Week 17 Recap: Back to the Drawing Board

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It was another game and another disappointing draw for the Union as they ended their matchup against the Chicago Fire with a 1-1 result. The Union’s usual problems reared their ugly heads again, and a rather strong performance was overshadowed by the scoreline.

Chicago found the back of the net, with Przemysław Frankowski scoring just ten minutes into the game. However, the Union quickly took back control of the game, comfortably maintaining possession and controlling the movement of the ball across the field.

In the 34th minute, a video review call reduced Chicago to 10 men after it was determined that Wyatt Omsberg was guilty of denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Omsberg got tangled up with Union striker Cory Burke and his own goalkeeper, Bobby Shuttleworth, and his foul led to the free kick that Kai Wagner easily converted into the Union’s lone goal of the game.

Although having a dominant performance for the rest of the game, the home side just couldn’t find it in them to finish any of the many, many chances they had in front of the net. Although they outshot Chicago 25-4, and had a 13-1 corner kick advantage, the numbers don’t necessarily reflect the relatively easy night Shuttleworth had.

“Once again, we have them pinned in and we create the 25 shots, but just the final decision making, I think we can be a little bit sharper so that we’re scoring three, four goals a game, rather than scraping out with just one,” Jim Curtin said in a post-game press conference. “So that obviously has to improve. It’s obviously an empty feeling here at home.”

Even the offensively-minded substitutions of Ilsinho, Quinn Sullivan, and Jack McGlynn, along with almost 10 minutes of stoppage time, couldn’t give the Union that one extra goal they needed to boost them from fifth to third in the Eastern Conference standings.

Man of the Match: It’s difficult to pinpoint just one Man of the Match when the entire team look stronger than they have these past couple of games, but Burke marked his return to the Union with good pressure, solid shots on goal, and never stopped working for a goal the entire game (even though he didn’t actually get one).

The Main Takeaway: Finishing. Finishing. Finishing. The Union could have absolutely obliterated the Fire if they had properly capitalized on their numerous chances, but they didn’t. It’s maddening to know that the Boys In Blue have all of the pieces they need for an unstoppable offense, but can’t quite seem to fit them into the puzzle.

Week 17 Preview: Union vs. Chicago Fire

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union will want to leave July behind as they return home from a disappointing road trip in Florida to face off against the Chicago Fire. Playing in front of a home crowd for just the third time since Memorial Day will hopefully start August off on the right foot, and put three points back in the Union’s Eastern Conference tally.

It certainly helps that goalkeeper Andre Blake and striker Cory Burke are finally set to return to MLS play after being away on international duty for Jamaica’s run in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Having Blake in front of the goal will obviously bolster the Union’s defense, but his vocal leadership and demanding of nothing short of excellence from his teammates will (hopefully) see Jim Curtin’s men look more like the disciplined and organized Union side fans have grown used to seeing this season.

Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo will also be essential in beating the Fire. One of the Fire’s biggest weaknesses is defending against counterattacks on the wings, and both men have proven that they can control the entire flow of the game from their respective sides of the pitch. Their reading of the game needs to be razor-sharp, able to spot a good run from the back and get their central midfielders involved in time to move the ball forward. Keeping the midfield in more of a triangular shape will expose the Fire’s preferred three-at-the-back defense, and give plenty of space to create goals.

This game is yet another chance for Curtin to start some of his young players. One has to wonder what more Quinn Sullivan has to do off the bench in order to earn a spot in the starting lineup, or if perhaps Paxten Aaronson stole Curtin’s parking spot at Subaru Park, hence the shockingly limited playing time in all competitions this season. There are plenty of tired legs in the Union’s usual starting lineup, and it wouldn’t kill their manager to make good on his promise to give minutes to the Homegrowns.

Predicted Lineup: Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Olivier Mbaizo, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, Cory Burke, Kacper Przybyłko

  • It would be nice to see the young guys start, but it’s not looking likely after the poor results the Union have recently sustained. Blake will be a breath of fresh air in a disorganized Union back line, but he’s probably going to be the only real change in Curtin’s lineup. Sergio Santos is facing a one game suspension for kicking an object at fans during the Union’s game against Orlando City SC, which will allow Burke to get some minutes up front.

