Interim coach Curtin lays out new plan for Union

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Interim coach Curtin lays out new plan for Union

Beginning his tenure as Union interim manager with a 3-7-6 record, Jim Curtin has a hill to climb to guide his club toward respectability in 2014.

And according to the coach, that’s not just the goal, it's the expectation.

“The results haven’t been there this year,” said Curtin, who was introduced as the team’s interim manager on Thursday. “We all know that. We only have three wins in 16 games, so the results haven’t been here. But the resources are here to win.”

Curtin’s first order of business is to guide the Union through the Open Cup, which begins on June 17 against the Harrisburg City Islanders. He hopes a strong run in the tournament helps set the Union in a winning direction.

“To put it simply, we’ve had a bunch of very good players have poor first halves of the season,” Curtin said. “We have 18 games left, that’s the good news. We have 18 games to get this ship right. We have the U.S. Open Cup, which we’re going to take very seriously. This club needs a trophy. There’s only two that you can lift, and that’s one of them, so we’re going to take that very seriously.”

Curtin’s plan to turn the Union around starts with three parts. The top point of emphasis will be fixing the Union’s leaky defense by improving focus and upgrading the little areas.

“So far this year, we’ve come up a little bit short on the defensive side,” he said. “To give up the amount of goals we have at home is unacceptable. To give up three goals and five goals can’t happen. No one’s harder on themselves than the players in this locker room. The message is that we have to get stuff right in front of the goal, on attacking restarts, defending restarts, we need to improve on that.”

After fixing fundamentals, Curtin’s second goal is to gain some chemistry with a consistent defensive lineup. No more shifting Sheanon Williams, Austin Berry, Fabinho and Ray Gaddis, off and on the field.

“There hasn’t been continuity,” Curtin said. “We’ve played different guys, and whether it was injuries or different situations that came up, we haven’t had a four that has been playing together, and that’s what it takes. You have to play with each other game in and game out and get used to each other and have a chance. The idea would be to pick a four and go with them, not have it be that we’re juggling game to game.”

The third part is a complete team reset.

“I’ve talked to every player so far on the team,” Curtin said. “They’re excited. Any time that there’s a coaching change, everybody feels that they get a new chance, which is true. I’m going to open this up and say, ‘Every guy has a new crack.’ Obviously, I’ve seen them and I’m familiar with them, but at the same time, I’m going to try to put that behind me and really open up for competition. Because a little bit of fear, a little bit of motivation for the guys that have been consistently in the lineup is a good thing. I think it’s a great motivator. Fear is a good motivator.”

After addressing his plan, Curtin took on his interim tag, stating that he wants to make it a tough decision for team executives to replace him. But immediately after, Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz made it clear the club is shopping for a full-time manager, though the decision will not be rushed.

Either way, Curtin is focused on one thing.

“A lot of the guys that are going to be interviewed are my friends, that I’ve played with in the league and I know them personally and that’s just the way it is,” he said. “Again, I don’t care if I’m fourth in command, third in command, second in command or first in command. I care about winning in this city.”

Union's Alejandro Bedoya called up to U.S. national team for key World Cup qualifiers

Union's Alejandro Bedoya called up to U.S. national team for key World Cup qualifiers

Throughout their seven-year history, the Philadelphia Union have had very few active players called up for U.S. national team duty.

That’s about to change now that Alejandro Bedoya is on the team.

On Sunday, it was announced that Bedoya — Philly’s marquee summer acquisition — is one of 26 players selected for important World Cup qualifiers vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.

The U.S. travels first to face St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sept. 2 (3:30 p.m., beIN SPORT) and will close out Group C action against Trinidad & Tobago on Sept. 6 (8 p.m., FS1).

That means Bedoya — who’s started the last four games for the Union, helping the club to a 3-1 mark in that stretch — will miss Philly’s road game vs. the Chicago Fire on Saturday (8:30 p.m., TCN). 

All-star goalkeeper Andre Blake also won’t be available for that contest, traveling with Jamaica for their World Cup qualifiers.

That will leave the Union, who are also managing injuries to midfielders Maurice Edu, Brian Carroll and Ilsinho, a little bit thin as they look to extend their winning streak to three games this weekend. 

But Bedoya’s inclusion on the USMNT roster is something the Union expected. The midfielder has been one of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s steadiest players over the past couple of years, as a starter in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Copa America Centenario. 

