Union, Farfan avoid scare to defeat United

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Union, Farfan avoid scare to defeat United

CHESTER, Pa. -- Although Thursdays contest wasnt without its share of dramatics and hair-pulling frustration, the Union are three points closer to where they want to be.

With a headstrong effort by Michael Farfan to score the deciding goal early in the second half, the Union survived handing back an early two-goal lead to DC United, en route to defeating their Eastern Conference rivals, 3-2, at PPL Park.

I think the team came together very well, said coach Peter Nowak. Its always been our strength to not look back. Its easy to do that after giving up a two-goal lead. I thought we played very good soccer and deserved to win the game. The work we all did, I applaud the group and how well they work together, how well they respect each other and approach the game.

The winning result, their second in three games, pushes the Unions record to 10-7-13 and puts them in second place in the conference with 43 points, just one behind Sporting Kansas City. The Union also hold a game in hand.

The playoff race keeps getting tighter and tighter, said midfielder Amobi Okugo, who earned a start. Teams behind us are pressuring, so this was a good win for us, especially at home.

With the contest locked at two and the Union struggling to find pressure in the second half, Farfan took what the United defense gave him and finished with authority for his second of the season. In the 57th minute, Farfan broke the ankles of defender Brandon McDonald and cruised uncovered to the top of the United box. With the backs failing to close the gap, Farfan was able to launch a hard, confident strike that beat goalie Bill Hamid clean for the 3-2 Union lead and eventual victory.

I saw a little bit of space in front of me so I just took it, said Farfan. They gave a big amount of space so I took it and took the shot.

Yet, despite the late-game heroics from Farfan, the match began with the Union in full control before the home side began flirting with disaster.

Sebastien Le Toux wasted little time continuing his scorching hot streak by taking an all-too-easy pass in the fourth minute from back Carlos Valdes. The lofty played ball trickled right down the middle of the box and split the sleeping United defense before landing at the feet of the streaking Frenchman, who took two steps and fired it low past Hamid for the early 1-0 Union lead.

I saw Sebastien making a run behind the defender so I tried to play it behind him, said Farfan. Le Toux had a really nice touch and played a really nice ball.

Not satisfied with just one, Le Toux doubled the Union lead in just the 15th minute after accepting a picture-perfect pass from Farfan that sailed over the head of the lone United defender and laid gently on Le Touxs right foot. With little effort needed, the striker earned his 10th goal of the season by ripping a shot to the left side and in.

It was Le Touxs ninth in eight games and team-leading 10th of the season.

With the convincing early lead, three points was within striking distance for the Union, hungry to improve their playoff position. However, the United werent going into the locker room without showing off a little heat of their own.

In the 22nd minute off a corner kick from Austin Da Luz to the left of goalkeeper Zac Macmath, Dwayne De Rosario, who has five goals in his last three games and 11 in total for the season with United, easily headed the ball past MacMath to cut the Unions lead in half, 2-1.

Feeling the confidence surge from their goal, the Uniteds Andy Najar took the contest into his own hands in the 30th minute. After fending off a potent flurry from Okugo, Veljko Paunovic and Roger Torres, Najar, with the Union attackers pinned, took a hand pass from Hamid and went into the Union end on a fast break. Moving coast-to-coast with the ball and with the Union defenders playing off of him and Farfan, who swapped with left back Gabriel Farfan, struggling to recover, Najar swerved through the zone before firing a shot from the top right of the box that beat MacMath clean to lock the game at two at half.

The team handled it really well, said MacMath about the sudden change in momentum. We came into the locker room and knew we were better than them, we knew we were playing better than them. We had a lot more than they did and we came out in the second half, stayed with it and got a great goal.

E-mail Ryan Bright at ryanbright13@gmail.com.

Inside Doop: Fighting for points on a brutal road trip

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Inside Doop: Fighting for points on a brutal road trip

Over the past few days, the Union embarked on their toughest road trip of the season, if not ever.

And although they didn’t get at least one win like they craved, they did come home with a very respectable pair of points following two hard-fought draws to remain in first place in the Eastern Conference.

What did we learn about the team as they played in the heat of Orlando and the altitude of Colorado this past week? And what can we expect with one more game coming up before the league’s two-week Copa America Centenario break? Here’s a look in this week’s Inside Doop:

Three thoughts about this past week
1. Each of the two draws left the team with different taste in their mouths as the Union felt robbed by the refs in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Orlando City SC — particularly on a non-penalty call and also Orlando’s two semi-controversial goals — but grateful to escape with a point in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids in a game they were mostly outplayed. Still, despite those very different feelings, the Union fought back from a second-half deficit to surprise the home crowd with a tying goal in both. It can’t be said enough how this is different than past Union teams, most of which never would have come from behind in hostile environments like these.

