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Union need to think outside the box to stop conceding goals from there

CHESTER — The problem defensively for the Union is two-fold. The club is giving up too many goals. And it’s giving up too many goals it isn’t accustomed to conceding.

So in seeking to arrest a five-game winless skid Wednesday when New York City FC visits Chester (7:30, AppleTV+), that’ll be the mandate. Stop allowing so many goals, and in particular, cut down on the low-percentage back-breakers that have befallen them of late.

The Union (3-3-5,14 points) have allowed 19 goals in 11 games. Recall that in 2022, they allowed 26 in 34 games. Tally up four games in CONCACAF Champions Cup and it’s 30 goals in 15 games.

“You guys have heard me sit up here for six consecutive years and say we are built to play compact, to not concede, to take pride in our defending,” manager Jim Curtin said Tuesday. “Everyone in the world would agree 30 goals in 15 is too much, and our players would say the same thing.”

As for the how of it, the Union have allowed eight goals from outside the box, the most in MLS. Though the stat isn’t officially kept, the leader in goals scored outside the 18 is five, by Sporting Kansas City, per One of them, by Remi Walter, came against the Union.

Two teams don’t yet have a goal from outside the area. The Union have two, both from Jack McGlynn. Add in CCC, headlined by Jakob Glesnes’ 45-yard wonder of an own goal, and it’s 11 goals from outside the box.

Look back just a little ways and the Union had a streak of 45 games, from early 2021 through the middle of 2022, in which they didn’t allow a single goal from outside the box.

So what gives?

“That’s a huge discrepancy,” Curtin said. “Part of that’s our guys taking the last step, getting a deflection, getting a block, getting a big save in a certain moment to bail you out, too, when maybe you’re not at your sharpest defensively. All those things are factors.”

Some are hard to solve from a team perspective. Letting Alex Katranis, Real Salt Lake’s left back, have a go from 30 yards is something you might not regret, since the numbers say he hits it as perfectly as he did in the 89th minute on April 27 about three of every 100 times. Ditto Caleb Wiley’s goal in Atlanta or Obed Vargas’ first ever professional goal when Seattle was in town.

Others are more preventable. Like Jose Martinez leaving a back pass criminally short that Raul Ruidiaz passed into an empty net from 40 yards out, or Saturday’s turnover that gifted Luis Muriel space to unleash a top-corner rocket.

The Union aren’t being bailed out by their last line of defense as in the past, injuries hampering Andre Blake and backup Oliver Semmle pressed into duty. Many goals have come from the channels near the top of the box, an area of weakness in a 4-4-2 diamond in front of the backline, behind the shuttling midfielders and lateral to the No. 6. But the same formation once erased those goals, so that blame is too simple.

What Curtin particularly laments is the fact that the Union are conceding softly or beating themselves rather than being beaten by the quality of opponents’ soccer.

“The amount of goals where you go, wow, it’s a five-pass sequence,” he said. “Guy hits a great shot where you tip your cap to the opponent and say, ‘wow, that’s a goal that they really deserve.’ There’s not many this year. There are a lot of unforced errors, balls played right to the opponent that lead to transitions. At really bad moments, we have own goals, we have penalty kicks, we have things that are self-created and self-inflicted and quite frankly uncharacteristic of guys that have been some of the best players in this league over the last several seasons.”

Curtin is backing the group mired in a three-game home losing streak to snap out of it, and not just because there’s no alternative waiting off-stage. Curtin harps on consistency as a reason for keeping the same group intact the last two years. Now they have to rely on each other to escape a tough moment.

“We can fix it,” Curtin said. “We have to do it quickly, though. I recognize there’s urgency. But I believe very much in our staff and our group that we will get ourselves out of this.”

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NOTES >> Blake (knee) remains out, though he trained more intensively on Tuesday. The Union’s next two games – at New England, at Charlotte – are on turf. … Olivier Mbiazo (calf) trained fully and is available. Markus Anderson’s knee injury has allowed him to train, but he’s probably still a little shy of being able to play Wednesday. … In goal Wednesday night for New York City FC will be former Union Homegrown and Episcopal Academy grad Matt Freese. The Daily Times Boys Soccer Player of the Year made the MLS Team of the Week after leading NYC to a win at Toronto on the weekend.

Source: Berkshire mont

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