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Two penalty kicks sink Philadelphia Union in 3-0 loss to Portland Timbers

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With the U.S. Open Cup semifinal on Wednesday, head coach Jim Curtin sat several starters

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Portland Timbers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

A pair of penalty kicks paved the way for the Portland Timbers late Saturday night at Providence Park as they eventually cruised past a rotated Philadelphia Union side, 3-0.

Diego Valeri’s penalty gave the hosts a lead 13 minutes into the second half, and Dairon Asprilla doubled the lead from the spot with six minutes to go in regulation. David Guzman added a third after sneaking a header past Andre Blake on a set piece in the 87th minute.

With an eye on Wednesday’s U.S. Open semifinal tilt against the Chicago Fire, head coach Jim Curtin used just six of his regular starters in the lineup. Warren Creavalle and Derrick Jones made their first ever start as a midfield pairing, while Marcus Epps and Fabian Herbers played on the wings. Jack Elliott also stepped in for Mark McKenzie, who was a gameday scratch.

Curtin’s mishmash of a squad battled well enough where a three-goal scoreline was undeserved, but it was too toothless in attack to warrant a road result against Portland, which now owns a 15-game unbeaten streak.

C.J. Sapong looked off the pace and his poor form cannot be chalked up to a string of bad finishing luck any more. There was little in the way of chance creation without Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin although Borek Dockal wasn’t terrible. Jones was also another bright spot in possession, and his combination of length and excellent dribbling makes it all the more frustrating that there simply aren’t minutes for him as long as the above three players are at the club.

The defense did a fine job of shutting down Portland’s lethal attack, with Elliott proving he can still handle first team minutes after dealing with Samuel Armenteros. Unfortunately, Fabinho and Creavalle each committed two frustrating fouls, which was enough to tip the scales in an otherwise even game.

The Union actually started the game on the front foot and looked the more dangerous side for the first 25 minutes or so. Jones had a looping header on a corner kick from Keegan Rosenberry that just sailed over the far post ten minutes in, and Sapong found separation with some nifty footwork in the 22nd minute, but his curler to the far post was claimed by Jeff Attinella.

Portland eventually turned the tide of the match and threatened the Union’s net a few times before half. Andy Polo volleyed over a close range blast in the 34th minute and Armenteros nearly latched onto a Valeri cross three minutes before halftime that Andre Blake did well to block. A minute later, Valeri was slipped in by Armenteros and his effort just fizzed wide of the right post.

Philadelphia came out of the break with some energy and earned their two best chances of the match. Sapong found himself in at close range but couldn’t convert. In the 50th minute, Fabinho sent a cross to the deep post the Jones settled and fired towards to the top corner, only to be denied by Attinella.

Unfortunately, that was the high-water mark for the Union as they conceded a penalty six minutes later. Valeri released Alvas Powell down the right hand side and Fabinho collided too hard into him with his shoulder, earning a whistle. Valeri, who converted a penalty in the MLS All-Star game, went right down the middle as Blake went to his right.

Fafa Picault, Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin all came on, but with the Bosnian coming on for Dockal, the visitors never had their best midfield trio on the pitch. There was really nothing doing for both sides until the 83rd minute, when Diego Valeri, who put on another excellent display of his ball control all night, shimmied into the penalty box. Creavalle caught a boot full of Valeri’s leg, and Dairon Asprilla converted the ensuing penalty which Blake nearly stopped.

The third came when Portland had already shifted into cruise control, and was a poor error from Blake who was otherwise solid in net. David Guzmán used a light push-off on Bedoya at the far post and weakly connected with a Valeri delivery, but Blake was caught in no man’s land and had to watch the ball trickle by him.

It was a disheartening result from the Union, but they won’t care all that much, with all eyes now on the Open cup semifinal on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The club is looking to advance to its third final in the last five years after finishing runners up in 2014 and 2015.