Score Prediction: This Union offense should be better than scraping together a 2-1 win against the Fire, but the finishing, pressure, and intensity on the counterattack just haven’t been satisfactory as of late. However, three points is three points, especially since the Union will soon have to balance MLS with the CONCACAF Champions League again.

Union Sign Jesus Bueno

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union have officially announced the signing of midfielder Jesús Bueno from Venezuelan Primera Division side Deportivo Lara for an undisclosed fee.

Bueno, who served as captain of Deportivo Lara, signed a two-and-a-half year contract with a club option for two additional years. Bueno will join the Union’s active roster once he receives his International Transfer Certificate and P1 Visa.

“Jesús is a young versatile player we have followed because of his strong potential,” said Union sporting director Ernst Tanner. “As the captain of his former club, he brings natural leadership abilities and the mentality we value, and his ability to play multiple positions will allow us to find a good fit for him in our system. We look forward to welcoming him to the team and watching him develop.”

Bueno has totaled nine goals and three assists in 75 appearances for Deportivo Lara, playing in the Primera Division Championship Finals in 2016 and 2020. He made five appearances for Deportivo this season, and recently recorded his first professional brace against Aragua FC in May of this year.

Union Poised to Finalize Signing of South American Duo

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

According to multiple sources, the Union are gearing up to add two new players to their current roster.

The players in question are Venezuelan midfielder Jesus Bueno, who currently plays for Deportivo Lara in the Venezuelan Primera Division, and Brazilian forward Matheus Davo, who plays for Corinthians in Brazil’s Serie A.

Bueno would be acquired on a permanent deal, while it’s looking like Davo would come to Philadelphia on a year-long loan, with the Union retaining a purchase option as part of the agreement.

Bueno is a 22-year-old midfielder, who is able to play as a No. 6 or No. 8. He has made 76 appearances for Deportivo Lara, and is currently the club’s captain. His versatility in the midfield will give Jim Curtin even more options for rotating his midfield diamond, experimenting with formations including Bueno, Alejandro Bedoya, Leon Flach, and Bueno’s fellow Venezuelan, Jose Martinez.

Davo is a 21-year-old forward who would add some much-needed depth to Curtin’s options up front. He would most likely be filling in as a second striker, partnering with the likes of Kacper Przybylko, Cory Burke, and Sergio Santos. Davo has played with Guarani FC in Brazil’s Serie B on loan, where he registered two goals and three assists in 1,000 minutes with the club.

MLS insider Tom Bogert broke the news that the Union are in a position to finalize these signings, while Marcelo Braga of Globo initially reported the Union’s interest in Davo, and Mario Sanchez of Mundo es un Balon first reported the club’s interest in Bueno.

Week 16 Recap: The Kids Are Alright

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It’s likely that the Union will want to get on the plane back to Philadelphia and forget that this road trip to Florida ever happened. A loss to Orlando City SC and a tie (that was very nearly a loss) to Inter Miami will give Jim Curtin and his players a lot to think about as they take a week-long break from games.

Despite coming into this game with a meager eight points and the worst record in the league, Miami controlled possession for a large majority of the game. While they weren’t always engaging in threatening counterattacks of their own, they made sure to slow down any offensive push from the Union by having diligent one-on-one man-marking and easily dispossessing the visitors.

The midfield, made up of Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, and Jamiro Monteiro wholly failed to impress. While Martinez was able to hold down the base of the midfield diamond, Flach and Bedoya looked lost trying to move the ball out of their own half, while Monteiro and Daniel Gazdag failed to move the ball into any remotely dangerous scoring opportunities.

After mercifully ending the first 45 minutes in a scoreless deadlock, Miami were able to find the back of the net in the 71st minute. Robbie Robinson was allowed entirely too much space at the edge of the box, and gleefully took advantage of an absent Union back line to bend the ball past goalie Matt Freese.

