With Valdes, Union double down on playoff run

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With Valdes, Union double down on playoff run

CHESTER, Pa. -- When the Union re-acquired center back Carlos Valdes on Monday, they didn’t just snag an experienced MLS All-Star, World Cup participant and athletic addition to their weak back line.

They received instinct impact.

“He knows every game is a playoff game and he’s itching ready to go,” said interim Union manager Jim Curtin. “I get excited thinking about that. We’ll obviously talk through that on the pitch. But whenever Carlos tells me he’s ready, he’ll be in our starting lineup, that’s for sure.”

With 12 games remaining and sitting one win away from playoff position, the 5-9-8 Union, who are also two wins away from a U.S. Open Cup title, need immediate results. This is where the acquisition of Valdes factors in.

“Carlos just increases the talent on our team and it pushes us down the stretch here,” Curtin said. “Carlos knows our fans, he knows what they bring, and he’s one that wants this city to win a championship. This is what this is about.”

It’s also about finding the right fit. Unlike Algerian World Cup goalkeeper, Rais MBolhi, who was brought in last week, Valdes, former Union captain and MLS All-Star, has a familiarity with Philadelphia that isn’t easily replicated. Because of that, the hope is for Valdes to spend less time adjusting and more time contributing down the stretch.

“The good thing is that seamless transition,” Curtin said. “He’s familiar with all the guys. He’s played with Ray Gaddis, Sheanon Williams, knows them very well. It makes the process a lot easier. He also knows the difficulties of our league. He knows what it’s like to fly 3,000 miles to play one game. A lot of new players and foreign players struggle with that.”

Not Valdes, who was eager to get right back in the mix.

“I’m very excited and I’m really, really happy of being back,” he said. “I just can’t wait to see what’s going on, what’s going to happen the rest of the season.”

And neither can the Union.

Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

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Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

The Union have cashed in on Michael Lahoud.

After terminating his loan to the New York Cosmos on Tuesday, the Union recalled Lahoud and officially sold the 29-year-old midfielder to Miami FC of the NASL for an undisclosed amount.

“Mike always served the club in a professional manner during his time here,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, who loaned Lahoud to the Cosmos this offseason. “We thank him for his service and want to wish him the best of luck in Miami and in his future endeavors.”

Lahoud, whose prorated $115,637.50 guaranteed salary comes off the Union’s salary cap, was acquired in 2012 in a trade with Chivas USA for defender Danny Califf. He made 58 appearances with the Union before being loaned out.

Andre Blake to stay in net for two more games before Jamaica call-up

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Andre Blake to stay in net for two more games before Jamaica call-up

CHESTER, Pa. — The Union are about to embark on perhaps their toughest road trip of the season. 

But it just got a little bit more manageable as head coach Jim Curtin revealed Monday that star goalkeeper Andre Blake will be in the net for both matches before only then leaving to join the Jamaican national team ahead of Copa America Centenario.

The initial belief was that Blake would have to miss at least one of the upcoming games to prepare for the marquee tournament that pits the best countries from North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. But the Union got a stroke of good fortune before hitting the road to face Orlando City on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., CSN) and the Colorado Rapids on Saturday (9 p.m., TCN).

“First of all, Jamaica’s been excellent with us — great to work with,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “We came to the conclusion what is best for both parties is that he is with us up until the Columbus game [on June 1]. So the Columbus game is the only game he will miss.”

Jamaica’s first Copa game isn’t until June 5 when the Reggae Boyz take on Venezuela at Chicago’s Soldier Field. But their training camp opens this week and Jamaica faces Chile in a friendly on Friday, which is why few believed Blake would make the trip with Philly to Colorado.

But getting the chance for another live MLS game — against a Rapids team that currently owns the best record in the league, no less — appears to be something Jamaican head coach Winfried Schafer valued more than a friendly.

And Blake will be happy to try to continue his MLS momentum after earning his third shutout of the season in Friday’s 1-0 victory over D.C. United.

