Home Sweet Home
The Union return to Talen Energy Stadium, where Philadelphia will have the luxury of a three-game homestand. That homestand starts Saturday, when the Union welcome Portland to town, and the Union will be looking for some much-needed points. Throughout MLS this season, the home teams are 24-7-14, earning 86 of a possible 135 points, meaning the odds are in the Union’s favor to move back up the table. Also, this season, the Union scored multiple goals in its only home game of the season, against a tough Toronto FC opponent. The upcoming three-game stretch presents a good opportunity for the Union to get valuable points, and the team and coaching staff know it.
“We have now three at home, and 30 games left in the season to get things right, but there is urgency,” Curtin said. “With a very strong Portland team coming into our building, one that creates lots of problems attack wise, has been organized defensively as well, and they have some dynamic players and made some really good additions to their group. We’ll have to be really on our game and will need our fans behind our boys when we come out here, back in Talen Energy Stadium.”
Elliott provides valuable depth behind Marquez
In the Union’s match against DC United, Marquez had to leave the game at halftime and entered concussion protocol, which opened up a spot for Philadelphia’s Jack Elliott to make his MLS debut. Selected in the fourth round of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, Elliott became the first player from the 2017 fourth round to make his MLS debut, and he played well in his 45 minutes of action. Elliott and the rest of the backline held United scoreless, and Elliott had six ball recoveries, two tackles and a clearance while winning every one of his duels. Curtin said he expects Marquez to be cleared from concussion protocol before the Union’s match Saturday, but even if he is, Elliott presents a difficult choice for the technical staff.
“I thought Jack came into the game at a tough spot,” Curtin said. “At halftime of a game to make your debut is not easy for a defender. I thought he came into the game and passed really well. Positionaly, he stopped the counters DC tried to come at us with. It looks like Richie will be cleared by the game, but again, that’s speculation. There will be a tough decision to make in that regard, but I’m confident for Jack to play in MLS. I believe he has the size, the feet, the passing ability, to play in the league, and he showed that against DC United. A really good performance.”
Sapong sparking Union offense
CJ Sapong has been vital to the Union’s offense, as he has scored three of the Union’s four goals on the year. And each of those goals have come in the past three games. His three-game goal streak is the second-longest of his career, and is the longest since he scored in four straight games in June 2015. He leads the Union in shots on goal, shooting percentage and conversion rate. Curtin recognizes Sapong has the hot foot, and aims to keep using him the best as he possibly can.
“CJ’s given us some life,” Curtin said. “He had a good preseason. He, Jay and Charlie are pushing each other in a healthy way. CJ is in good form, he’s scoring on all his chances in the game. He’s a hot forward right now, and a forward who is scoring goals, creating chances and giving us some life.”
Derrick Jones remains consistent
When the opening whistle sounded in the season opener against Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Derrick Jones became the first player to start a game for the Union Academy, Bethlehem Steel FC and the Union. Now four games into his MLS career, Jones has become a staple in the midfield for the Union. He’s played both sides of the ball well, creating offensive chances while also playing solid defense in the defending half. His play has been somewhat masked by the overall play and outcome of Union matches this season, but Curtin said the team is starting to expect even more from the rookie.
“He’s been excellent,” Curtin said of Jones. “Because we have two draws and two losses, some of it gets lost in the shuffle. The position he plays, the work he puts in, after every game the opposing coach will bring his name up as a guy who they’re impressed with. He’s doing really well right now. Right now, he’s a box to box midfielder. We’d like to see him creep more forward into the attack, but he’s done everything we’ve asked. As a young kid, he’s grown quickly and he continues to get better each and every day. His ceiling is a high one.”