Union Notes: Carroll named team captain

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Union Notes: Carroll named team captain

WAYNE, Pa. -- From Danny Califf to Faryd Mondragon, Califf again and Carlos Valdes, another year brings yet another captain for the Union.

But as Union coach John Hackworth announced his on-field general for 2013 on Monday at YSC Sports, he also made it clear that the physical armband means very little when the leadership has been there the entire time.

We have named a captain and it will be Brian Carroll, Hackworth announced following the Unions first day of training camp on Monday. Were very excited about that. Brian has earned it through his actions, his character and way he exemplified fantastic leadership last year in support of Carlos Valdes. The team was made aware of it last night.

Brian Carroll has been here for three years and the fact that hes now wearing the armband does not change the fact that he was a leader for the last three years. Honestly, you guys probably worry about that stuff more than the players or I worry about it. The fact is, we have good leaders in our locker room and Brian epitomizes that and he has the full support of our locker room. And thats what you want in a leader.

Articulate and soft-spoken, Carroll, 31, has been with the Union since late 2010. A veteran of two MLS Cups, 268 regular season and 20 MLS playoff games, the midfielder has been one of the most constant features on the Unions consistently fluctuating roster.

Helping Carroll is the Unions fresh, new experience. Unlike Valdes, a former captain in 2012, Carroll will have a nice supporting cast of veterans to help him -- a list that includes 31-year-old Conor Casey, 34-year-old Chris Albright, 29-year-old Sebastien Le Toux and 30-year-old Jeff Parke.

Brian has a really good group of senior leadership around him, Hackworth said. Guys like Chris Albright, who was extremely influential in helping Carlos last year. He will continue to do that. We have some new guys who are experienced players as well and have all, during different times in their careers, wore the captains armband. We feel good about that.

Carroll takes over the Union leadership from Valdes, who was loaned to Independiente Santa Fe for the entirety of the Primera A season. The nature of the loan is for one year, meaning Valdes could return to the Union

I dont think Carlos would have a problem with it at all, Hackworth said. Carlos and Brian worked very well together last year. Brian was a very important leader in our locker room. What it means for the future? We have a challenge ahead to get through this season successfully and thats what were focused on. When Carlos returns after a year, well reassess and sit down. You cant have too many good leaders, as long as they are working together to one common goal.

Banking on Valdes' return?
When Valdes was loaned for one year to Sante Fe this offseason, the prevailing thought was that the pugnacious central defender would likely never return to the Union. That Colombian National Team success would either keep Valdes closer to home through the 2014 FIFA World Cup or set him on a path to worldwide soccer stardom.

Hackworth, however, is staying optimistic.

Right now Im planning on the fact that he will be back next year, Hackworth said. But the reality is, if he starts for Colombia and if they get close to qualifying or qualify for the World Cup, that changes life for Carlos and for us in a big way. I dont want to speculate on what can or cant happen. But its an opportunity that we feel is good for Carlos. Were trying to make the best out of it. But at no point are we saying that this is the last time well see Valdes in a Union uniform -- because we dont look at it that way. Its simply a loan and it happens all the time in this business. It was good for both the player and club.

Left back problems? Hack no
Entering preparations for the 2013 season, the reigning belief surrounding the Union roster is that they needed an upgrade at left back -- a notoriously tough position to fill.

With Gabe Farfan, a midfielder currently doing a satisfactory job but playing out of position, it was thought that Hackworth would find a natural left back to allow Farfan to move back into the midfield.

On Monday, just days after the Union passed on all left back talent in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, Hackworth shot down the idea that the Union were in need.

As a starting point, it should be said that Gabe Farfan is our starting left back, Hackworth said. He is one of the best left backs in terms of pure soccer ability. He might be a true left back but the way that we play and in our style, we want our left back to be an attacking player and hes very good at that. Not to say that he was perfect last year -- hes still a young guy developing into that position. Thats where we start from, then we have some guys who can play both right and left -- Sheanon Williams, Ray Gaddis, players that we could put there if needed and well certainly try those guys throughout the year.

However, the Union did make a move at left back, albeit for the future, in signing 18-year-old Trinidad and Tobago national, Damani Richards.

We have Damani coming in as a left back, Hackworth said. Hes an extremely talented individual but he needs time to develop and professional experience. We have a good nucleus of guys and I think it was a misconception that we were automatically going for a left back. It gives us a lot more depth.

