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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Monday, January 23, 2017

Out camping: Five positional battles to watch in the Union preseason

The question of Roland Alberg's fitness for the Union's full-time No. 10 job
will be tested this preseason. (AP)
The Philadelphia Union’s first full practice of the 2017 season will take place Tuesday morning at the Power Training Complex. And it will ensure an almost unfathomable level of consistency from the last time the Union assembled in the shadow of Talen Energy Stadium.

Of the 18 players in the squad last October for the Union’s first playoff game in five years against Toronto FC, 17 remain with the club. Ten of 11 starters’ jobs are preserved from last season, Tranquillo Barnetta the lone exception. I don’t even have to check past figures; that’s surely unprecedented for a club where roster churn has been the norm.

As I wrote Monday, the Union have the best of both words. They have the prestige and tangential benefit of three players prepping for the season with the U.S. National Team in its January camp, three who are certainly among the 10 given starters. Fewer regulars means more opportunities to see the contestants for the other slots on the depth chart battling it out.

So let’s look at the five positional battles sure to play out in camp this week and in Florida next month:

Roland Alberg vs. Expectations. Lest you think the Union have everything figured out, consider that one battle dictates several others. (I needn’t remind you how many returning starters Columbus had in place before last season, do I?) Parse the roster and the Dutchman is the only player you’d consider a No. 10, lest Alejandro Bedoya moves up into that spot and somewhat out of position. Doing so leaves the current reserve corps at the No. 8 remarkably thin. So getting Alberg to consistently play the 10 in a 4-2-3-1 system that the Union show little taste for changing is vital. Alberg proved last year he can play excel in spurts; if we allow the benefit of the doubt in his acclimation period to MLS, then the hypothesis to be proven is that he can be for the Union what Barnetta was last year.

Fabinho vs. Gilliano Wijnaldum. To dub this Fabinho’s job to lose would disrespect the work the Brazilian did last season. More apt is that it’s Wijnaldum’s job to win. Earnie Stewart put it bluntly: Wijnaldum didn’t come to MLS to sit the bench. And while Fabinho wasn’t necessarily the weak link in a defense that leaked 56 goals in 35 games last year, his left back spot is as logical a place as any to start searching for reinforcements. Read more »

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Drafting conclusions from the Union's five picks

Clemson grad and English defender Aaron Jones, left,
is one of four foreign-born players taken by the Union
in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. (AP)
The Philadelphia Union Tuesday wrapped up day two of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft with three picks – forward Chris Nanco, defender/midfielder Jack Elliott and forward Santi Moar. The odds of any of the three having an impact on the senior club, this year or next, are fairly remote. But those chances are improved by the minutes afforded by Bethlehem Steel, and if nothing else, the three added Tuesday are intriguing pieces. A few takeaways from the draft in broad strokes:

Foreign flair. Four of the Union’s five draft picks were born outside the United States – Nanco (Canada), Elliott and Aaron Jones (England) and Moar (Spain). Nanco cut his teeth at FC Sigma and the Canadian youth national team. Jones played at Ipswich Town, Elliott at the delightfully named Old Wilsonians Football Club. Not sure about Moar’s upbringing. In the two drafts overseen by Earnie Stewart, six of the Union’s 11 picks have been foreign-born players (Josh Yaro went through Ghana's touted Right to Dream Academy, while Fabian Herbers was at FC Twente and a pair of German clubs before landing at Creighton). Considering that 31 percent of the available players in this year’s SuperDraft were foreign-born (75 of 238), the Union’s preference looks to be a trend.

What you can’t teach. Cliché as “you can’t teach speed” may be, it’s helpful to look at the Union’s picks through a risk-reward lens. There are plenty of solid players available in the SuperDraft with elite club and college upbringings who are what they are at age 23 – that is a five-foot-something center mid or undersized but cerebral center back or a college center mid turned right back because that’s his best chance. Call it the Eric Bird mold. The Union seem to eschew that and look not for a complete player who has met his (middling) potential but one who could have an elite skill around which the Union staff can mold a fully-formed whole. With Marcus Epps and Nanco, that’s speed. With Elliott, it’s his 6-foot-5 frame. (No Aaron Wheeler jokes, please.) Jones has exemplary set-piece ability and work ethic. Moar, I’m guessing by the 19 assists, can provide a final pass. None is a complete player. But it’s easier in the second or third round to find one arrow in the quiver that projects as MLS-caliber and coach the rest of the individual around it, especially since the Union have improved drastically from a development standpoint in the last few years. The chances of any contributing are long, so why play it conservative?

