CHESTER, Pa. — After the Philadelphia Union were shut out for the ninth time out of 18 games this season, a reporter asked coach Jim Curtin if he still believes his team has enough attacking talent to be a serious contender.
His response was short, simple and simmering with testiness.
“Yes,” Curtin said, before looking around the media room for the next question.
Philly fans might feel differently after the Union let a big chance slip away in a 2-0 loss to Atlanta United on Saturday, despite enjoying a solid first half, a few standout individual performances and more than enough chances to find the back of the net.
And much of the ire will be directed at slumping striker CJ Sapong, who made his ninth straight start and 10th straight appearance without scoring.
“You know it was going to be a night where I chose CJ to start, there were going to be fingers pointed at him after the game if we didn’t [score],” Curtin said. “We’re a team. We win as a team. We lose as a team. We’re a little over the halfway point now so we have to find a way to stick together, find a way to regroup quickly against a Chicago team on Wednesday.”
But the question remains: how much of a turnaround can the Union be expected to make if they’re not getting goals from the striker position? After a breakout 16-goal campaign in 2017, Sapong has only two through 1,290 minutes this year.
Backup striker Cory Burke also has two goals but only in 375 minutes, leading to fans chanting his name Saturday and erupting in applause when he replaced Sapong in the 64th minute.
In the end, Burke didn’t score either. But he finished with twice as many shots as Sapong and generally looked more dangerous in the attacking third, as he has for much of the season.
Curtin still mostly stuck by Sapong when evaluating his performance Saturday.
“He held the ball up OK,” Curtin said. “He could’ve maybe started some runs a little earlier when Fafa [Picault] got to the endline. Overall, it was an OK night for CJ. But at the moment, when he’s having a tough time scoring, that’s what he’s going to be judged on. That’s fair or unfair, the life of a striker. But he’s still a guy I believe in.”
Midfielder Haris Medunjanin stressed there was plenty of fault to go around.
“Specifically, we cannot blame players,” he said. “We were all there. We are 11 guys and even the bench players who come in, we need to stick together. We cannot point to one or two guys. We win together and we lose together.”