Union fall to Timbers in MLS season opener

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Union fall to Timbers in MLS season opener

BOX SCORE
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Scottish striker Kris Boyd scored the go-ahead goal and the Portland Timbers went on to win their home opener 3-1 over the Philadelphia Union on Monday night.
Boyd's first Major League Soccer goal came off Kalif Alhassan's cross in the 66th minute against Union goalkeeper Zac McMath.
Boyd, the Scottish Premier League's all-time leading scorer, was acquired by the Timbers in the offseason. His goal came with the match tied at 1 after a Portland own goal and Andrew Jean Baptiste's equalizer earlier in the half.
Alhassan added a goal of his own in the 76th minute in the MLS opener for both teams.
The Portland Timbers went 11-14-9 last year and finished out of the playoffs in their inaugural season, but they were 9-5-3 at home where they have the support of their wildly enthusiastic supporters' group, the Timbers Army.
Philadelphia finished 11-8-15 and reached the Eastern Conference semifinals, but the team was active in the offseason, bringing in 14 players and losing 13. Among the players gone are leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon.
Like last season, the Timbers Army opened the season at home by singing the national anthem before the entire stadium lofted colored cards -- small tarps actually, because of a driving rain -- in a "tifo" fan display in honor of the team.
Temperatures in the low 40s accompanied the rain when the nationally televised game started. The wind impacted the trajectory of the ball at times when it was airborne.
McMath had a strong first half, fending off five Timbers' shots.
The Union got a scare in the 24th minute when defender Carlos Valdes went down after a collision with Boyd. A stretcher was brought on to the field, but Valdes walked off and was able to return.
Philadelphia midfielder Gabriel Gomez's hard kick from out in front of the box was helped by Jean-Baptiste before it sailed past goalkeeper Troy Perkins for an own goal in the 51st minute. .
But the Timbers evened it in the 54th minute when Jean-Baptiste's header was bobbled by McMath and bounced into the goal.
Jean-Baptiste was selected with the eighth overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft this year out of Connecticut. He got the start Monday night because defender Futty Danso fractured a bone in his left foot during training and will be out four to six weeks.
Boyd was greeted with rousing applause during player introductions at the start of the match. The 28-year-old had 164 goals in 296 appearances in the SPL with Kilmarnock and Rangers. He was that league's top scorer for four seasons.
Another Timbers offseason acquisition, Franck Songo'o of Cameroon, who played last season for Spanish side Albacete. The 24-year-old injured his right knee in training and did not play.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber was at the game.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

With Vincent Nogueira gone, Roland Alberg surging at right time for Union

With Vincent Nogueira gone, Roland Alberg surging at right time for Union

CHESTER, Pa. — Roland Alberg is on fire.

The Dutch newcomer ripped the Chicago Fire apart on Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium, piling in three goals on goalkeeper Sean Johnson for a 4-3 Union win.

He even had the primary hand in a Fire own goal.

“It’s incredible,” Alberg said. “The fans are great. Everybody — the fans, the staff, my teammates — I don’t know the word but, yeah, they love me. It’s good. Look, I’m sweating now. It’s good.”

Wednesday's outburst was just a continuation of potent play from the elated midfielder, who scored his first MLS tally on Saturday against New York City FC. And even that goal was a continuation of momentum, as Alberg potted two goals against the Harrisburg City Islanders in the Union’s U.S. Open Cup opener on June 15.

That’s six (and a half) goals in one week.

“You can see when his number was called he was ready to come in,” midfielder Warren Creavalle said. “Even in the New York game, that shows his mentality. When it’s game time, he’s ready to play.”

But if you ask Union manager Jim Curtin, Alberg’s breakout was expected, if not overdue. Acquired this offseason from ADO Den Haag, the 25-year-old fought to break into the Union lineup since his 53-minute performance against the Seattle Sounders on April 16.

Since then, Alberg only played 15 total minutes, before being set loose against NYCFC.