The Real deal. With all due respect to the three draftees enjoying a monumental achievement, the big story is Matthew Real, who should be the Union’s left back of the future in two or three years, signing his first pro contract with Bethlehem Steel. The Drexel Hill native has been in the Union youth pipeline since before there was a coherent vision thereof. He’s a fixture on U.S. Under-16 and U-18 teams. The former Wake Forest commit would’ve played significant minutes for Steel before leaving for school this year. Now they’ve finalized a full pro deal, Real joining the likes of Auston Trusty, Derrick Jones and Yosef Samuel to sign out of the Academy. Of the four, Real could end up being the most impressive. Expect Real to train with the Union regularly this season.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Union schedule features five national TV dates

The Union get five national TV dates this season. They also get three games apiece against Red Bulls, D.C. United and Montreal. More to come, but here’s the schedule.

March 5: at Vancouver
March 11: Toronto
March 18: at Orlando City
April 1: at D.C. United
April 8: Portland
April 14: NYCFC (ESPN)
April 22: Montreal
April 29: at LA Galaxy
May 6: Red Bulls
May 13: at D.C. United
May 17: Houston
May 20: Colorado
May 27: at Real Salt Lake
June 3: at NYCFC
June 18: Red Bulls (ESPN)
June 24: D.C. United
July 2: New England (FS1)
July 6: at Sporting KC
July 19: at Montreal
July 22: at Columbus
July 26: Columbus
July 29: at New England
Aug. 5: FC Dallas
Aug. 12: Montreal
Aug. 19: at San Jose
Aug. 23: at Toronto
Aug. 26: Atlanta United
Sept. 9: at Minnesota
Sept. 17 at Red Bulls (ESPN)
Sept. 23: Chicago
Sept. 27: at Atlanta United
Oct. 1: Seattle (ESPN)
Oct. 15: at Chicago
Oct. 22: Orlando City

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Friday, January 6, 2017

Thanks to Rosenberry, Christmas comes twice for Union fan

Ethan Chambers became an Internet sensation on Christmas morning as he unwrapped gifts.

Two weeks later, the excitement of that present grew to proportions he could’ve never expected.

Video of Chambers, 9, sobbing with joy as he unwrapped sets of tickets to Union games and a signed picture of his favorite player, Keegan Rosenberry, went viral across the MLS world. Friday, Chambers spent the morning with Rosenberry on a personal tour of the Union’s training facility.



The Pottstown resident – along with his parents, Shawn and Tanya, and younger sister, Emery – got the behind-the-scenes Union experience. Chambers shot a game of pool with in the team’s recreation area with Rosenberry and went through the daily routine of a Union players, from the video theater to lunch room to training facilities, all with a personalized journey for the occasion.

“You don’t get to play pool with a famous soccer player all the time,” Chambers said.




Chambers, who plays for the Pottsgrove Force, was hooked last summer when he and his club attended the July date with Vancouver at Talen Energy Stadium. The gameday experience of seeing players he idolizes up close shaped Chambers’ Christmas wish list: Tickets to a Union game, and books.

“I get to actually see what they do and it makes me want to learn more about it so that way I can get better at it and progress,” Chambers said.
Read more »

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Consistency is Pontius's secret to comeback success

Time to heal and consistency helped Chris Pontius launch
his Comeback Player of the Year season in 2016.
(Times File)
Chris Pontius’s first reaction two weeks ago at being named a finalist for the MLS Comeback Player of the Year Award struck at the fundamental conflict in the award: It’s nice to win, sure, but you’d rather avoid being in a position to.

That contradiction is fitting, since it informs how Pontius got to a point where the 2016 award was bestowed on him Wednesday. By not constantly considering the injuries that had dogged him for the better part of three years, Pontius finally moved past them to compile a career season.

“I tried to not think about it,” Pontius said Thursday by phone. “Late on in the season, maybe 27 games in, I was like, ‘holy cow, I haven’t missed a game yet.’ And it was just trying to (think), let’s keep this thing going, not thinking about it. I just was like, let’s keep this thing going and doing what I was doing, just week by week and focusing on the week ahead.”

For the first time since 2012, Pontius enjoyed a season not defined by injuries. He scored a career-high tying 12 goals to go with a career-best six assists. Including the U.S. Open Cup, he bagged 14 goals. The winger also set career marks in games played, starts and minutes.

