Union must set tempo in home opener vs. Rapids

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Union must set tempo in home opener vs. Rapids

CHESTER, Pa. -- The two-goal loss in their season opener against the Portland Timbers on Monday did not sit well with the Union players or coaches. Losing is one thing, but getting blown out after earning the second-half lead is something else entirely.

So when the Union return home to PPL Park on Sunday to host the Western Conference Colorado Rapids, they will be working to re-write their cringe-inducing start.

We still have 33 games left, said Union right back Sheanon Williams. There is no reason to hit any panic buttons, its one game. Its a long season and we didnt go undefeated last year, it happens. Wed like to win every game but thats not a realistic goal. We take the positives and look forward to Sunday.

The difference between playing at extremely hostile JELD-WEN Field and coming home is that the rabid fans will be at the Unions back -- an emotional boost that cant go overlooked.

Everybody is extremely excited, its been a long off-season away from PPL, said Williams. Ive talked to a few new guys and its hard to explain, they just have to see for themselves.

What plagued the Union against the Timbers was giving up too much space on the edges and allowing the opposition to make plays. Given an opportunity to create from the outside, the Timbers took full advantage, scoring three unanswered goals. After originally seizing momentum on a Gabriel Gomez goal in the 51st minute, the Union could only watch as the game slipped away.

It was a good first game in terms of intensity, it was especially good for the newcomers, said coach Peter Nowak. I think we adjusted to that environment very well. What happened after that -- we didnt give up -- but we left the space wide open for them and they took advantage. We need to match the intensity, physicality and do better all around.

The Rapids dominated the Columbus Crew, 2-0, in their opener. Similar to how the Timbers found space and made the Union pay for defensive mistakes, the Rapids took what the Crew gave them in the offensive third and capitalized with goals from Drew Moor and Quincy Amarikwa.

But instead of react to how the Rapids want to play, the Union are focused on setting the tempo early and following it throughout.

Were focusing on ourselves and forcing what we do well, said Williams. The game is at PPL, so we want to impose our game on them and play how we like to play. We dont want them coming into here and dictating how the game is played.

To do that, Nowak says his club needs to win the individual battles.

Colorado is a lot like Portland, they are very physical and they rely on speed and strength, said Nowak. you have to win the match-ups on the field. We need to make sure we stay compact, organized. We need to make sure our guys have all the information and are ready for the game.

Im sure they are going to be excited about the home opener and they will enjoy the crowd. But first things first, we need to match the physicality and intensity of the game.

The Union did receive from good news on the injury situations involving midfielder Roger Torres and defensive depth piece Chris Albright. Nowak noted that both are expected to be on the game-day lineup on Sunday.

E-mail Ryan Bright at ryanbright13@gmail.com

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

Tranquillo Barnetta is going home.

In an abrupt announcement on Tuesday, the Union declared that the skillful Swiss attacking midfielder will not renew his contract with the club and will return to Switzerland following the 2016 season to play for his hometown club, FC St. Gallen.

According to MLS Players Union, Barnetta’s exit will free the Union of $687,500 next season.

“The entire soccer community here was so welcoming and I’m so thankful to everyone at Philadelphia Union for making me feel so appreciated,” Barnetta said. “Playing in front of my friends and family and making plans for life at the end of my career where I want to live is a force I can’t resist.”

Although the timing of the announcement is a surprise, the move isn’t one. With Alejandro Bedoya now in the mix, currently playing out of position in a box-to-box midfield role, the Union will replace Barnetta with Bedoya at the center attacking midfield spot. It’s a position that Bedoya is comfortable in, playing there with his previous club, FC Nantes.

Bedoya played for the injured Barnetta in the center midfield spot last Saturday and scored his first goal of the season in a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC.

But even with Bedoya ready to take over, the Union will miss Barnetta. Since joining the Union in 2015, Barnetta, 31, has been one of the better possession playmakers in MLS, scoring six goals and seven assists in 37 games.

“Tranquillo has been a key piece in what we’re trying to build here in Philadelphia but we appreciate his decision to return to Switzerland,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, whose club has three matches left in the 2016 season, and will likely make the playoffs. “We look forward to continuing to push for the postseason.”

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

The Union left the country for a big game over the weekend and did not return to the United States with a win as they hoped.