Curtin then decided to put fresh legs on the field for the Union, surprisingly taking Monteiro off to swap in Sergio Santos in an attempt to generate some offense. Ilsinho also saw game time for the first time since a groin injury sidelined him in April..

However, and perhaps unsurprisingly, substituting Quinn Sullivan was the difference-maker in this game. Much like his performance off the bench against Orlando, Sullivan immediately made an impact. He was creating space to move the ball up near the box, maneuvering around pressing Miami defenders, and unselfishly distributing the ball to a wide range of areas in front of the net.

Sullivan ultimately ended up creating the game-tying goal, after an elegant pass exchange with Gazdag fed the 17-year-old a well-placed backheel pass. Sullivan was able to hit it perfectly to Kacper Przybylko, who promptly placed it in the back of the net.

Man of the Match: This easily goes to Sullivan. He always livens up the offense when he steps onto the field, and many of the Union’s best scoring chances come from his skill in moving the ball forward. Although Przybylko is officially credited for the goal, it simply wouldn’t have come close to happening without Sullivan. It makes a fan wonder why he doesn’t start more often…

The Main Takeaway: It’s clear that something isn’t working in this Union team. It could very much be attributed to the absences of Andre Blake, Cory Burke, and Alvas Powell (who will now return to the Union after Jamaica was knocked out of the CONCACAF Gold Cup by the United States). It could be that playing almost every single game this season is finally catching up to certain players. It could be that there needs to be some new signings (or a more regular presence of younger players) to inject some creativity and new life into this side. At this point, it’s difficult to say for sure. But one thing is certain—Curtin needs to pinpoint it and solve it, and he needs to do it quickly.

Week 16 Preview: Union vs. Inter Miami

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union started off their road trip to Florida with an atrocious 2-1 loss against Orlando City SC, but will be looking to bounce back into second place against Inter Miami, who currently hold the worst record so far in MLS (2-8-2; 8 points).

The biggest talking point from the Union’s loss against Orlando was the finishing (or lack thereof). It has long been a criticism of the Union’s forwards that they take too many touches when they get within scoring range, and their intensity and pressure on the ball is not nearly enough to produce goals. Oftentimes, a fire won’t be lit under the offense until they’re losing, and even then, as evidenced against Orlando, it isn’t always enough.

Because of Miami’s abysmal record, it’s looking likely that more young players will make the starting lineup, giving the regular starters a much-needed rest. Jim Curtin acknowledged that while the experienced players (Alejandro Bedoya in particular) make invaluable contributions to the squad, they can’t be expected to give perfect performances every single week.

“Ale’s our captain, he’s our leader—we’ve got to be smart, though,” Curtin said in a pre-match press conference. “In this type of climate, where he’s just trying to push so hard, you can kind of, you know, reach for a ball that maybe you shouldn’t, and you can damage yourself and you can hurt yourself. So we’ll be proactive in that regard.”

The good news, though, is that it’s looking some of the Homegrown players that traveled with the squad will finally get a chance to start a game, hopefully replicating their immediate impact off the bench in previous games. Quinn Sullivan had arguably the most influence on the Union’s offense in the game against Orlando, despite only playing 21 minutes.

Curtin stated that he would “put a team out on the field that is fresh, that’s ready to go—but also one that has to win a game. That’s the bottom line.”

Predicted Lineup: Joe Bendik, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Matt Real, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Paxten Aaronson, Jamiro Monteiro, Quinn Sullivan, Kacper Przybyłko

  • Matt Freese hasn’t exactly been impressing in his starts as goalie, so it would be wise for Curtin to give Bendik another look in the starting lineup. Real is a set of fresh legs in the right back position, giving Olivier Mbaizo a much-needed break. Flach has more than proven himself to be worthy of a regular starting position, but he will especially be needed to give a noticeably exhausted Bedoya a break as well. Sullivan came on for Sergio Santos against Orlando, providing an invigorating spark in front of the goal, so it could be beneficial to start him instead of Santos (although Sullivan is more of a true midfielder). Finally, Aaronson needs a start to show what he can do. Curtin needs to show faith in Paxten the way he did with Brenden if there’s any hope of the younger Aaronson replicating his brother’s success.

