Union's #19 Corey Burke in the

Mikey Reeves -- For Digital First Media The Union's Corey Burke sizes up a cross during the second half of a 2-0 win over New England Saturday. The Union’s Corey Burke sizes up a cross during the second half of a 2-0 win over New England Saturday.

CHESTER >> In voicing his apprehension Saturday night, Alejandro Bedoya was the one who invoked the demons of the past.

The Union nursed a one-goal lead, up a man and seemingly in control over New England. But the superiority started to slip as the Revs gained confidence and the Union devolved into what Bedoya feared was complacency.

“I don’t like when we sit back and try to just protect the 1-0 lead,” Bedoya said. “That happened to us last year. I remember that infamous game against Montreal where we just kind of started sitting back trying to protect the lead and the other team’s going to get some more chances.

“We’ve spoken about how we want to be more attack-minded and not just settle for maybe a 1-0 goal, and try to kill them off, especially when we were up a man. So I think that’s just a little bit of a different mindset that we’ve got going on this year.”

“That infamous game against Montreal” was the nadir among many candidates in 2017, when a winless Union side on April 22 ran out to a 3-0 lead, then watched it pegged back like a slow-motion catastrophe for a 3-3 draw. Whether or not that game was explicitly top of mind for Jim Curtin Saturday didn’t matter; what did is that the manager made two assertive, attacking subs to inspire the clinching goal in a 2-0 win over the Revs.

As much as the three points, Saturday’s result could signal decisive shifts on several fronts for the Union. The first and most obvious was the integration of Homegrowns, with Auston Trusty excelling at center back and Anthony Fontana scoring in his debut, the first Union Homegrown to net in MLS in nearly three years.

With those concrete actions, gone are the days of bloviating about youth without any might behind it.

“It’s proud night for their families, parents and for our youth academy and the work that they do there with Tommy Wilson,” Curtin said. “It’s a big day and again I think it’s a hot topic right now about playing good young kids on their team. A lot of teams are talking about it and I think tonight we showed that by putting them on the field that they can deliver. I am really happy for Anthony, really happy for Auston and Derrick (Jones) stepped on the field tonight and really did a good job and closed out the game. To have three of them out there was special.”

For several seasons, Curtin has made noise about the Union being more attack-minded at home. They took steps toward that with 10 wins at Talen Energy Stadium a season ago, but Curtin’s methods Saturday represented a departure. He was unflinchingly reluctant a season ago to pair CJ Sapong and Jay Simpson except in the direst of circumstances. But against the Revs, he opted to deploy not two but three forwards, with Corey Burke manning the right wing and Simpson floating in Fontana’s stead.

Burke made good on the faith with the assist on Sapong’s goal and drew the second yellow card on Claude Dielna that reduced the Revs to nine men and removed all doubt.

“I think maybe he wanted to get some more pressure to them because we were maybe sitting back a little bit and being a little too complacent,” Bedoya said. “So bringing on Jay could be a little bit more aggressive at their back line. Big shout out to Corey Burke for coming on and making a difference with his speed and his directness. He came on and made a difference on that goal.”

“It shows he’s hungry,” Sapong said of Curtin. “I think that’s something we might have been missing a little bit last year. Going into this season, you can tell from the players on the field, off the field and the ones that aren’t dressing, the guys are very hungry. When you have the coach expressing that same mentality, it gives you even more motivation to really go and get it.”

The directness showed in the Union’s mindset. David Accam was arguably the best player on the field with his marauding runs forward, despite not playing a direct role in either goal. Sapong endured a frustrating night in terms of finishing — “CJ could’ve had five goals tonight, huh?,” Bedoya joked — but still tallied a goal, an assist and drew the early red card when hauled down by Antonio Delamea in the 24th minute. And Burke staked a claim to increased time on the right wing in the absence of Fafa Picault, suspended Friday for three games for a preseason dustup against Orlando City.

“You can see how powerful he is in the open field,” Curtin said of Burke. “He was possessed tonight and in a brief amount of time he made the most of his minutes. He turned the head of the entire technical staff to so that was a big spot for him to come in.”

All week, Curtin had toed the line between confident and antsy. On paper, it was a winnable contest. On paper, he’d made the right choices in deploying young players and did the work necessary to prepare them for the occasion. But there was still that angst of if it would shine through.

What Curtin could control was his process, in whether he’d adhere to the principles the club had established.

He did, and the reward was three points.

“A lot of coaches will sit up here and say they know exactly what their team is going to look like in week one, and I think that’s not true,” Curtin said. “Week one in MLS, as you’ve seen from the scores, can go a lot of different directions. Credit to our players for all of them stepping up: Young, old, and experienced.”

comments powered by Disqus