As the Union prepare for Saturday’s trip to FC Cincinnati (7:30 p.m.), here are a few observations on the state of the team.
Four games into the season, Fafa Picault has yet to score despite taking 11 shots. He would be the first to admit it, and it’s obvious that once one goes in, a few more will follow.
But in the wake of David Accam’s two-goal outing against Columbus, and with Cory Burke coming back from the Jamaican national team — and with Sergio Santos coming back from injury in the near future — it’s fair to ask if Picault would be better as a sub than a starter for a bit.
As effective as his pace and creativity are, they could have an even greater impact when he’s coming in fresh to run at tired opponents in the second half.
As with Picault, Haris Medunjanin has been honest about his struggles this year. And with Jamiro Monteiro soon to make his Union debut, Medunjanin’s place in the starting lineup is under threat.
The Bosnian answered the bell with a big game against Columbus. He had five interceptions and completed 60 of his 74 pass attempts.
And by the way, he had four tackles, two interceptions and two clearances in the 1-1 tie at Atlanta.
As MLS debuts go, Carlos Miguel Coronel’s was about as easy as it gets. The Union’s No. 2 goalkeeper faced just one shot on target against Columbus, and easily saved it. Coronel also showed some good passing skills, and a willingness to come off his line to go after loose balls — even when it means straying beyond the 18-yard box.
That last part is a little risky, but on the whole, the Union will be in good hands when Andre Blake goes to the Gold Cup with Jamaica this summer.
For all the good that has come from FC Cincinnati’s MLS debut — a big crowd for the opener at Nippert Stadium and proof that the team isn’t bad — there was one big problem. The newly installed artificial turf at the University of Cincinnati football venue where FCC plays was subpar.
Players and coaches complained of the surface being uneven, and clumps of rubber pellets came flying out of the turf during play.
Nippert Stadium is far from the only turf venue in MLS, and far from the only bad one. But the subject has the Union’s attention as they visit Cincinnati for the first time on Saturday (7:30 p.m., PHL17). Fortunately, the Union have players who’ve dealt with this sort of thing before, and not just in MLS.
Marco Fabián is a veteran of artificial turf fields in other countries. He played in the infamous bandbox that Costa Rica’s national team called home for years, and at Mexican club Chivas’ Estadio Omnilife when it had turf in its early years.
“It’s the same pitch,” Fabián said. “I know it’s different, the ball rolls different and it’s also different for your legs. But it’s just one game and we need to prepare for that.”
The wait to find out if Mark McKenzie will go to the Under-20 World Cup continues. When Union sporting director Ernst Tanner said before the season that he worried about McKenzie missing six or seven games for the tournament, he wasn’t wrong. But Tanner couldn’t have foreseen McKenzie not playing in the Union’s first four games of the season.
A concussion that McKenzie suffered between the first and second games has obviously been a major factor in that. But McKenzie was cleared to play ahead of the Columbus game. It was assumed that he’d be on the field, since he didn’t go to the under-20 team’s training camp in Spain held over the same weekend. But McKenzie remained on the bench as Jack Elliott turned in another good performance.
The Union’s schedule is busy during the World Cup period in late May and early June, with two midweek games on the schedule. Still, Elliott’s good performances should ease the Union’s concerns about letting McKenzie go.