In his first season with the Union, Pontius doubled his combined goal total from 2013-15.

And as Pontius explained Thursday, from out on the golf course with former D.C. United teammate and roommate Steve Birnbaum, one of the keys to a change in outcome was consistency of approach. Read more »

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The 2016 Stephen Okai Award goes to ... Kevin Kratz

Where have you gone Toni Stahl? (AP)

Among the least consequential yet most puzzling moments of last Wednesday’s valedictory address by Earnie Stewart and Jim Curtin concerned Kevin Kratz, a bizarre coda on a quizzical and abbreviated tenure with the Philadelphia Union.

Stewart in the press conference announced that the Union wouldn’t be retaining Kratz’s services and that he “was on loan so he’ll go back to Atlanta at one point,” referring to MLS expansion side Atlanta United FC. An Atlanta spokesman later clarified that the Union had agreed to trade Kratz’s rights to Atlanta in a deal that is pending the reopening of the trade window Dec. 11. Very MLS.

Either way, the German midfielder’s career with the Union, which started ahead of the Sept. 15 roster freeze and ended with nary a bench appearance, has come and gone in a blink of an eye. Kratz was originally announced as midfield cover, yet even as Alejandro Bedoya, Warren Creavalle and Maurice Edu picked up injuries (which the previous two played through), Kratz never entered the picture. Yet the player with Bundesliga experience presented an intriguing piece, perhaps even to build with next year, and seemed an engaging interview subject excited to be in Philly. Yet still, his blink-and-you-missed-it tenure came to nothing but a footnote to view someday and wonder, ‘who was that guy?’

Which got me thinking – Kratz isn’t the first player that Union have brought in to flesh out a roster late in the season. He’s not the first player to pop up, generate speculation, pique fan interest and vanish into nothingness. He’s not the first member of the Union whose tenure was so evanescent as to make you wonder if he really was even here or if it was all a peculiar dream caused by some by some bad Thai food too close to bedtime.

So to commemorate Kratz’s time in Philly – and in a vain effort to actual have him leave some tangible legacy besides his 5-foot-8 frame filling in at center back in practice during the October international break – I hereby bestow upon Kratz the 2016 Stephen Okai Award.

What is that, you may ask. It’s a way to mark the passage of Union time by enshrining each year’s most head-scratching personnel move of a certain exalted kind. It’s the one player each year who brings an abundance of under-the-radar hope, whose resume succeeds in raising the possibility that he could be something, whose praises are sung a bit too disproportionately by management, but who ends up never impacting the club. Sometimes it’s the player whose past travels make us in the media go, ‘but this guy was at (blank), wasn’t he?’ Others, it’s a player that so thoroughly impresses in practice and is recognized for it, but never translates it to a game.

In short, it’s inspired by the player who generates the most lopsided proportion of fan-generated Twitter mentions directed at Union writers to actual contributions on the field.
Read more »

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Friday, November 4, 2016

Edu's bad breaks the outlier for the Union's healthy season

Maurice Edu, seen in last year's U.S. Open Cup semifinal against Chicago,
was dealt a difficult hand of injuries this season, but he's the outlier
for a mostly healthy Union squad. (Times File)
Earnie Stewart and Jim Curtin covered a bevy of topics Wednesday in their end-of-season media address. From specific personnel groups to philosophy on changes to a vote of confidence on Curtin from Stewart, the full range was covered.

But one particularly perplexing aspect of the Union’s season didn’t quite receive a definitive answer, and perhaps that’s because one doesn’t exist.

The travails of Maurice Edu have been a constant story line dogging the Union this season. His injury has followed a devastating trajectory, from a groin tear last year to sports hernia surgery in the offseason to a stress fracture to a more severe leg fracture. Somewhere along the line – perhaps at many junctures – reality deviated from the rigorous plan that the Union set for Edu’s rehab. So the question, more genuinely curious than accusatory, from me Wednesday was, does the handling of his injury by the staff require any reevaluation?

