Hallelujah! The Union got their first win of 2017, as they beat New York Red Bulls 3-0 last weekend. CJ Sapong had a hat trick in 11 minutes, the defense kept its second straight clean sheet, and the Union have gained a whole lot of confidence. That being said there’s still a lot of work to be done for Philly to gain on the rest of the east. The positives from the Red Bull game show a blueprint for future success for the Union. The Union are riding high so how can they keep the momentum going? Let’s look at the what the Union did to get their first win, and how they can keep their positive momentum going into their future matches.
Keep feeding Sapong:
First career hat trick? That's good for @ALCATEL1TOUCH Player of the Week honors.
Congrats, @BigAfrika88! https://t.co/dB3wASUerp
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 9, 2017
Sapong success has been one of the bright spots for the Union in their first nine games. He has seven goals from nine games, and now sits as MLS’s leading goal scorer (Eric Torres now has 8 goals on the season after Friday night’s game; CJ will need to keep pace with him to regain the scoring lead). A major component of his scoring has been the teams ability to feed him in the box. whether it’s been crosses, knock-downs, or second balls in the box, the Union have done a great job of getting Sapong into dangerous areas. After starting the season on the bench, Sapong has found his stride as the Union’s number one striker. The play of Medunjanin, and Pontius has helped Sapong get his goals.
The service from Medunjanin, and the knock downs from Pontius, have given Sapong his goals. Both Medunjanin and Pontius are tied with for the teams lead in assists with three each. Players like Ilsinho, Fafa, Bedoya and Herbers have helped create good service as well. For the Union to keep their momentum going, they will need Sapong to keep scoring, and the midfielders to keep putting the ball in the box.
Can leave Union fans with this tonight, from MLS's stat leaders pic.twitter.com/b5LWA4cM0v
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) May 7, 2017
Keep up the defensive work:
Dre on two consecutive clean sheets: "It's not just me, it's the entire team."#DOOP pic.twitter.com/7uBWtNc6gj
— PhilaUnion (@PhilaUnion) May 7, 2017
The defense has stepped up in recent weeks. After a disappointing home stand where the Union conceded eight goals in three matches, they responded by posting two straight clean sheets. The team defense has improved immensely, thanks to Bedoya staying in the middle of the midfield, and the team’s ability to press well. This gets the wingers and central midfielders involved in creating turnovers and counters. The back four has seen a rotation of defenders this season. Fabinho, Marquez, Onyewu, Elliot, Rosenberry and Gaddis all have seen time. Each of the eight defenders has played a key role in the last two games, but no one has been better than Andre Blake.
Blake’s efforts kept them in both of the last two matches against LA and NYRB. The 2016 MLS keeper of the year has had a difficult start to the season. Some chances he’d have snatched up last year have found their way past the Jamaican in 2017. After he was chipped by David Villa from fifty yards out he seemed determined to get back to stopping everything. The defense didn’t help him much during the Montreal match, but have stepped up in the last two matches. The defense will need to continue its recent strong from. The Union have three matches in eight days starting Saturday, whoever is in front of Blake will need to keep up the strong form. If this is done the Union can gain ground in the east.
183 minutes and counting without giving up a goal.#JoinOrDie pic.twitter.com/1uwWo563BV
— PhilaUnion (@PhilaUnion) May 8, 2017
The Depth of this team has to be up to the task:
Pontius doesn't appear to be out here. Herbers and Picault running the wings. Ilsinho and Marquez with "second team"
— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) May 10, 2017
The Union are dealing with a plethora of illnesses, injuries and call-ups at the moment. Coach Curtin addressed this in his press conference this week. Richie Marquez and Ilsinho are returning from sickness; one in which Richie lost seven pounds! They are training with the second team at the moment, so their status is up in the air. Last match, Alberg and Gaddis picked up knocks that forced their substitution. Both were training separately with trainers, and not with the team Wednesday. Pontius received a foot bruise while training, and was not out with the team Wednesday. Derrick Jones, the young central midfielder, has been called up for the US-U20 national team for the U20 world cup. Auston Trusty is traveling with the U-20’s as well, but may not feature if other center backs are healthy.
So what does this mean for the Union? It means the depth that this team has will have to step up! Players like Onyewu, and Fafa may keep their spots from last week, since Ilsinho and Marquez are not fit enough to go. Second years, Herbers and Rosenberry, may find their starting spots again, if Gaddis and Pontius can’t go. With Jones and Trusty gone, Creavalle and Tribbett may find the eighteen. Also, Najem could be in line for his first MLS start if Alberg can’t play. With all of this happening now, the Union’s depth needs to step up and make the most of the opportunity. Who knows if all of these changes will come, but the Union will hope that their guys are up to the task.
The Union head to DC for a rivalry match that can keep their positive momentum going. They face a team that lost 1-0 to Montreal last weekend. DC has been up and down these last few weeks. The Union will look to play them the same way they played Red Bulls last week. Press, keep the majority of possession and keep the ball away from DC’s playmakers. Chris Pontius returns to his old stomping grounds for the last time, as this is the last time the Union will play at RFK stadium. His play will be crucial for the success of the Union, and can help CJ Sapong add more goals. Whoever goes out there for the Union, they will have to fight hard to get the first road win of the season. The matchup has the makings of a hard-fought game!
Tomorrow 💪👊#DCU | #DCvPHI pic.twitter.com/UIoNkFfCJ2
— D.C. United (@dcunited) May 12, 2017
All in all, the Union need to build on the momentum they’ve created. The weight of not winning has been lifted off their shoulders. Now it’s time to build on what worked, and stay mentally strong. The Union are only two wins away from crossing the red line. While that may seem hard to believe it’s true, six points is all that stands between Philly and sixth place. The Union have played the least amount of games (nine) in the eastern conference. They can gain some major ground in the east in their coming games. playing three games in eight days presents a possible nine-point swing.
Playing at DC, and two at home agaisnt Houston and Colorado presents the reality that the Union can get right back in the thick of things. Only time will tell if the Union can do this; they will need to rely on Sapong, their defense and depth to do it! For now they will feel good coming off their first win of 2017, and will be dialed in trying to keep the momentum going.
Feels good, man#DOOP pic.twitter.com/c1W5Bbu3V6
— PhilaUnion (@PhilaUnion) May 8, 2017
Be sure to check out Philly Sports Network later for a full recap of all of the MLS action from week 10. As well as a preview of the Union’s final trip to DC this 2017 season. Until then, peace out Union fans.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports