All posts by caitcostello

Philadelphia Union Open 10th Season with a 1-3 Loss Against Toronto FC

Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Cait Costello // @caitcostello

The 2019 MLS season kicked off with Philadelphia Union facing Toronto FC in a highly anticipated match that also featured the MLS debut of Marco Fabián, the Union’s biggest signing to date.

The home opener of the Union’s 10th season started slowly. Both teams traded shots back and forth in a largely scoreless first half marked by extended and dubious injury delays and a yellow card for Fafa Picault.

After Andre Blake got a hand on a risky header from Nick DeLeon, Kai Wagner slid to block Jonathan Osorio’s shot off the rebound. Wagner picked up a controversial hand ball penalty after the ball bounced off his shoulder blade, but Blake handily saved Osorio’s penalty kick. Loose defense later cost the Union in stoppage time, though, as a wide-open Michael Bradley found room in the box and drove home the only goal of the first half.

Down a goal, the Union came out shooting for the second half, with Ilsinho, Fafa and Fabián taking quick but unsuccessful chances within the first six minutes. Maintaining his momentum after a yellow card in 54th minute, Bradley once again slipped easily by the Union’s defense to make it 0-2 in the 62nd minute. In a refreshing display of adaptability as the game turned against them, Union coach Jim Curtin replaced defender Ray Gaddis with forward Sergio Santos in the 68th minute, shifting the Union into a 3-5-2 formation.

After Osorio conceded a hand ball penalty—and a tense delay in which the play was reviewed—Fabián stepped up to take the penalty kick. He easily booted a shot into the bottom corner to score his first MLS goal and to give Union fans renewed hope.

That hope grew in the 75th minute when the Union nearly managed to tie it up as a loose ball rolled up to the chalk in the Toronto box. Laurent Ciman cleared it off the line, and referee Nima Saghafi declined to review the play, ratcheting up tension, both in the stands and on the pitch.

Throughout the match, Saghafi’s control slipped away due to lengthy deliberations, as well as questionable and missed calls. After a heated exchange by both teams following a hard foul by Santos on Drew Moor, he attempted to reassert his authority by showing a yellow card first to Santos in the 81st minute, then to Osorio in the 83rd.

The game continued downhill from there as sloppy play handed Toronto its third goal in stoppage time when DeLeon took an open shot from the center of the box to put one past Blake. The match ended 1-3 in a disappointing start to the Union’s 10th season.

Though there were flashes of teamwork amid the Union’s many shot attempts, this team still needs time to click and to continue working on the new formation. Fabián only joined the team two weeks ago, and Santos and Wagner also made their Union debuts on Saturday. Hopefully cohesion will come, though Coach Curtin is likely feeling pressure from his one-year contract in this put-up-or-shut-up season. We’ll see how the boys in blue perform next week in Kansas City.

Featured image: @PhilaUnion

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State of the (Philadelphia) Union

Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Cait Costello // @caitcostello

With the 2019 season less than a month away, rumors of a deal to sign Marco Fabián breathed fresh life into Philadelphia Union fans feeling adrift and anxious for a big signing in the offseason.

Fabián, 29, joined Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt four seasons ago, where he netted eight goals and six assists in 44 appearances. In 42 appearances for the Mexican National Team since 2012, he’s scored a further nine goals. However, Fabián’s last two seasons were derailed by a back injury and subsequent surgery and recovery.

Still, Fabián would be exactly the kind of high-profile, splashy signing Union fans have been clamoring for and would build confidence in sporting director Ernst Tanner’s vision and direction for the team.

That vision includes a new formation that we saw for the first time in Clearwater during the Union’s 3-2 preseason victory over the New York Red Bulls. After so many seasons of a rigid and predictable 4-2-3-1, it was a refreshing change of pace to see a 4-4-2 diamond formation. I’m particularly excited to see how the two-striker approach changes the Union’s attack this year.

This first look at the new formation also marks our first glimpse into the mindset that has guided their offseason roster decisions. Players we said goodbye to this winter include winger Marcus Epps (New York Red Bulls), midfielder Fabian Herbers (Chicago Fire), and defender Keagan Rosenberry (Colorado Rapids). 

The first big-name signing of the offseason was Brazilian forward Sergio Santos, 24, who made 16 appearances for Chilean Primera Division club Audax Italiano in 2018. During that time he scored nine goals, earning his place as the club’s top scorer and tying for 10th leading scorer in the league. Santos will occupy an international spot on the team’s active roster.