“He’s great around goal, that’s for certain,” Curtin said. “He hits a heavy ball, he has a great left foot and he makes good decisions around the goal. There’s an adjustment period for everyone coming into this league; it’s a unique league. The dirty running, he’s really improved. We had a group that created a lot of chances tonight and he was a big piece in that.”

And Alberg’s surge happened at the perfect time. With Vincent Nogueira leaving the team as a result of health issues (see story), the Union needed to revamp with Tranquillo Barnetta playing a deeper role.

Enter Alberg.

“The beginning was difficult to find my way,” he said. “I think the last couple of weeks, it’s been going well. The team knows the way I play now so that’s important. I feel comfortable, good, relaxed. It feels good.”

Roland Alberg hat trick propels Union past last-place Fire

Roland Alberg hat trick propels Union past last-place Fire

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — It was Roland Alberg’s night.

With two goals in the first half and one in the second, the Dutch midfielder’s hat trick single-handedly propelled the Union past the Fire, 4-3, on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

“The feeling is incredible,” Alberg said. “I’ve never scored a hat trick in my life. This is the first time for me. I’m happy and I want to enjoy tonight.”

It was the second hat trick in Union history. Sebastien Le Toux owned the first, scoring three on April 10, 2010. Alberg, acquired in the offseason, now has four goals on the season, as he opened his MLS account on Saturday against New York City FC. 

“It’s great, I’m happy for him,” Le Toux said. “I already wrote the story, now I’m glad somebody else can step up and have a good game like that. I’m happy for him and mostly happy we won. He’s in good confidence right now, so it’s good he’s scoring.”

The win erases a bitter taste left by a loss to NYCFC on Saturday while keeping the Union atop the Eastern Conference with a record of 7-4-5. The Fire continue to struggle at 2-7-5. 

Before Alberg could take control, the Fire took the early lead, giving up a stunning fast-break goal from the Fire’s speedy David Accam in the second minute.

“He’s fast, he’s dangerous,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We got caught, he punished us.” 

Down one, Alberg took control.

In the 11th minute, on a play started by Chris Pontius, rookie Keegan Rosenberry whipped a cross from the right side that found the feet of Alberg in the box. The Dutchman faked the shot with his right, pulled left and fired off a shot that hit goalie Sean Johnson, banked off the post then deflected off Jonathan Campbell and in, tying the match at one. It was ruled a Fire own goal.

“It was phenomenal, man,” Warren Creavalle said of Alberg’s effort. “For me, he had four goals. He was great tonight. He really propelled us to this victory today. He was phenomenal.”

But that phenomenal game was just getting started.

The hosts grabbed the one-goal lead in the 15th minute, when Tranquillo Barnetta’s shot was saved by Johnson but still deflected off the right post. The rebound found Alberg, who easily scored. He followed that up with a finish off his own rebound just seconds before the halftime whistle. 

“We know that he’s really good in the box and his shot is incredible,” Barnetta said. “Then it’s our work behind him to give him the ball and help him that he can score. He had a great game, and that was really important for us.”

The 25-year-old continued rolling over the Fire in the 55th minute, when Pontius was blatantly pulled down in the Fire box. Without hesitation, Alberg jumped on the spot, where he easily fooled Johnson for the hat trick and 4-1 Union lead.

“Let him have it there, he was feeling it,” Pontius said. “That’s for the hat trick, so there’s no argument, that’s his.” 

The Fire would storm back, however, when Razvan Cocic made it 4-2 off a set piece in the 69th minute and Khaly Thiam scored in the 80th to bring his club within one. 

“There’s a lot of things we can learn from at the end of that game,” Curtin said. “We made some poor decisions but the guys did stick with it and closed it out.”

Union-Fire 5 things: Ready for redemption vs. last-place opponent

Union-Fire 5 things: Ready for redemption vs. last-place opponent

Union vs. Chicago Fire
7 p.m. on TCN

Suffering an uncharacteristic defeat Saturday at the hands of New York City FC, which snapped their eight-game unbeaten string, the Union (6-4-5) look to rebound quickly against Eastern Conference basement dwellers the Chicago Fire (2-6-5) on Wednesday (7 p.m./TCN) at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here’s five things to know:

1. Looking To Rebound
When the Eastern Conference’s top team travels to face one of the league’s worst home teams, it would be safe to expect a result. That didn’t play out for the Union in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to NYCFC at Yankee Stadium. 