Stewart’s answer in full:
“Oh, yeah, also that, except that it’s, like you say, it goes from one into the other, and a lot of times you see that. If you have an injury left, you favor something else right and that might happen. I’d have to say a lot of things are very, very unfortunate, too, in the way that it went from, one, having a surgery, to it going into a stress fracture — a stress reaction first, and then a stress fracture. I mean, that has a lot to do with favoring and all that kind of stuff so it’s very unfortunate, his season is.”
That answer would seem to shift the reasoning – not blame, per se – for the injury onto the circumstances surrounding it. Edu had never before dealt with bone injuries, and he’d discussed that the process for rehabbing them is different that with muscle problems. By all accounts, the re-injury before the Red Bulls game in the season finale was a fluke on the training ground. How the original stress fracture was sustained has never been discussed beyond that Edu wasn’t progressing in his rehab in the preseason then got a scan showing the fracture that drastically altered estimates of his return.

The timeline set then, at the beginning of March, called for three to four months. Edu returned to the practice field four and a half months later, on July 15, and played for Bethlehem Steel for the first time Sept. 4 (six months after the original diagnosis). Edu made the Union bench for the first of three times Sept. 24.

Understandably, the Union aren’t placing a timeline on this latest injury. But the club also isn’t providing much explanation for the protracted saga beyond bad luck. Read more »

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

'I still think that there's more': Brian Carroll ready to return for 2017

Union midfielder Brian Carroll, right, defending Columbus' Justin Meram
in a game June 1, is preparing to return next year for his 15th MLS season
and seventh in Philadelphia, at age 35. (AP)
Brian Carroll’s first comments assessing the 2016 Philadelphia Union season Wednesday were optimistic about what had gone and bullish about what could lie ahead. Implicit in that answer is that Carroll wants to be around for the latter pursuit.

So when it came time to fulfill the journalistic duty of asking a 35-year-old player, one just two years younger than his coach and older than Jim Curtin was in taking over the Union, the answer seemed a mere formality.

“I still think that there’s more,” Carroll said.

With the season that the club captain put together, it’s hard to argue with that appraisal. It’s been clear for months that Carroll’s level of play warranted another season in MLS if he so chose. And Carroll confirmed Wednesday that retirement isn’t in the cards just yet.

“Obviously (I’m) getting up in age and it’s going to be a year-to-year thing at this point,” Carroll said. “I think I proved to myself that there’s a little bit more left in the tank, and I’d like to have a strong offseason and I’d like to contribute similarly next year. I didn’t know how much I’d be able to be called upon this year, but I think when I was called upon, I handled my end of the bargain and maybe exceeded my own expectations. I’m willing to put in the work, continue doing this next year and see how next year goes and make a choice after that.”

Rather quietly, Carroll assembled an extremely strong season. He played 26 games and started 23, both his highest totals since 2013. He logged more than 2,000 minutes for the 10th time in his illustrious career. And he didn’t look outpaced by improvements in an increasingly technical Union side.

Per WhoScored’s metrics, Carroll’s passing percentage dipped slightly to 82.2 percent. But he had his most combative season with the Union at 2.6 tackles per 90 minutes, up from 2.3 last year and 1.8 in 2014. That speaks to a simplified role for the No. 6, and when surrounded by playmakers, Carroll can be an important, steady cog focused on breaking up opponents’ attacking moves.

Carroll entered the season with modest expectations. When questioned Wednesday, he threw out numbers of “maybe … five starts and play in 10” games as a for-instance. But he played well enough to earn considerably more time, partially due to Maurice Edu’s injuries. Read more »

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Wrapping up 2016: 30 good minutes with Earnie Stewart

Jim Curtin, left, and Earnie Stewart wrapped up the Union season
with a lengthy press conference Wednesday.
For over an hour Wednesday, members of the Philadelphia Union worked either on the field or in the weight room, a coda on a long campaign and a gateway to the offseason. Then coach Jim Curtin and sporting direction Earnie Stewart fielded questions for 30-some minutes, wrapping up a playoff season that was and previewing an offseason of tinkering rather than rebuilding.

Those two, particularly Stewart, discussed a wide range of topics. Some takeaways:

- First, big picture. The Union announced options declined on six players: Loanees Anderson and Matt Jones, plus Cole Missimo, Taylor Washington, Walter Restrepo and Kevin Kratz (more on that later). It’s still mulling decisions on Charlie Davies and Leo Fernandes. Everyone else is back. That is a level of decisiveness and transparency that past squads have lacked.

- Breakup days of seasons past have been helter-skelter affairs – exit interviews, players slinking back to their personal lives, some informal workouts organized. This year, the Union are in Chester for two weeks after the season, working with the staff to prep for the offseason. Captain Brian Carroll indicated that that was a stark departure from the past, emblematic of the changes Stewart has instituted.