Goalkeeper Carlos Miguel Coronel, 22, joined the Union from Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg—Tanner’s former club—as part of a one-year loan with an option to buy. Tanner sees an opportunity for Coronel to develop alongside fellow goalkeeper and new Homegrown signing Matt Freese.

The Union also signed centerback Aurelien Collin as a free agent. A former MLS Cup Champion and MLS Cup MVP with Sporting Kansas City in 2013, as well as an MLS All-Star in 2012, 2013 and 2014, Collin comes to Philadelphia fresh off a Supporters’ Shield victory with the New York Red Bulls last season. 

Will these signings help the Union build on the successes (and avoid the painful defeats) of last season? We’ll have to wait until March 2 to see, but I feel cautiously optimistic about the Union’s 10th season—and I’ll feel even better if the team announces that they’ve signed Marco Fabián this Friday when they launch the new away kit.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Ernst Tanner confirmed the rumors of talks to bring Marco Fabián to the Union, but declined to elaborate any further.

The team also announced the signing of German left back Kai Wagner, 21, from Würzburger Kickers, part of Germany’s 3. Liga. As the third left back on the roster, Wagner provides depth and can be a backup to Matt Real when he likely heads to Poland for the U-20 World Cup in May. Additionally, this extra depth on the left will allow Ray Gaddis to move over to right back, his natural position. Wagner is the eighth international player on the Union’s roster and the third added by Tanner during this offseason.

Featured image: Philadelphia Union/Kylie Willet

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With a 3-1 Loss, the Union Limp into the Playoffs After All

Cait Costello - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Cait Costello // @caitcostello

Well, that’s one way to end the regular season.

The Philadelphia Union fell 3-1 to NYCFC in Yankee Stadium on Sunday night in a disappointing end to what is definitively the team’s best season in its history. From the start, the Union felt disjointed and gave up a goal to Maxime Chanot off a corner kick in the 8th minute.

Two minutes later, Auston Trusty scored his second own goal of the season while running toward the Union’s goal line, and two minutes after that, Trusty was shown the first yellow card of the match. The 20-year-old is a great addition to the team—playing every single minute of the regular season—which only makes these rookie mistakes hit harder.

It felt like the Union may be able to recover when Cory Burke scored a goal from the center of the box in the 14th minute with an assist from Borek Dockal. This was Burke’s 10th goal of the season, tying with Fafa Picault, and Dockal’s MLS-best 18th assist.

David Villa took back the momentum by scoring for NYCFC in the 34th minute. Then, Burke picked up a yellow card in the 40th minute and exchanged heated words with Dockal. Burke started the second half on the bench in tears as Ilsinho took his place on the pitch.

A foul by NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson gave the Union their best chance to pick up another goal with a penalty kick by Fafa, but Johnson guessed right for the save. The Union’s offense couldn’t capitalize on any of the other opportunities they made, and the score stayed at 3-1.

Throughout the match, the Union’s defense felt off, with the back line consistently playing way up the pitch in a possible failure to adapt to Yankee Stadium’s smaller dimensions. Despite being left on his own and giving up two goals, Andre Blake did make some big saves to stop the bleeding. This match easily could have been a draw without the own goal and with the penalty kick, but it was not to be for the Union.

After starting #DecisionDay with the opportunity to finish in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference, the Union instead fell from 4th to 6th in a disappointing decline for a season in which the boys in blue netted more wins, more points and clinched a spot in the playoffs earlier than ever before in team history.

The loss dashed their hopes for a home match in the knockout round of the #MLSCupPlayoffs, so the Union head back up to the Bronx for a Halloween rematch at 7pm.

It’s good to see that the Union have cut their practice pitch down to the appropriate size as they prepare to face NYCFC again, but the pressure is on if the team wants to win its first playoff game ever and get payback for Sunday’s loss. We’ll have to see whether that pressure will keep them focused as a team or knock them out of the running.

Featured image:  @steph_rex408

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @caitcostello

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The Hunt for a Home Playoff Match Continues

Cait Costello - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Cait Costello // @caitcostello

Fresh off an international break that saw both Andre Blake and Borek Dockal serving as captains for their respective national teams, the Philadelphia Union faced off against the New York Red Bulls for their home season finale.

The Union’s defense thwarted Bradley Wright-Phillips and the Red Bulls’ offense, holding them scoreless until the 69th minute. A hand ball in the box by Alejandro Bedoya and a lengthy VAR review resulting in a penalty kick gave Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra all the opportunity he needed to get one goal up on the Union. Though the Union took more shots throughout the game, they weren’t able to turn any of their chances into a goal, and the match ended in a 1-0 win for the Red Bulls.