Union manager Jim Curtin called it a wake-up call. 

“I said it to the guys, it’s the first time in 10 games we’ve been beat, so it feels bad right now," he said. "It’s an unfamiliar feeling and we need to get that out of our systems quickly.”

It’s the swiftness of that turnaround that has Curtin feeling optimistic. Following Saturday’s uncharacteristic loss, the Union immediately turn their attention to the last-place Fire on Wednesday. And they aren’t taking them lightly.

“The quick turnaround is good,” he said. “After a performance that you’re not happy with, to get back out on the field - we have a Chicago team coming in here that doesn’t concede a lot of goals. We’ll need to be sharp in both boxes to get three points here at home.”

2. Herbers and Sapong
After being without forward C.J. Sapong with a sprained ankle last weekend, Curtin hinted that his leading scorer could find the field on Wednesday, in limited duty. 

“We’re happy with how he’s progressed,” Curtin said. “He’s a good piece to be back in the mix, whether it’s Wednesday or Saturday is still to be determined. He’s progressing well.”

If Sapong can’t go in full, or at all, rookie Fabian Herbers would make his second consecutive start. He played the full 90 against NYCFC, impressing Curtin.

“I was happy with the chances he created against New York, especially in the second half,” Curtin said. “He makes good decisions around the goal.”

3. Fire’s struggles
Although the Fire have struggled of late, winning just one of their last six games and scoring just four goals over that span, they do own two wins on the season, including a a 1-0 victory over the Union on April 2. 

“The game in Chicago was in a tsunami blizzard, that gets thrown out,” Curtin said. “That was a frustrating game for us, we were disappointed with the result. We actually played pretty well. But I think both teams are a lot different now.”

The Union, yes. The Fire, not so much. The rare win aside, Veljko Paunovic’s club has struggled all season. Though the Fire were competitive against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, they lost, 2-1, keeping them at a league-low 11 points in 13 games.

“We have to fix our losing mentality,” said Paunovic, who will be without injured midfielders Matt Polster and Arturo Alvarez. “It’s not enough to participate in the game. It’s not the Olympics. It’s MLS, competitive level and we want to win every single game.”

And the Fire are halfway there. The club has only allowed 16 goals in 13 games – good for third best in MLS. Their downside is that they can’t score, owning just 11 goals all season, easily the lowest in the league.

“They don’t concede a lot,” Curtin said. “They’re fairly organized and don’t give up a lot of chances. When you do break through, you have to take advantage and you got to be really wary of the counterattack.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union - Roland Alberg: Just when you think Alberg might not be the right fit for MLS, he pops in a pair of goals in his U.S. Open Cup debut last Wednesday and scores his first MLS goal on Saturday against NYCFC. With Vincent Nogueira out of the picture, Alberg’s surge came at the perfect time. “I think he’s given us a real lift,” Curtin said. “He’s worked very hard on his fitness, he’s worked hard on the defensive side of the ball and he’s rewarded us.”

Fire - David Accam: The Fire are a team that doesn’t normally score. But when they do, there’s a decent chance Accam is the guy who does it. He has three of the Fire’s 11 goals this season, and he's done it in just six games. “He’s an incredibly dangerous player,” Curtin said. “He’s very fast, so we’ll need to be focused on him.”

5. This and that
• The Union are 5-6-5 all time against the Fire. 

• The Union are one of two teams (Orlando City SC) in the Eastern Conference undefeated at home. The Union are a powerful 5-0-2 at Talen Energy Stadium this season. 

• Meanwhile, the Fire are one of two teams (Columbus Crew) in the Eastern Conference without a win on the road. The Fire are 0-4-2 away from Toyota Park.