Score Prediction: There are surefire wins in MLS, but Miami has been floundering since beating the Union earlier in the season. With fresh players that are rested, energetic, and ready to give their all for 90 minutes, it’s hard to envision the Union losing. This youthful energy will gift the Union a 3-1 win over Miami.

Week 15 Recap: Orlando is Not the Happiest Place on Earth

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It was a night to forget against Orlando City SC as the Union kicked off their road trip in Florida with a harrowing 2-0 loss. Although Jim Curtin put what seemed like the best possible starting lineup for the Union out on the field, things just couldn’t come together for three points against the Lions.

Things were going wrong before the game even started, as severe weather pushed back the time of kickoff. Once the game actually started, however, they didn’t really get any better for the visiting team.

Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos immediately found difficulty in breaking through Orlando’s defense, not able to record a decent shot in front of the net in the opening minutes. In fact, just maintaining possession proved to be a challenge for the Union, as several misplaced passes led to several dangerous chances for the home side.

In the tenth minute of play, Orlando’s Mauricio Pereyra caught the Union’s defense sleeping, threading a pass to teammate Benji Michel to put the home side ahead 1-0.

The rest of the first half remained in Orlando’s favor, shutting down any counterattack the Union could conjure up, although their midfield often made it difficult for the Boys In Blue to get far into the Lions’ half in the first place.

The second half looked more promising for the Union’s offense, as Daniel Gazdag found space for two attempts on goal within minutes of each other.

Despite a more lively press from the forwards, Orlando managed to get another goal past Matt Freese to make the game 2-0.

Things eventually clicked for the Union, as Przybylko was able to pull a goal back in the 68th minute, thanks to a perfect first touch from Olivier Mbaizo’s cross. The celebrations didn’t last long, as the Union immediately went in pursuit of another goal to try and salvage a point.

Curtin subbed on 17-year-old Quinn Sullivan, who had an immediate impact on the Union’s offense presence in the game. He nearly had a goal off of his first touches of the game, and had a subsequent pair of chances squandered away by Orlando’s defense.

The last minutes of the game were incredibly suspenseful on both sides, as Orlando had to deflect three rapid-fire chances from the Union to protect their three points. Despite coming so frustratingly close to an equalizer, the final whistle blew before a second Union goal got past keeper Pedro Gallese.

The Main Takeaway: It’s the same song and dance every single time the Union fail to produce a sufficient amount of goals—they take too many touches, and they don’t attack with enough ferocity until they’re already on the losing end of the match. There could have easily been two or three goals for the visitors had they not tried to be fancy in the box, and that flair only showed itself when they were already down by two goals. The Union need to start their matches with more intensity, and be more direct with their finishing. Without those (relatively simple) fixes, there’s no point in hoping to finish first in the East this season.

Week 15 Preview: Union vs. Orlando City SC

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union moved up to second place in the Eastern Conference standings with their victory over DC United on Sunday, but they sit only one point above their impending opponents, Orlando City SC. This is another must-win match if the Boys In Blue want to widen the gap with Orlando and narrow the current four-point gap between them and the first place New England Revolution.

The win against D.C. was a gritty one, and although there were plenty of displays of shoddy discipline, the Union’s skill and creativity still managed to shine through in their attacking play. Daniel Gazdag was a true standout player in midfield, proving his class and technical ability in creating scoring chances for Sergio Santos and Kacper Przybylko, who both got on the scoresheet in the last game.

All eyes will still be on the defense, however, as the Union are still without goalkeeper Andre Blake. While Blake’s absence is proving to be less detrimental than initially feared, it’s still painfully obvious that Blake’s impact on the field stemmed far beyond his superhuman goalie talents. The Jamaican international is vocal, disciplined, and commands respect from his teammates. He can read the game extremely well, and organizes his back line accordingly—the effectiveness of Blake’s presence being backed up by the fact that, defensively speaking, the Union are in the top three best teams in MLS.