2. While there were plenty of crazy things to happen in the second half of Wednesday’s game, it all paled into comparison to what transpired in stoppage time Saturday. That’s when, with the Union trailing by a goal, defensive midfielder Brian Carroll scored for the first time in nearly three years — with his left foot, no less — to tie the game and cause Colorado to drop points at home for the only time this season. Perhaps equally impressive, Carroll ended up playing all 90 minutes in both Orlando and Colorado — and still found the energy to make a late run into the box to score the equalizer. That’s an exhausting stretch for anyone, let alone a 34-year-old veteran who was initially signed for this season just to provide depth.

3. What a week for Ken Tribbett. Taken on the road trip mostly for precautionary measures, the rookie center back ended up scoring his first MLS goal and bagging his first MLS assist in Orlando after coming on for Josh Yaro, who dislocated his shoulder. Tribbett then got to start against Colorado, helping to limit the Rapids to just two shots on target while playing in front of 30 family members in the state which he grew up. Head coach Jim Curtin may not have made as many lineup changes as some expected in the two games this week but Tribbett and Ray Gaddis — who spelled Fabinho at left back and got a secondary assist on the tying goal in Colorado — are giving the team some excellent defensive depth.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The biggest question heading into Wednesday’s home game against Columbus (7 p.m., TCN) is who will man the goal, as starter Andre Blake has left to join Jamaica for Copa America Centenario. Curtin said recently it’s basically a toss-up between backups John McCarthy and Matt Jones. McCarthy started 11 league games for Philly last season and provided the club with some memorable moments, but Jones had a good pedigree in Portugal before coming to Philly this year. Either way, the Union will be glad to only lose Blake for one game, barring a deeper run for Jamaica than most expect (although the way Blake has been playing this year, some Copa upsets for the Reggae Boyz may be possible).

2. With the exception of captain Maurice Edu’s long-term stress fracture, the Union have been pretty healthy of late. That changed when Yaro dislocated his shoulder, but Philly is fortunate enough to have a player like Tribbett — who started the first five games before an injury of his own — to fill in for him. Considering the Union are off for two weeks after Wednesday’s game, it seems likely they’ll keep Tribbett in the lineup so Yaro has more time to heal. A bigger question may be whether Yaro returns to the starting role following the Copa break if Tribbett has another strong game. 

3. Will the Union’s streak of unlikely goal scorers continue? Before Tribbett scored his first career goal and Carroll followed with his first since 2013, it was center back Richie Marquez opening his MLS account to lift Philly to a 1-0 win over D.C. United on May 20. And earlier in the month, right back Keegan Rosenberry scored a big goal to lift Philly to a come-from-behind point over the L.A. Galaxy. If you would have told most people that three defenders and Carroll would score this season, they might not believe you. The fact it all happened this month makes it even crazier — and, of course, a great thing to ease some of the scoring burden off striker C.J. Sapong and the rest of the attackers.

Quote of the week
“I’m happy for the resilience that my group showed. It’s difficult to go on the road to Orlando with the turf and the heat and then coming here to altitude and get points in both places shows a lot of character and grit.”

-- Union head coach Jim Curtin

Stat of the week
Through 13 games, 14 different Union players already have at least one goal or one assist this season. To compare, that’s only two fewer than all of last season, the same number as the entire 2013 campaign and three more than in 2010. 

Player of the week
Teaming up with Warren Creavalle in the defensive midfield, Carroll did a good job against Kaka on Wednesday. And although he could have done better to prevent Colorado’s goal, his equalizer more than made up for it.

Brian Carroll's goal in 92nd minute gives Union draw with Rapids

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Brian Carroll's goal in 92nd minute gives Union draw with Rapids

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- Brian Carroll tied it in 92nd minute and the Union escaped with a 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids in a showdown of the Western and Eastern conference leaders.

Carroll ran underneath Fabian Herbers' high-arching header and slotted the finish under goalkeeper Zac MacMath from close range.

The Union (5-3-5) responded only 5 minutes after the Rapids (8-2-4) opened the scoring on Sam Cronin's header in the 87th minute. Cronin made a deep run to connect with Marlon Hairston's cross from the right flank, redirecting it into the far corner of the goal.