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

Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Stopping Jozy Altidore

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Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Stopping Jozy Altidore

Union (11-11-8) vs. Toronto FC (13-8-8)
5 p.m. on TCN 

Dropping the first of their three-game road gauntlet to the Portland Timbers last weekend, the Union are desperate for points. But their path to the playoffs won’t get any easier Saturday when they take on scorching Jozy Altidore and East-leading Toronto FC at BMO Field.

Here are five things to know.

1. Slumping C.J. 
With one goal in his last nine games, C.J. Sapong is officially slumping.

“You’d love for him to get a goal,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “He’s little bit unlucky in that instance.”

Unlucky indeed. Sapong, who rattled off five of his nine goals in a six-game span in late March, early June, has been struggling to get involved offensively. But it’s something Curtin chalked up to a game of inches, noting a lucky goal would alter the conversation.

“The margins in our league are very small,” said Curtin, who insisted Sapong’s slump is more misfortune than anything else. “He’s still a forward that I very much believe in.”

Although Curtin insists Sapong is generating enough, the physical forward only has two shots on goal in his last six games, with his last goal coming Aug. 13 against the New England Revolution. He had two shots on goal in the six games following that tally. 

“He’s guy that brings a lot of intangibles to each game and he’s a big part of our success,” Curtin said. “We know that he will get going and get goals. He’s going to contribute and make everybody else’s job easier around him.

“I’m still very much a believer in C.J. and what he’s all about.”

2. Tribbett’s redemption
The last time Union center back Ken Tribbett faced Toronto FC, he was subbed out at half for Josh Yaro, after being run over by Sebastian Giovinco and Altidore in the 3-1 loss on Aug. 20. 

He’s played just one game since. 

“I think Ken learned from that game,” Curtin said.

Saturday will be a chance for Tribbett to put that education to use. Along with the entire Union back line, which wasn’t good on the day, it’s a chance for redemption for Tribbett with Yaro serving a red-card suspension.

“Ken is a guy who is confident,” Curtin said. “He plays the same way. We’re going to encourage him to still pass out of the back and in moments when he needs to be direct, be direct. He’s great in the air, he’ll win his battles. We know we’ll get a good performance from Ken.”

3. Altidore Powering Toronto FC
With Giovinco ruled doubtful for Saturday’s match as a result of an injury, the Union have their eye on Altidore. The Toronto FC and U.S. Men’s National Team forward has seven goals in his last seven games, including a brace last weekend against the New York Red Bulls.

“He’s on fire right now,” Curtin said. “Everything he’s touching is going in. He’s strong, he’s confident, he’s a top American forward. He’s our top guy, and when he’s scoring goals he’s tough to stop.” 

But if Altidore is such a dominant force, how can the Union stop him?

“You don’t want to get into a shoving match with Jozy because he’ll manhandle you,” Curtin said. “You want to bump him early and give him a little bit of space. He’s not a guy that loves to get on the ball, turn, dribble and beat guys. That’s not his game. He’s a guy that does his damage in the box. Confident strikers are difficult to deal with and he’s at the top of the list right now.”

4. Keep an eye on
Union: Chris Pontius is not exactly on fire, but he did break a five-game scoring drought last Saturday. The Union will look to him to keep it going, as he pushes to tie a career-high of 12 goals set in 2012.

Toronto FC: Altidore’s so productive right now, he deserves to be mentioned twice. His scoring run started on July 31 and hasn’t let up. Since then, he has eight goals in nine games and a whopping 21 shots over that span. To stop Toronto FC on Saturday means the Union need to stop Altidore.

5. This and that
• Maurice Edu, who is recovering from a broken leg, continued his move toward the Union lineup. After playing his third conditioning match with Bethlehem Steel, the defensive midfielder will travel to Toronto with the club. “It’s trending toward him starting to play a role in our 18 as opposed to starting for Bethlehem,” Curtin said.

• Since their last match, the Union signed midfielder Kevin Kratz. He’s a utility player, able to give Curtin depth all over his midfield. He won’t be available for Saturday. “Hopefully all the paperwork gets taken care of and then we’ll be sorted out,” Curtin said.

• Fabian Herbers is set to make his fifth consecutive start Saturday. He has been working the right side of the attacking midfield in place of injured Ilsinho, who Curtin wants back in the lineup in a full-time capacity as soon as possible. “Right now, he’s not quite at the 90-minute stage to start him,” Curtin said of Ilsinho. “Is he getting closer? Possibly. But it’s something that he’s working towards.”