- Plenty of fans have opined about Curtin’s future as the coach of the Union. Stewart was unequivocal in assessing his performance:
“Really good, and I say that with a lot of confidence too. The way we set out the start of this season, I was curious in the United States how we go about practicing and do we go out with purpose, and Jim has exceeded those expectations in going out every single day. When we talked about roles and responsibilities as the players, you can go out and play games, or you can put a purpose behind everything that you do in the exercises that we have and in trying to create those moments of, the angled passes that we always talk about, playing forward that we always talk about. You can say it, or you can go out and practice it. I have to say Jim and his technical staff have been excellent in that in what I’ve seen, the level of training. And that’s my form of recognition to seeing how things go. If you see the progress in the beginning of the seasons in our keepaway and if you see the process now of where we are in our keepaway games, that’s a major, major difference and a lot has to do with the coaching staff in that.
“I think the beginning of the season showed that confidence level that we have, the way we can play. Do things happen during the season that we can’t reach that totally? Yeah. Do I feel that there’s open discussions about trying to tweak it left and right within our formation, within our style, within our system in getting better and getting those results? Yeah, they’ve been there. We’ve had open, honest discussions with each other which I think is fantastic and a very good way of working. That evaluation has been really good.”
- The Union adapted to a new training load, with two-a-days and other new tactics. Stewart was adamant that the increased burden didn’t precipitate the late-season swoon. “No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I do know how it works from a player perspective. That’s my own experience. When you win games, you’re never tired, and when you lose games, you’re very tired. And that’s just it. A human body can do way more than we think, so I don’t believe in that. That’s not an excuse.” Curtin added that per team data, he didn’t see players late in the season failing to reach the physical outputs they did early on. “To put in on fatigue, I don’t buy it,” Curtin said.

- The reasons for the late struggles remained elusive. Some of it was a young roster in the heat of a playoff chase for the first time. Some was untimely injuries. Part of it was the schedule getting tougher, leading to crises in player confidence. Some of it, as Stewart pointed out, is simple perception. Said Curtin: “We are examining and trying to pinpoint exactly what it is, too, and the harder we search and the more we look at the data, the analytics, the games, it comes back that it’s a variety of things.”

- Stewart has said that the club hasn’t received concrete offers for Andre Blake. The goalkeeper, who graduated Generation Adidas Monday, will count on the Union’s salary budget for the first time in his career in 2017. Stewart concurred that Blake has earned that and he would listen to offers for the Jamaican goalie, but they haven’t yet materialized. Stewart: Read more »

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Expanding on the horizon: Eyeing the Union's expansion draft plan

What do the futures of Brian Carroll, center, and Warren Creavalle, right,
with the Union look like? The MLS Expansion Draft could provide hints. (AP)
It’s the first week of November, and the stage is ready to discuss how the Philadelphia Union should guard against losses in an upcoming expansion draft. As some things change, others stay the same.

The Expansion Draft to boost the rosters of incoming Atlanta United and Minnesota United will take place Dec. 13. Unlike the last such draft in 2014 to populate New York City FC and Orlando City’s rosters (aside: Do paired expansion teams have to have identical naming structures?), Atlanta and Minnesota will each pick five players from MLS rosters, as opposed to 10 each last time. That lessens the risk of loss for current clubs. There’s also a limit of one players picked per team, as opposed to two last time.

All the rules briefings are here, and I’m not the first to share thoughts on how the Union should approach the expansion draft.

Here’s the list of who I would protect, in no exact order:

1. Alejandro Bedoya
2. Keegan Rosenberry
3. CJ Sapong
4. Chris Pontius
5. Richie Marquez
6. Ilsinho
7. Roland Alberg
8. Warren Creavalle
9. Ray Gaddis
10. Andre Blake
11. Eric Ayuk

Exempt from protection: Fabian Herbers, Josh Yaro (both Generation Adidas), Auston Trusty, Derrick Jones (Homegrowns)

Not protected: Matt Jones, Anderson, Tranquillo Barnetta, Taylor Washington, Cole Missimo, Maurice Edu, Kevin Kratz, John McCarthy, Ken Tribbett, Walter Restrepo, Leo Fernandes, Brian Carroll, Fabinho, Charlie Davies.

