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.

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.