• The Union are 6-6-4 against Toronto FC all time

• The Union are two goals shy of setting a franchise record for goals scored. They currently have 49 but had 51 in 2014.

Union's Ken Tribbett has shot at redemption vs. Toronto FC

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USA Today Images

Union's Ken Tribbett has shot at redemption vs. Toronto FC

CHESTER, Pa. — To say Ken Tribbett had a rocky game the last time the Union faced Toronto FC would be an understatement.

The first-year MLS defender out of Drexel scored a goal but was also victimized on three Toronto goals before getting pulled from the game at halftime.

Tribbett has played sparingly since then, losing his starting spot to Joshua Yaro, who he’s traded time with at center back for much of the season.

But when the Union face Toronto again this Saturday at BMO Field, Tribbett will return to the starting lineup while Yaro serves a one-game suspension for a red card he picked up in last weekend’s 2-1 loss to Portland.

“It’s a good opportunity for redemption,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “Ken’s a guy we’ve leaned on heavily this year. He’s had a lot of great games for us. Obviously it’s no secret the Toronto game was a difficult one for him. A lot of the instances where we gave up chances the last time against Toronto were actually off of balls in our attacking half of the field that were turned over quickly and there was a second ball that was bouncing and we fell asleep for a split second. And I think Ken learned from that game.”

Tribbett admitted his last game against Toronto wasn’t his best performance but he isn’t scared to face his former tormentors again. In fact, he said he’s “grateful” for another opportunity to show what he can do and apply the lessons he learned from his last outing.

“Of course there are certain things you can always improve on,” Tribbett said. “Spacing in behind a big strong guy, you’ve got to learn to use your body. There’s a bunch of different things. I’ve learned my lesson and hopefully it’ll pay off on Saturday.”

The good news for Tribbett is that reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco has been out with an injury and likely won’t be back in time to face a Philadelphia team he’s scored against every time he’s faced them. The bad news is that Jozy Altidore is the hottest player in the league right now with eight goals in his last nine games for Toronto.

One of those goals came during Toronto’s 3-1 win in Philadelphia on Aug. 20 when Altidore muscled his way around Tribbett. Moving forward, the Union center back said the key to dealing with a big striker like Altidore is “maybe stay off and don’t wrestle with him so much.”

Of course, it won’t be just on Tribbett to contain Altidore but the Union’s entire young backline, as well as their midfield and goalkeeper Andre Blake.

“It’s always tough when you’re playing against a good player,” Tribbett said. “It’s even tougher when they’re scoring goals and in good form. All we can do is work together as a team to try to slow him down.”

One of those players who will look to slow down Altidore and the rest of Toronto’s vaunted attack is rookie Keegan Rosenberry.

Like Tribbett, he’s looking for a little bit of redemption after struggling in the Union’s last game in Portland. But also like Tribbett, he’s excited for the challenge this weekend’s north-of-the-border trip presents.

“Limiting his impact on the game is a challenge,” Rosenberry said of Altidore. “He’s feeling good right now. But we’re up for the challenge. It’s easy to get up for these types of games when you have those types of players that are feeling good.”

Normally, losing a player like Yaro — Rosenberry’s fellow rookie and old teammate at Georgetown — would be a big blow. But because Yaro and Tribbett have platooned for most of the year (be it for suspensions, injuries or whatever else), Rosenberry called it “lucky” that “both guys have plenty of experience.”

And although Curtin prefers stability along his backline, he too is glad that the two players have both logged a lot of big minutes in their first MLS seasons.

“They’ve both dealt with a lot of the top strikers,” the Union coach said. “I think it’s good. All these minutes and using all these different lineups that we’ve had to go to, it pays off in the big moments now — because it’s not a big deal for Ken to step in in Josh’s absence, and conversely I’d be completely comfortable with Josh jumping right back in.”

Tribbett said the competition between him and Yaro has been a good one because “both of us are true competitors” who naturally want to earn their spot.

But that will be on the backburner this weekend as Tribbett knows for sure he’ll be the one called upon with Yaro suspended.

And he’s ready to help the Union earn crucial points against arguably the best team in the East.

“I’ve been playing against top-caliber guys all year,” Tribbett said. “In the preseason, we played Toronto and we beat them 1-nil. We’ve shown that we can shut them down; we just need to do it again on Saturday.”