That’s all 29 players on the Union roster. Here’s the logic behind it, with players broken up into categories.
Read more »

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Monday, October 24, 2016

The struggle is real: How the Union's end-of-season winless streak stacks up

The Philadelphia Union are limping into the playoffs, or backing in, or whatever verb-euphemism-in you’d like to deploy. The achievement of the club’s first playoff berth since 2011 is marred by a seven-game winless streak dating to the start of September. Over that stretch, they’ve gone 0-5-2, taking a mere two points from a possible 21. It’s not an ideal finish to the regular season by any stretch of the imagination.

So I wondered, how does it stack up historically? What is the longest winless streak for a playoff team? And how did struggling teams fare in the playoffs?

First off, it’s hardly unprecedented, since the Union aren’t even the only 2016 MLS Cup playoff qualifier with such a streak of futility. The sixth-place team in the West, Real Salt Lake, has endured an 0-4-3 stretch in its last seven, matching the Union’s winless run. None of the other playoff teams, though, have gone more than two games without a win.

Only one other team in the last dozen years has entered the playoffs on a seven-game winless run: The 2013 Seattle Sounders, which stumbled into the playoffs on an 0-4-3 record. That team won a Wild Card playoff game, 2-0 against Colorado, before losing in the Western semifinals to Portland.

In the past, how have similar strugglers fared? For this, I looked at MLS Cup playoffs dating to 2004. I defined the category as any team with a winless streak of five or more games to end the regular season or just one win in their last seven or more games. Eleven teams fit the bill (record to end the regular season in parenthesis):

2013 Montreal Impact (1-6-1)
2013 Seattle Sounders (0-4-3)
2012 Vancouver Whitecaps (1-6-3)
2011 Real Salt Lake (0-4-2)
2010 Columbus Crew (1-3-3)
2009 Chicago Fire (1-2-4)
2008 New England Revolution (0-4-2)
2007 FC Dallas (1-5-2)
2006 D.C. United (1-4-2)
2006 Colorado Rapids (0-2-3)
2004 San Jose Earthquakes (0-3-4)

Of those 11 teams, none lifted MLS Cup. But five of the 11 won playoff ties. Four of those won two-leg ties, while Seattle in 2013 is the only to win a one-game wild card, though that is a newer addition to the playoff scheme. Three of the strugglers have played wild card games; Seattle in 2013 is the only one to win, though they were also the only one to host their game.

Four teams have won two-leg games: RSL in 2011, Chicago in 2009, and D.C. and Colorado (in PKs) in 2006. None of the teams has even made the MLS Cup final, the closest being Chicago in 2009, losing in PKs to RSL.

That sets long but not unreachable odds for the Union to extend their postseason.

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Union-Red Bulls: Decision Day lineups

UNION (4-2-3-1) 
Blake 
Fabinho -Marquez-Tribbett-Rosenberry 
Creavalle-Bedoya 
Ilsinho-Alberg-Ayuk 
Herbers 
Bench: McCarthy, Gaddis, Trusty, Carroll, Pontius, Sapong, Barnetta 

Red Bulls (4-2-3-1) 
Robles 
Lawrence-Collin-Perrinelle-Duvall 
McCarty-Felipe 
Grella-Kljestan-Muyl 
B.Wright-Phillips 
Bench: Reynish, Zizzo, Zubar, Davis, Damari, Veron, S.Wright-Phillips

- Jim Curtin promised changes, and he delivered, at least up top. Eric Ayuk makes his first start of the season after 28 appearances last year. He hasn’t made the bench yet this year for the Union. Ilsinho starts for the first time since Aug. 20. Roland Alberg starts for just the second time since the end of July. A reminder that the Union need to give up fewer than 12 goals, and they have probably the most defense-averse attacking midfield possible. This could get interesting.



- CJ Sapong makes the bench after a concussion. Charlie Davies is the conspicuous absence from the squad.

- The worst news the Union could possibly have also dropped today: Maurice Edu fractured his left fibula in practice Saturday. Reports had surfaced yesterday that he left the field with a non-contact injury, and a Union source confirmed that today. No timetable was offered. Edu has not played in over a year after a sports hernia and a stress fracture in his leg.

- It’s all about the milestones for New York Red Bulls in a full-strength lineup. Bradley Wright-Phillips is in the race for the golden boot with 23 goals. New York City FC’s David Villa can catch him; he’s got 22 goals and starts for NYC at home against Columbus. He can also solidify his record for the best three-year goal-scoring stretch in MLS history (he has 67 since the start of the 2014 season). Sacha Kljestan can get to 20 assists this season, becoming just the second player ever to do that in league history, joining Carlos Valderrama.

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