Union's five-game unbeaten surge built on key position changesThe Philadelphia Inquirer — Marc Narducci The Philadelphia Inquirer
May 19--There are many reasons why the Union have turned their Major League Soccer season around, earning three consecutive wins and going unbeaten in their last five games after starting the year 0-4-2.
The biggest reason is due to changes in the midfield, moving Alejandro Bedoya out from the No. 10 spot (as attacking midfielder). Bedoya has played much better when moving back to the No. 8 (which has a heavy emphasis on both offense and defense).
Bedoya first moved to the No. 8 in a 2-0 loss to New York City FC on April 14. In the subsequent five games, the Union are 3-0-2. Not only that, but they have yet to trail in the last five games. He has admitted to feeling much more comfortable there.
Roland Alberg first replaced Bedoya at the 10 and started four games, before missing the last two with a quadriceps strain. Ilsinho has moved from the outside to the 10, and he has flourished even though he says he never played it before.
First-year Union midfielder Fafa Picault earned his first start four games ago and he has provided some much-needed speed. Picault has scored in consecutive games.
In addition, the season's biggest surprise, rookie center back Jack Elliott, an unheralded fourth round draft choice from West Virginia, has started the last six games. The Union haven't allowed a goal in four consecutive games.
Fellow center back Oguchi Onyewu regained his starting spot three games ago, after being benched for three.
While Onyewu and Elliott aren't the fleetest of foot, both are rarely out of position. The 6-foot-5 Elliott has been great in the air, while Onyewu is a physical presence in the back.
Another somewhat controversial move was when coach Jim Curtin sent last year's all-star right back Keegan Roseberry to the bench and replaced him with Ray Gaddis for the last five games. (Rosenberry has seen action in two of the games as a reserve). Gaddis has been solid on the outside.
Other factors are that players who have been regulars, have just been playing better. Bosnian midfielder Haris Medunjanin has been the team's best player, and he has taken his game up a level during the last five while playing the No. 6 (defensive midfield). Medunjanin has been called by Curtin, "the most accurate passer that I have coached."
Even though midfielder Chris Pontius has yet to score, he has tied his career high with six assists. Pontius has at least one assist in three straight games and four of five.
And of course, the winning has made this a much more confident team. The Union didn't panic when things were looking bleak, even though predictions of doom were coming from all directions.
"I have been on a bad team and know what a bad team feels like and this wasn't a bad team," Pontius said. "I knew we weren't an 0-4-4 team and we kept plugging away."
And now the Union host the struggling Colorado Rapids (2-7-1) on Saturday in their third game in eight days.
After such a slow start, it's hard to believe that overconfidence could be something the Union have to guard against while facing a Rapids team that has dropped six of its last seven games.
The offense awakens
A major reason for the Union's revival during their current five-game unbeaten streak from a statistical standpoint is the way they have converted more of their chances.
The conversion percentage is defined as goals (excluding penalty kicks) divided by total shots (excluding blocked shots and penalty kicks). According to data provided by the Union, the Major League Soccer conversion average is 13.94 percent.
In the four of the last five games, the Union have converted 25 percent or more of their chances in four of the last five games.
In their first six games, they converted at that level just once.
Here's a breakdown of the game-by-game conversion rate:
Date Opponent Score Goals Shots Conversion Rate (%)
3/5 at Vancouver Whitecaps 0-0 0 5 0.0
3/11 vs. Toronto FC 2-2 2 6 33.33
3/18 at Orlando City 1-2 1 12 8.33
4/1 at D.C. United 1-2 1 16 6.25
4/8 vs. Portland Timbers 1-3 1 7 14.29
4/14 vs. New York City FC 0-2 0 8 0.0
4/22 vs. Montreal Impact 3-3 2 8 25.0
4/29 at Los Angeles Galaxy 0-0 0 8 0.0
5/6 vs. New York Red Bulls 3-0 2 8 25
5/13 at D.C. United 4-0 4 13 30.77
5/17 vs. Houston Dynamo 2-9 2 8 25
Note: The Union had penalty kicks in three games, missing against Toronto and scoring against Montreal and the Red Bulls.
Colorado Rapids at Union
Saturday, 7 p.m., at Talen Energy Stadium
Records: Rapids (2-7-1, 7 points); Union (3-4-4, 13 points).
TV: The Comcast Network.
Rapids on the road: 0-5-0
Union at home: 2-2-2.
Goals for: Rapids, 8; Union, 17.
Goals against: Rapids, 15; Union, 14.
All-time series: Colorado leads 5-3-1.
Last meeting: The teams played to a 1-1 draw at Colorado on May 28, 2016.
Coaches: Colorado, Pablo Mastroeni (39-41-32); Union, Jim Curtin (31-40-26).
Last games: The Rapids lost, 3-0 on Wednesday to the host Chicago Fire. The Union beat the visiting Houston Dynamo, 2-0 on Wednesday.
About the Rapids: Colorado has lost six of its last seven games. . . . Midfielder Sam Hamilton, the team's first-round pick (15th overall) in the 2017 draft from the University of Denver, made his debut against Chicago, playing 27 minutes in a reserve role. . . . Midfielder Michael Azira is the only Rapids player to start all 10 games. . . . The Rapids have been shut out in four of their last five games. . . . Forward Dominique Badji has a team-high three goals. Former Union keeper Zac MacMath has allowed four goals in five games as the backup to Tim Howard. MacMath started the opener when Howard was hurt and filled in three games last month when Howard was suspended. Howard has a 1.67 goals against average and a 60.9 save percentage.
About the Union: Midfielder Roland Alberg is expected to miss his third straight game with a quadriceps injury. . . . The Union have record four consecutive shutouts and earned points in five straight games. . . . In Wednesday's win over Houston, midfielder Fafa Picault scored for the second straight game while midfielder Ilsinho scored his first goal of the season. . . . C.J. Sapong has a team-high seven goals while Chris Pontius leads the Union with six assists, tying his career high that he set last year. . . . Midfielder Derrick Jones will miss his third game while with the U.S., at the U-20 World Cup. . . . This is the Union's third game in eight days, so there could be a few lineup changes.
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