He’s already made 53 appearances with the U.S. national team and figures to make his first as a member of the Union on Friday.

If he does, he’ll be the second active Union player ever to play for the USMNT, following a Maurice Edu appearance in April 2014 in the buildup to the World Cup (he was later cut from the preliminary roster, along with Landon Donovan, before the U.S. left for Brazil). Prior to Edu’s appearance, the closest a Union player had come to earning a USMNT cap was when Jack McInerney was selected to the 2013 Gold Cup squad but didn't play in any games.

Super sub Roland Alberg putting on potent show for Union

Super sub Roland Alberg putting on potent show for Union

CHESTER, Pa. -- Roland Alberg has been a terror for opposing teams. 

The latest attack from the Dutch bomber happened Saturday, while the Union were gridlocked in a scoreless draw with Sporting Kansas City. Alberg entered the match in the 65th minute and ended it in the 67th, when he launched a volley that beat goalkeeper Alec Kann. 

“I have to be patient, but when I come on the field, I have to do my thing,” Alberg said. “It’s a great team performance. We did a great job, got three points and we are happy with it.”

He added an assist for the 2-0 win (see game story)

“He’s a wonderful player,” said Union left back Fabinho, who assisted on Alberg's goal. “He came on and changed the game. I saw him and I know what he likes. I give the ball to him and he scores. He has nine goals. It’s nice for him. I hope he scores more.” 

That type of impact hasn’t been irregular for Alberg. With nine goals on the season in just 925 minutes played, the 26-year-old leads MLS in goals-per-90 minutes with 0.88. Only New York City FC’s Frank Lampard is close with .85.

“He’s far and away the leader in our league,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, who originally cited Alberg’s goals-per-90 stat. “He has a special quality.”

Yet, despite that “special quality,” Alberg remains a super sub, buried behind Tranquillo Barnetta at the center attacking midfield spot. He has two goals in his last four games — all coming off the bench.

“I have to show it every training, and then it’s the coach’s decision,” he said. “If [Curtin] uses me as a sub, I’ll do 100 percent my best. And if it’s as a starter, it’s the same thing for me. Of course every player wants to play as a starter, and me too. But it’s a long season. Playoffs, they are coming. So I’m patient.”

Alberg’s potency isn’t lost on Curtin, even if the manager doesn’t switch his winning formula. Though Alberg is pushing for a starting spot, the Union might just be more dangerous with him off the bench.

“He’s a starter on most MLS teams,” Curtin said. “It’s just a matter of having depth at that spot. He’s a very valuable player to our team and shows we have a deep squad. I can’t say enough about how well he’s played in any role. As a starter for us, he’s won us a bunch of games, and his role off the bench, he’s won us some games now, too.”

Roland Alberg's goal, assist propel Union past Sporting Kansas City, 2-0

Roland Alberg's goal, assist propel Union past Sporting Kansas City, 2-0

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- Roland Alberg entered the game at the perfect time.

With his club holding the man advantage as a result of Jimmy Medranda’s second yellow card in the 57th minute, Union manager Jim Curtin tapped Alberg off the bench to replace Fabian Herbers in the 65th minute. 

Two minutes later, the Union took the lead. From the left side, Fabinho found Alberg at the top of the box, where he teed off a shot at that ripped past Alec Kann to open scoring in the eventual 2-0 Union win over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium.

It was Alberg’s ninth goal of the season.

The Union now have wins in back-to-back games for the first time since March, pushing their record to 11-9-7 and temporarily jumping them over the New York Red Bulls for third in the Eastern Conference. SKC falls to 11-12-5.

Facing Sporting Kansas City at Talen Energy Stadium for the first time since the 2015 U.S. Open Cup title game, the Union, who lost that game in penalty kicks, wanted to dictate tempo. However, the club was unable to break down SKC’s stout midfield until the red cards started flying.

Already down a man, things began to unravel for SKC in the 87th minute, when Roger Espinoza was shown a straight red for tossing what appeared like an inadvertent elbow to the midsection of Alberg. 

In stoppage time, up two men, the Union put the exclamation point on the win. Alberg found Tranquillo Barnetta in an open pocket of the SKC defense, and with space, the Swiss veteran placed his shot to the right and in, sealing the 2-0 win.