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

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 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.