Photo: Frank Fimmano

Photo: Frank Fimmano

Union continue free-fall, lose to NYCFC 2-0

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. The Philadelphia Union are a bad team.

Desperately needing a win, the Union fell to NYCFC 2-0 at Talen Energy Stadium Friday night. At 1 ½ months into the season, the boys in blue have the worst record in Major League Soccer. The team hasn’t won a match since August. Has the Jim Curtin sack-watch begun? Many of the fans hope so.

Union starting XI: Blake; Rosenberry, Elliott, Marquez, Fabinho; D. Bedoya, Medunjanin; Ilsinho, Alberg, Pontius; Sapong

NYCFC starting XI: Johnson; Matarrita, Callens, Chanot, White; Moralez, Pirlo, Ring; Wallace, Villa, Harrison

The Union came into the match hoping to end their winless streak that stretched back to August, and perhaps climb out of the Eastern Conference cellar. NYCFC’s situation wasn’t as dire, but they were still looking for the first road points of the season.

The Union needed to get better performance from their number 10, and Jim Curtin addressed it by moving Alejandro Bedoya back to number 8, replacing Derrick Jones, and giving Roland Alberg a shot as the central attacking midfielder. Jones didn’t deserve the bench role based on his play, but Bedoya is better at that position, and the Union need to get the most of their most expensive player.

Jack Elliott also got his first start of the season, taking over the centerback spot that Oguchi Onyewu had occupied up until now.

One thing that didn’t change was the Union formation. Curtin may have surprised the Union faithful the previous week when he replaced Ilsinho with Jay Simpson in the 78’ and tried out a 4-4-2, but this was not a portent of things to come. Curtin stated in his Wednesday press conference that, despite the lack of success so far this season, the 4-2-3-1 was here to stay, because their roster was built specifically for that. If that is the case, one has to wonder how much sporting director Earnie Stewart is contributing to this stubbornness.

NYCFC’s head coach, Patrick Vieira, is, in a sense, the anti-Curtin. He has shown a willingness to experiment with different formations to suit the situation the team finds itself in. Even so, he also has been pretty consistent with his lineups and formations so far this season, sticking to a 4-3-3, though he has claimed he was considering a using 3-4-3 in their previous match (a 2-1 loss on the road against DC United).

The lineup changes seemed to pay off in the first half as the Union looked energized. The Union got the ball into the 18-yard box several times, but had trouble getting the ball on frame. Their best chance was off a hard shot from Bedoya from outside the box that forced NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson to make a nice save. They dodged a bullet in the 30th minute when Richie Marquez dived to stop a David Villa shot in the box and the ball hit his arm. The referee, Juan Carlos Rivero, didn’t notice, and so Blake was spared from having to defend a penalty kick.

The Union looked good enough to give hope that this would be the night they’d get their first win of the season.

Then the second half happened.

They didn’t look as sharp, and the result was a Jack Harrison goal in the 52nd minute. Ronald Matarrita passed the ball into the box as Harrison was making a run behind the Union defense. With only Fabinho and Blake to beat, Harrison shot the ball past both of them to make it 1-0.

After that, the Union completely lost their mojo. They had trouble passing and keeping possession. Curtin replaced an ineffective Chris Pontius in the 60th minute with Fabian Herbers, but Herbers wasn’t much better. Alberg turned out to be a letdown in the number 10 role and Adam Najem replaced him in the 71st minute for his MLS debut. Curtin tried to jump-start the offense by trying the two-striker formation again when he replaced Ilsinho with Simpson in the 77th minute. The offense did perk up, but not enough to create any real chances.

NYCFC sealed the game in the 90th minute when David Villa caught Blake too far away from the net and he chipped a shot from just the outside the midfield circle that went over Blake’s head to make the score 2-0.

Jim Curtin 4-8-17

Is Jim Curtin on the hot seat? Earnie Stewart says no. Photo: K Dempsey

In his press conference, Curtin insisted that the Union are a good team. They are not, but what else can he say? Fortunately for him, Stewart has his back as he revealed in an interview with ESPN’s Taylor Twellman. An argument can be made that the players just aren’t good enough, but it’s hard to imagine this free-fall continuing for much longer without making a change at the top, no matter how much Stewart likes Curtin. A lot of Union fans would be delighted if he got sacked next week, but given Stewart’s comments my gut says he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

I want Jim Curtin to succeed. I really do. Not just because I want our local club to be winners, but because he is local boy living his dream. He’s a Philly area person, and he seems like a genuinely nice guy. I am not of those who feel you need a “big-name” manager to succeed, and producing a winner would be a great storybook tale. But this winless streak is turning it into a nightmare.

Final thoughts:

  • Elliott had a pretty good game.
  • Keegen Rosenberry seems to be experiencing a sophomore slump. He’s not going to be an all-star this year unless he turns things around.
  • Bedoya did indeed look better at number 8, but he still needs to do more.
  • Blake is awesome.
  • The Union really miss Vincent Nogiuera and Tranqillo Barnetta.
  • They might not make the playoffs, but there’s always the US Open Cup if they need to reboot the season.
  • LCBline

    Excellent article Mike, Thank you! The problem is that the Union would not be this bad if the team wasn’t always trying to go the cheapest route in acquiring a bonafide striker, a true #10 and a left back just for starters. Three of the biggest positions that needed to be shored up were filled with question marks or projects… Again! The Union are a team that make the stat sheet look as if they’re competing but where it counts they are a big fat nothing! At the top of the list of issues is Jim Curtin. He can not or will not get out of his own way. Sticking to a formation when it doesn’t produce offense as in goals is asinine and feckless even with the so so finishers they trot out. He finally put Bedoya in a position to move the ball but the guys on the end of play are so run of the mill. Ilsinho is too much of a hot dog. He can easily make a move to beat an opponent but then it’s the unnecessary 2nd, 3rd, 4th moves and not finding that open teammate. Pontius is still a no show! Still no FaFa Picault! Najem is a true 10 with great potential. Alberg is a waste. Haris is a good pick up and I like Bedoya but it’s not enough if you want to be a serious playoff team. The Union need star power. I can’t speak for other supporters but I’m sick of seeing other teams address issues and sign proven DP (or at least top MLS quality) while the Union mostly go for the marked down no warranty or guarantee knock offs!. I am sick to death of these hit or miss players. They are OK as subs and fillers but as your franchise XI identity? I don’t think so!

    • Michael Dempsey

      Good point about star power. I can’t say I was impressed when they filled their striker need with a guy from the lower levels of English football (yeah, Simpson had played in the Premier League at one time, but that was many years ago). And they haven’t replaced Barnetta at #10 at all yet, which is killing them.