Both Dillon Powers and Luis Solignac had shots crash off the crossbar for the Rapids after the 70th minute.

The Union extended their unbeaten streak to seven while the Rapids stayed unbeaten in their nine home games this season.

Union-Rapids 5 things: Clash of conference leaders

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Union-Rapids 5 things: Clash of conference leaders

Union vs. Colorado Rapids
9 p.m. on TCN

From one rough road town to another, the Union (5-3-4) look to continue their six-game unbeaten streak in a battle of conference leaders when they visit Zac MacMath and the Western Conference-leading Colorado Rapids (8-2-3) Saturday night (9 p.m./TCN) at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. 

Here are five things to know:

1. Battle of conference titans
What may have seemed like an impossibility late last season is reality in 2016. The Rapids and Union, who combined for 74 total points last season (both conference leaders finished with 60), are leading their conferences at the quarter mark of the season.

“The table doesn’t lie,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “[Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni] has done a heck of job with his team. You don’t want to get too ahead of yourself, but it’s first place in the East vs. first play in the West, so there’s something more there.”

Curtin also mentioned a little extra buzz, considering where the two teams are located. It isn’t just a road game in May for the Union, it’s a chance to prove themselves against the league’s best.

“We’re both in decent form and they are very good at home, so it’ll be a real challenge for our guys,” Curtin said. “It’s not just another game, that’s for sure. You want to test yourself against top teams and they are the top team in the league right now.”

2. Yaro’s shoulder
Just 45 minutes into Wednesday’s match, Union central defender Josh Yaro needed to leave the game with a shoulder injury. The Union held their breath. 

“He can’t really give an answer whether it did pop out or not, but our staff didn’t have to put it back in,” said Curtin, who mentioned Yaro’s history of shoulder separations. “Sounds like it’s sore and it hurts, but not something that will prevent him from playing. We’ll assess where he’s at.”

If Yaro can’t go against the Rapids, the Union will be in good hands. Ken Tribbett will step in next to Richie Marquez, just like he did Wednesday by contributing a goal and assist. 

“Credit to our depth at center back,” Curtin said. “Ken Tribbett comes in and does a good job.”

3. Rapids riding success
There are two standout reasons for the Rapids' incredible success to start the 2016 season – incredible defense and league-best home record. 

“They don’t have a lot of big names,” Curtin said. “They’re doing it with some guys that’ve been in and out of other teams and on different rosters in MLS. But Pablo’s getting the most out of his group right now and they’re playing some good soccer.”

Good soccer may be an understatement. The Rapids have only allowed a league-best nine goals in 13 games and are 6-0-0 at home. 

“They know how to win the 1-0 game,” Curtin said. “And they can also keep better possession and can beat you in a couple of different ways.”

Helping the Union will be the absence of two of the Rapids' higher-priced stars, Jermaine Jones and Shkelzen Gashi, who are away on international duty.

“It helps us, for sure,” Curtin said. “Jermaine is a winner. He’s a driving force for the way they press, get after you, compete and fight. Jermaine has been their leader. For him not to be there is fortunate for us.” 

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: Each game the uber-talented Ilsinho remains sidelined with an injury, the more his legend grows. And while he’s only expected to, at most, make a brief appearance this weekend, there’s still a chance the Brazilian makes an impact. “He’ll be available for selection this weekend,” Curtin said. “How long he can go is up in the air. Do you want to start him in altitude, when he hasn’t been in a match in a little while? It’s a tough decision. I’m tempted because he’s that talented.”

Rapids: MacMath, the former Union goalkeeper, started 102 games for the club before moving on to the Rapids in 2015. Now, he’s leading the league in goals-against average with 0.69 and seems to have turned the corner as one of the premier goalkeepers in MLS. But is MacMath excited about facing his former club? “It’ll be weird leading up to it, but once the whistle blows it’s just a normal game,” he said. “I’m trying to keep the shutout at home.”

5. This and that
• Union backup goalkeeper Matt Jones left the team in Colorado this week to witness the birth of his first-born child, Jackson. Curtin couldn’t have been happier. “There’s things a lot bigger than soccer and I’m a believer in family first,” the manager said.

• Union midfield catalyst, Vincent Nogueira, is continuing his progress from an oblique injury that saw him miss the last two games and will very likely keep him out for Saturday. “He’s been running,” Curtin said. “We’re better with the ball when Vincent is on the field. He’s great in possession. It’ll be close for Vincent for this weekend. He’s moving along, getting better.” 

• The Union are 1-3-4 all time against the Rapids and 1-1-1 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.