“It’s great,” Blake said. “It’s always a confidence booster getting 90 minutes, getting experience and learning every time you touch the pitch. Every time I get to play a game, it’s great for me and it just builds my confidence. Going into Copa, I’m looking forward to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Jamaica will certainly be underdogs at Copa as they’ll follow their opener vs. Venezuela with matches against Mexico on June 9 and Uruguay on June 13 — two of the top 16 teams in the FIFA World Rankings and the big favorites to get out of that group and into the Copa quarterfinals.

But the Reggae Boyz will likely have a chance in every game because of Blake, who’s made several hard-to-believe saves this season while emerging as one of the top goalies in MLS. Against D.C. United, he made a stunning stop on Alvaro Sabario to help the Union climb to first place in the Eastern Conference, and was later named to the bench of the MLS Team of the Week.

“It was a reaction save,” Blake said. “And as I’ve said before, I’m in net to make the saves and do everything I can to keep my team in the game.”

Soon, that team will be Jamaica. And Blake can’t wait to play for his home country on a global stage, especially after falling to third string on Jamaica’s depth chart during last summer’s Gold Cup because of injuries and a lack of playing time in Philly.

But for now, he’s still ready to do it for the Union. And Curtin is grateful he’ll likely only have to go into battle once without his star ’keeper because of the fact that MLS will go on a Copa break for a couple of weeks in June.

“It’s great,” Curtin said. “Obviously his form speaks for itself. He’s a big part of us getting points. To go into two hostile environments now and know that he’s going to be in there is very valuable.

“Having said that, we are very confident in our two backup goalkeepers [John McCarthy and Matt Jones], so when the decision’s made for Columbus, we’ll make one that gives us the best opportunity to get three points. But to have Andre with us is incredibly valuable. He’s playing at a very high level.”

Defense-first Richie Marquez happy to play unlikely hero for Union in win over D.C. United

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Defense-first Richie Marquez happy to play unlikely hero for Union in win over D.C. United

CHESTER, Pa. — For all of his professional career, Richie Marquez has been a 6-foot-2, defense-first center back with no goals to his name. 

On Friday night at Talen Energy Stadium, he played the offensive hero. 

“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “I’m a defender and I don’t get to score often, so now I know what forwards feel like. It feels good.”

In the 90th minute of what felt like the host’s inevitable fourth straight draw, the game quickly turned when a foul and restart allowed Sebastien Le Toux a cross opportunity near the right sideline outside the box. The Frenchman placed a perfect right-footed cross that cleared the head of C.J. Sapong and went to Marquez, who impressively willed the ball into the goal for a 1-0 Union win over D.C. United (see game story).

“Surprisingly, we train like that,” Marquez said. “In our second sessions, we do some finishing like that, crossing and everyone gets a shot at it, so credit to coaches for that.”

Union manager Jim Curtin also gave his coaches credit for the pinch, stating getting the big defender to be more offensive-minded was a strategy the team has been pushing all season.

“Because he’s such a defense-minded guy, that initial ball comes in, and if it doesn’t go straight to one of our guys, he’s in retreat mode, defense-first mode and he’s running back,” Curtin said. “Mike Sorber, B.J. Callaghan mentioned to him to take a little risk and stay up there every once in a while. If you’re not in the box, you’re not going to score. Richie was committed to stay in the box and scores a pretty good goal.”

Curtin, a former center back, was happy Marquez was able to open his MLS goal account. Still, the manager would much rather his defenders go unnoticed. 

“Richie is a great player, a young center back who is growing in confidence with the ball,” he said. “It’s nice to get a goal, but I do like it when it’s quiet and we’re not talking about the center backs.”

Pontius revenge
Following the emotional 1-0 win over his former club of seven years, Union forward Chris Pontius, who was acquired this offseason, played it cool. The emotions weren’t what he expected.

“It felt like a soccer game,” he said. “Once you get on the field, I was expecting it to be different but it actually wasn’t. I kept my emotions in check.”

So, if it felt like just another game, the win wouldn’t be any sweeter, right?

“I won’t say that, I won’t say that,” he said laughing. “Some wins are ugly, some wins are pretty and this was one of the uglier ones. But beating my former team is a bit sweet.”