But they did come back with a hard-earned point against the top team in the conference as well as the first MLS goal from their marquee summer signing, while inching closer to the playoffs. Here’s a look at Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Toronto FC and what lies ahead with three regular-season games left.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. It took Alejandro Bedoya almost two months to score his first MLS goal … but what a goal it was. After collecting a pass from Fabian Herbers midway through the first half (just barely avoiding being offside), the U.S. national team starter took one dribble and fooled goalkeeper Clint Irwin with a clever chip over his head and into the net. You don’t see those kind of chip goals often and when you do, they’re usually delivered by big-time playmakers — the kind of guys the Union don’t usually have but do now with Bedoya. Head coach Jim Curtin’s decision to play Bedoya at the No. 10 attacking midfield spot with Tranquillo Barnetta injured also paid big dividends and showed the Union have more midfield options going into the playoffs … and into next season.

2. Coming into the game, a big storyline centered around center back Ken Tribbett, who got the start at center back about a month after getting pulled at halftime vs. Toronto. Another centered around right back Keegan Rosenberry, who was trying to bounce back from a rare off game in Portland the previous week. But, in the end, both players had some very good moments and helped limit the Toronto attack for much of the game, especially in the first half. Much of that had to do with another Curtin lineup decision as the Union head coach put two defensive-minded midfielders in front of the backline: Warren Creavalle, who also had a great hustle play that nearly led to a second goal right before halftime, and Brian Carroll, who’s now made two straight starts after missing six straight games with Plantar fasciitis.

3. Saturday’s game didn’t end without some late fireworks from the league’s hottest player, Jozy Altidore. Riding an eight-goals-in-nine-games streak coming in, the U.S. national team star struck the post in the 87th minute and was taken down in the box by C.J. Sapong in stoppage time on what initially looked to be a clear penalty. If you look at the replay from Sapong’s perspective, however, you could probably make the case that Sapong was going for the ball before getting impeded by Altidore. Either way, the idea of a ref not making a call that would likely decide a game (on a play that wasn’t a real goal-scoring opportunity) took some guts, especially as he got lambasted from the home team and its fans.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The brutal three-game road trip ends Saturday as the Union, after a loss in Portland and tie in Toronto, take on the rival New York Red Bulls (7 p.m., The Comcast Network). As conservative as it might sound, another point would probably make it a mildly successful trip considering the caliber of opponent. Either way, the Union’s playoff hopes and seeding will likely come down to their final two home games against Orlando and the Red Bulls. At this point, the best they can likely hope for is to hold off Montreal, D.C. United and New England for the No. 4 seed in the East, which would ensure them an opening-round home game. Luckily for them, Montreal and New England both lost this weekend, and although D.C. picked up a big win, they did so against another team in the playoff hunt in Orlando.

2. Another week means another question about captain Maurice Edu’s health. It’s now been more than two months since he returned to the practice field and almost a month since he started playing rehab games with the Bethlehem Steel. With only three games left in the season, it’s hard to see him becoming a starter after being out so long with a stress fracture. It also doesn’t help his case that Carroll and Creavalle are both playing well at his position. But if Edu’s healthy, there’s no sense not utilizing him as a midfield reserve or even as an emergency defensive replacement. The question, as always: is this the week he finally makes his season debut?

3. While Curtin’s lineup decisions played well in Toronto, one interesting one was not playing Roland Alberg. With Barnetta out, many Union fans probably expected Alberg to start at the No. 10 position — or, at the very least, come off the bench. But with the Union never falling behind, Curtin probably didn’t feel the need to bring in such an offensive-minded player. It was an understandable move considering the context but one that was surely disappointing for Alberg, who despite having nine goals in just over 1,000 minutes, has played only 19 minutes over the last three games and has started only once since the beginning of August. By now, you have to wonder what role the dynamic Dutchman will have in the playoffs — if he has one at all.

Stat of the week
With his seventh assist, the rookie Herbers moved into the top 10 in franchise history in career assists. He’s tied for ninth all time with Barnetta, Alejandro Moreno and Conor Casey.

Quote of the week
“I kind of even surprised myself.”

— Alejandro Bedoya, on his first MLS goal

Player of the week
Gotta give it to the guy who scored one of the best goals of the Union’s season, right? The Union now hope there’s more to come from Bedoya during the final stretch of the 2016 season.