While it’s unfair to think that Matt Freese and Joe Bendik could ever be ample replacements for the best goalie in North America, they haven’t completely imploded and cost the Union any games, so there can still be cautious faith amongst Union fans that wins are possible while Blake is away on international duty. This is in large part to the back four, often comprised of left back Kai Wagner, center backs Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes, and right back Olivier Mbaizo. A largely defensive side themselves, Orlando will have their work cut out for them trying to break through the Union’s back line.

Predicted Lineup: Joe Bendik, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Matt Real, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Quinn Sullivan, Sergio Santos, Kacper Przybyłko

  • Homegrown goalie Matt Freese will be available for selection again after serving his red card suspension, but Bendik impressed enough against D.C. to earn himself another start in net. Jim Curtin has brought a whole host of young players to travel with the team to Florida, and while it’s risky to play the young guys against such an elite opponent, it’s one that could easily pay off. Having that youthful energy is a unique advantage that the Union must utilize—it’s only doing a disservice to both the young players themselves and the Union as the whole if their only purpose for traveling with the team is to fill the bench.

Score Prediction: Orlando is also in the top three defensive teams in the league, so it will be no easy feat to score on them. While Santos and Przybylko are certainly finding their footing in front of the goal, it’s not looking incredibly likely that they’ll be able surmount a 1-0 win.

Week 14 Recap: Lightning Doesn't Strike Twice, But the Union Do!

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union’s game against DC United had a little bit of everything—questionable officiating, a plethora of yellow cards, a long weather delay, and a third-choice goalkeeper not completely blowing the game for the Union. Buckle up, because this game was wild.

The home side didn’t start off the game strongly, looking incredibly discombobulated in midfield and turning over the ball to United multiple times. Although the visitors had some dangerous chances in the box, the Union’s back four were on point, and goalie Joe Bendik rarely saw the ball in the first half of play.

The Union were able to turn the flow of the game in their favor as the clock ticked on, with Olivier Mbaizo and Kai Wagner having ironclad control over the right and left flanks of the field. Although losing Jamiro Monteiro to yellow card accumulation for this game should have been a major blow, both Alejandro Bedoya and Leon Flach made up for his absence by creating chances through the center.

Sergio Santos was able to convert one of these chances into a goal in the 11th minute, allowing Union fans to breathe a little easier after a stretch of play that had seen United come close to getting on the scoresheet.

The game was extremely emotional, however, as both sides played recklessly in a half that saw four yellow cards. Jose Martinez, who has already had to serve a multi-game suspension this season, got into a particularly heated verbal altercation with the referee and a couple of D.C. players after being shown a yellow. This got so heated, in fact, that both Bedoya and Santos had to angrily shove Martinez out of the fray of the fight, with Bedoya also yelling at Martinez to calm down.

Despite an exhausting first half, the Boys In Blue went into halftime up 1-0, and while not the most comfortable lead, things were looking to finally be going the Union’s way.

That is, until they weren’t.

Despite the visitors having Russell Canouse, Adrian Perez, and Steve Birnbaum all leave the match due to injury, they still managed to draw level with the Union shortly after the second half kicked off.

Referee Alex Chilowicz awarded D.C. a penalty after Santos made contact with Yamil Asad, who would send Bendik the wrong way, and gave hope to traveling fans that D.C. might be able to scrounge up their first point in Chester since 2014.

While it was apparent that many fans in attendance believed the penalty on Asad to be soft, Chilowicz awarded the Union a penalty after Flach was tripped up just moments later, but after checking VAR, the penalty was withdrawn and play resumed as normal.

Despite the clear frustration shown by both sides in the second half, Santos came in clutch yet again and scored his second goal of the night off of a header assist from Kacper Przybyłko. The Union’s hopes were quickly dashed yet again, as Chilowicz called for a review of the goal, and it was eventually disallowed due to Santos being offside.

