CHESTER, PA– As the Philadelphia Union left the field to an abundance of cheers, there was a bit of animosity waiting to be addressed in the locker room.
In the first half of the Union’s 3-0 win over the Columbus Crew, a small argument occurred near the penalty spot between Roland Alberg and C.J. Sapong.
Sapong won a penalty after being tumbled over by Jonathan Mensah, who was subsequently sent off for his actions, but instead of lining up what would’ve been his 10th goal of the season, Sapong was removed from taking the spot kick by Alberg, who then missed.
“It’s interesting because I think in the moment it meant more for me than I would’ve thought,” Sapong, who scored his 10th goal of the season later in the contest, said. “It’s always good to break any barriers. But again, that’s still just a stat. I want to continue to keep helping my team. This next half of the season, I need to keep performing and producing to help my team.”
“I had the ball and was thinking I was going to score today,” Alberg said. “I missed but last year and this year I took a lot of PKs and didn’t miss. It was a chance for me to score but sometimes it happens and you miss. It’s unlucky but the most important thing is three points today.”
Captain Alejandro Bedoya went over to the scene to try and play peacemaker between Sapong and Alberg, allowing Alberg to go ahead and take a penalty 20 days after he successfully converted against Sporting Kansas City.
“I saw them arguing over the penalty kick, they are two goal scorers, as the captain I thought I had to go over there and just tell them to give it to who wanted it more,” Bedoya said. “Roland had the ball. In the past, we have decided if Roland is on the field, he would be our penalty taker so that’s what I said and I let Roland take it. Obviously he missed it unfortunately. I tried to diffuse that situation before so we don’t need to focus on it, but the next one is C.J.”
The Union players tried their best to be diplomatic after the game, pointing out the victory was what they needed to focus on. And in their defense, they’re right because they needed three points on Wednesday to save their playoff hopes.
“Everybody wants to score goals,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “At the end of the day, that’s the name of the game. It’s not the first time in soccer that a situation like that has happened. Ale’s designated as the captain to select who shoots in that time frame. And at the same time, they’re going to be upset because they all want to help the team. It’s all for the same cause, for the Union getting three points. If we score, it’s a non-issue and no one’s really talking about it now. But it’s not the first penalty kick that’s going to be missed.”
However, the Union have delt with plenty disturbances throughout the season, and it appears to be on the verge of boiling over further. During last Wednesday’s half time talk in Montreal, the team had a heated exchange after Fafa Picault failed to play a wide-open Ilsinho on an early chance in a game in which the Union ended up losing.
In recent games as the team has celebrated goals, Alberg and Ilsinho have been a bit distant, and their lack of hustle and work on the defensive side of the ball is starting to be noticed more by those around them.
Alberg and Ilsinho were brought into the club to be true difference makers in the final third, and while they’ve shown some moments of brilliance, they haven’t lived up to the pressure they’ve faced, especially Alberg. The Dutch midfielder came into preseason out of shape and it forced Jim Curtin to play Alejandro Bedoya and then Ilsinho in the No. 10 role for March and April.
Alberg has only started six of the 14 games he’s played in 2017 due to injuries and lack of fitness and he’s only played the full 90 on one occasion. Ilsinho has played more with 16 starts out of the 17 games he’s appeared in, but he hasn’t played the full 90 once in league play.
With the stretch run to the postseason already in full swing for the Union, who need every point they can get from their final 13 games to reach the top six in the Eastern Conference, the problems stirring in the locker room aren’t helpful.
Wednesday may have been the perfect remedy for the Union after losing two straight, but they broke their slump against a 9-man Crew team that was playing reckless defense from the first whistle. The attacking midfielders in the Union’s 4-2-3-1 setup are going to have to make a larger impact moving forward in order to truly bring the team together.
Alberg showed how dangerous he could potentially be in the second half on Wednesday, but he was also overcompensating a bit for trying to pay Sapong back. Ilsinho had arguably one of his best performances in a Union shirt, but he was also boosted by having his family in attendance, which brought a larger level of comfort.
As much as the Union want to make it seem like Wednesday’s incident is behind them, if the underperforming attackers continue to play selfish soccer, it may end up costing the Union points, and an in an Eastern Conference that gets better by the day, that could make all the difference.