Union (0-1-2) at D.C. United (0-2-1)
7 p.m. on TCN
Fresh off a much-needed international break, Sebastien Le Toux and stumbling D.C. United host Alejandro Bedoya and the Union (0-1-2) on Saturday night (7:00 p.m., TCN) at RFK Stadium, in what has become a crucial early-season battle between the two winless clubs.
Here are five things to know:
1. Looking for three points
Three games into the 2017 campaign and the winless Union are already feeling pressure.
"I do know we lost a game to Orlando, which we weren't happy about,” said Union manager Jim Curtin regarding his club's recent 2-1 loss to Orlando City SC. "We would have liked to get at least a point out of it, we would have liked to get three out of [Toronto FC on March 11]. We didn't, so our players and staff know the task at hand. We have to get points early on in the year because it's important."
While it was only the first defeat for the Union in 2017, the loss was another reminder that the club hasn't won a game since August 2016. Still, Curtin isn't worried about the continuation of last season's late struggle.
"It's important to recognize that this year's team is different from last year's in terms of personnel," Curtin said. "It's a new year, a new group. While we were happy to make the playoffs, we weren't happy with the ending of the year. It's in the past. We had months and months of off time between that, so I don't think you can connect the two years together."
But Curtin does recognize that if the Union don't begin to pull in points soon, starting on Saturday against D.C. United, the situation could get dire for the Union. You can only go so far without a win before the hull begins to crack.
"You don't want to be a team that's chasing," he said. "It's a hard league to come from behind and chase in. You saw last year with the [Seattle Sounders] and D.C. getting hot late in the year. But that's not a situation we want to put ourselves in. It starts with a good performance against D.C. and building into the three-game homestand that we have."
2. Keeping D.C. at Zero
Although the Union and D.C. United are cuddling at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the scenario appears much more dire for Ben Olsen's club. Through three games, United has yet to score a goal and has conceded a conference-worst six.
"It's a scary thing," Curtin said. "You don't want to be the team they break out against. Ben is as hard a worker as there is in our league and he has a good team. If you actually look at their performances and watch the games as we have now on tape, they are creating chances. They are dangerous."
More troubling for United is that their primary striker, Patrick Mullins, is out for three or four weeks with a left hamstring injury. That leaves the club to lean on Jose Guillermo Ortiz, Lamar Neagle or former Union legend, Sebastien Le Toux as the go-to forward.
"I'm sure he'd like to be out there," Curtin said of Le Toux, who played six seasons with the Union before being traded last season to the Colorado Rapids. "I'm sure he'd like to score against us. You see it so often, guys move from one club to another and there's a chip on their shoulder to score against their old team. Knowing Ben, I wouldn't be surprised if [Le toux] plays a bunch of minutes against us."
Regardless, the Union are treating United as a defensive problem.
"They have a lot of dynamic attackers," Curtin said. "You look at guys like Lloyd Sam. [Patrick] Nyarko has given us fits over the past years. [Luciano] Acosta, when he gets going, he's a handful, he pops up all over the field."
3. United Urgency
While the Union may have had a rougher than expected start to their season, D.C. United's season has been a nightmare. The club kicked off the year with a scoreless draw but followed that effort up with a 4-0 loss at the hands of New York City FC.
On March 18, Olsen's team dropped a 2-0 decision at home to the Columbus Crew.
"We have to trust in the process of getting better right now," Olsen said. "We're getting plenty of looks and plenty of chances, we just have to clean up the final stuff on the offensive end."
But according to Olsen, the pressure United feels to find a result on Saturday isn't irregular, despite the team's rocky start.
"There's always an urgency to win games in this league," he said. "It doesn't matter if it's the first game, third or what your record is. We're always looking to get three points at home and this is no different."
4. Keep an eye on …
Patrick Nyarko: The speedster, with a goal and two assists in his last three games against the Union, continued that into the preseason when he fired on the Union with a goal in the 14th minute of a United win. He's a problem the Union will have to solve on Saturday.
Jay Simpson: Simpson's first goal with the Union came minutes before he had to leave the match against Toronto FC and head to the hospital with a rib injury. But after a few weeks of rest and recovery, the forward is healthy and ready to make an impact against D.C. United on Saturday.
5. This and that
• The Union are 7-7-4 against D.C. United all time and 2-0-1 in their last three games against the rival club.
• Union goalkeeper John McCarthy has been diagnosed with a concussion and will not travel with the team. Third-string goalkeeper Jake McGuire will travel.
• Union forward Chris Pontius suffered a broken hand against Orlando City but is expected to play in a full capacity Saturday.