It was shaping up to be another draw for Philadelphia...until Przybylko gave the Union their official second goal (fittingly assisted by Santos), putting them in the lead in the 83rd minute.

Just a few minutes later, the match was temporarily suspended due to lightning (unfortunately, the Union were not wearing their lightning-themed uniforms for this game), resulting in a two hour weather delay with just four minutes remaining in the game. Play did eventually resume, and the Union finished out the game with a 2-1 victory.

Man of the Match: Santos found the back of the net twice (even though his second goal wasn’t counted), along with assisting the game-winning goal that ended Przybylko’s increasingly worrying goal drought. He’s had a slow start to the season, but this game has truly proven that nobody can count him out.

  • Honorable mentions go to Flach and Daniel Gazdag for adeptly controlling the flow of the Union’s attack the entire game, and to Jim Curtin for not going absolutely ballistic at the controversial officiating.

The Main Takeaway: The Union needed three points, and they got them. However, the discipline was virtually nonexistent everywhere but the defense. Passing was sloppy in a lot of areas, tempers flared entirely too easily, and with players injured or on international duty, the Union simply can’t afford to lose any men because they couldn’t keep their anger in check. They’re only one point ahead of their next opponent, Orlando City, and four points off of the top spot in the East. They need to move forward with a tighter formation and much, much cooler heads.

Week 14 Preview: Union vs. DC United

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union will be looking for three points to stay competitive in the Eastern Conference, while visitors DC United will be looking to close the gap on the home team to just one point with a win of their own. Severely shorthanded and having only taken two points from their last three games, it’s looking like an uphill battle indeed for the home side.

The Union have won their three previous home games, not to mention keeping a clean sheet in each of those games, but as things currently stand, they haven’t seen three points in their last four matches. They can boast that they’ve gone unbeaten in their last nine matches against United—eight of which were wins—but several factors call the certainty of another victory for the Union into question.

For starters, third-choice goalie Joe Bendik will most likely be starting in net, given that Andre Blake is competing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup with Jamaica, while Matt Freese is serving his red card suspension for denial of a goalscoring opportunity against the New York Red Bulls.

Then, there’s the problem of Kacper Przybylko. The Polish striker is usually the most reliable Union player in terms of scoring goals, but he’s failed to find the back of the net in four straight games. While talented and capable, Sergio Santos simply can’t shoulder the offensive responsibilities alone. With the defense significantly weakened by Blake’s absence, offense is arguably more important than ever.

The midfield diamond has been doing its job in terms of creating goalscoring chances, but the finishing from the Union has been poor, to say the least. It’s incredibly frustrating to see the creativity, skill, and cleverness displayed by players like Leon Flach and Alejandro Bedoya get the ball into prime scoring position, but the strikers fail to capitalize on the chance.

D.C. is coming into this game on a jaw-dropping 7-1 win against Toronto FC. While Toronto is dead last in the Eastern Conference standings, this result goes to show just how ruthless DC’s offense can be. The battle for the top spot in the East is cutthroat and narrow as can be, and there’s no doubting that Hernan Losada’s men will be out for blood in this match.

Predicted Lineup: Joe Bendik, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Aurelien Collin, Jose Martinez, Quinn Sullivan, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, Sergio Santos, Kacper Przybyłko

  • Jim Curtin doesn’t have much of a choice when it comes to starting Bendik in goal, but there is hope in that the Union’s stellar back four will be able to keep DC’s goals to a minimum. While it would be questionable to drop Flach in favor of Sullivan, it could also be a shrewd move, considering how DC have been utilizing their own young talent in blossoming left-back Kevin Paredes. The matchup of youthfulness could easily play in the Union’s favor, but the rest of the midfield have to cooperate with Sullivan’s still relatively fresh face, and the strikers have to convert his skillful passes into much-needed goals.

Score Prediction: The Union must take three points away from this game, which is a fairly doable task against DC United. They’re entirely capable of this 2-1 win, but knowing the Union, it won’t come easy. It will be undoubtedly be an intense 90 minutes, but Curtin’s men have proven that they don’t stop fighting until the final whistle blows.