disappointed,” Blake said. “It’s a mistake, and as a professional player, there will be times when you make mistakes. Unfortunately, that mistake cost a goal. I can’t dwell on it, it’s the past and I have to move on.”

The Whitecaps made it 2-1 in the 42nd by catching the Union overcommitted as a result of a Barnetta turnover in the midfield. On the counter, Kekuta Manneh torched Union defender Josh Yaro, cut to the middle and fired off a low shot that cleanly beat Blake. In the 84th minute, Christian Bolanos added the insurance when his shot was deflected in by Keegan Rosenberry.

"It was judgment," Yaro said. "That's part of playing. You make mistakes that cause a goal like that. It's not great, but there's nothing I can do about it now. I just have to let it go and move on."

It was the eighth goal the Union allowed in their last three games.

You win or you learn,” Curtin said. “And we’re learning right now.”

The Union fought back in stoppage time, when a corner was headed by Walter Restrepo back into the crease where Chris Pontius was waiting to make the finish. However, the match ended seconds after, 3-2.

“It’s a big win for us and a very important win,” Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson said. “Today, we wanted to show a little character and I think we showed a lot of character. Credit to the guys, it’s not an easy place to come. We’ve never won here, but we have tonight.”