The Good

Homegrown hot shots Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty yet again proved themselves as valuable members of the Union’s defense. At only 19 and 20, Philly may not have much time left with these two, but it will be exciting to watch them grow in their careers.
The Union held up well against the No. 2 team in the league, leading both in shots and possession. Before the penalty kick, a 0-0 finish and 1 point felt like a real possibility.

The Bad

Bedoya’s hand ball dashed the Union’s hopes for a draw, but an earlier tangle with Fafa Picault in the 40th minute cost them a chance at a goal when Bedoya inadvertently blocked Fafa’s shot.

It was a rough game all around, with both teams each netting 13 fouls. Three of the match’s five yellow cards went to the Union—CJ Sapong (37’), Auston Trusty (47’), and Picault (66’).

The Ugly

The tension on the pitch only increased when a scuffle broke out just as the first half ended. Luckily for all the players, the shoving didn’t result in any further penalties or cards, and the teams headed into the locker rooms to cool off.

After the match, Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin took some time out of their post-game remarks to take the Union front office to task for Sunday’s field conditions, with Medunjanin going so far as to say he’d prefer an away playoff berth unless the situation improves.

Longtime Union fans know that this is a team that does better while playing consistently, and they tend to come back from a bye week or international break below peak form.

This Sunday, the Union face off with NYCFC in Yankee Stadium for their last chance to secure a home playoff game, and they’ll be doing it with DC United breathing down their necks. Let’s hope they can get back into their groove this week.

Featured image: Ardell McDuffie

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @caitcostello

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“We Don’t Suck”: The Philadelphia Union Are Going to the Playoffs

Cait Costello - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Cait Costello // @caitcostello

After a disappointing US Open Cup loss followed by a scoreless road draw, the Philadelphia soccer community was tense, wondering if the Philadelphia Union had what it took to win a game with stakes on the line. In his post-game remarks, Union head coach Jim Curtin admitted that he too was nervous going into the match against Minnesota United FC.

If the players were nervous as they returned to their home turf on Saturday night, they never showed it. The team that ran onto the pitch was a team ready to prove that the pair of surprising wins leading into the US Open Cup was not a fluke but the status quo for a team that has visibly clicked in the latter half of this season.

The Union dominated the first half of the match, scoring early and often. Center forward Cory Burke shot from outside the box to score the first point in the 8th minute with an assist from the Union’s #10, Borek Dockal.

In the 17th minute, a strong cross from defender Keegan Rosenberry followed by a left-footed shot from Union captain Alejandro Bedoya took the Union up 2-0 over Minnesota. The fans barely had a chance to settle back into their seats when Fafa Picault slipped through two MNUFC defenders with a through ball from Rosenberry and scored the third goal of the evening in the 23rd minute.

The Union kept shooting as they sought a fourth goal, trading possession with MNUFC and making six more attempts—four missed and two saved. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake felt pressure from Minnesota as he made two big saves in as many minutes before sending the ball down the field.

In the 44th minute, Fafa, looking cool and collected, lobbed a shot from the left side of the box. The ball went over Minnesota’s back line to score the fourth goal—his second—and leave MNUFC goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth looking utterly demoralized at the end of the half.

MNUFC used the break to regroup and came out for the second half looking dangerous as they caught the Union off guard in the 54th minute when MNUFC’s Darwin Quintero put one past Blake to end the shutout.

Just when it felt like the Union’s earlier cohesion might be slipping, midfielder Ilsinho came on for Dockal as the Union’s first substitution. This well-timed change lead to multiple close chances in a row and reinvigorated the players and the supporters in the River End after the conceded goal, several fouls and a yellow card for Bedoya.

The Union demonstrated a level of confidence, comfort and footwork that remained steady for the rest of the game, even as Fafa and MNUFC’s Alexi Gomez both picked up yellow cards in the 72nd minute. Blake held MNUFC to one point with several great saves.

Ilsinho scored the Union’s fifth goal with an absolute rocket from 30 yards out in the 79th minute, and it was all over. At full time, the score sat at 5-1 Union, and the boys in blue clinched a playoff spot in commanding fashion.

As Fafa said after the game, the team proved that “we don’t suck.” Sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with two games remaining in their most successful regular season in franchise history, the Union are better positioned than ever for this third run at the postseason. Enjoy the international break, Union—you’ve earned it.

Featured image: @austheboss3

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @caitcostello

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