Union

Union-Impact 5 things: Both teams missing key players in Eastern Conference tilt

Union at Montreal Impact
7:30 p.m. on TCN

After a 13-day break from MLS play because of the Gold Cup, the Union (6-7-5) enter a busy stretch with a tricky road trip that starts in Montreal tonight and ends in Columbus three days from now. Here are five things to know for Wednesday’s matchup vs. the Impact (5-6-6):

1. Missing players
The Union will be without a slew of key guys as Chris Pontius (U.S.) and Andre Blake (Jamaica) are still with their respective national teams heading into the Gold Cup quarterfinals. And even though Alejandro Bedoya was released from the U.S. national team, that was only so he could welcome the birth of his second child, which he did Tuesday morning.

That means Bedoya understandably may not want to leave his newborn daughter, Milena, behind to fly to Montreal for Wednesday’s game. Instead, the Union captain will likely join the team for the second half of their road trip in Columbus for Saturday’s game.

“Obviously, we’re a much better soccer team when he’s there with us, but there are certain things that are more important for soccer for sure,” said Union head coach Jim Curtin, a father of three. “The birth of a child, for me, is always something that is an incredibly unique experience. … It would be pretty darn selfish to take that away from him.”

Among other injuries, the Union will also be without Bedoya’s midfield replacement in Derrick Jones, who suffered a concussion in Saturday’s friendly vs. Swansea City and will, according to Curtin, “be out at least until Saturday.”

But the Impact will also likely be without some important players, including Patrice Bernier and Anthony Jackson-Hamel (with Canada at the Gold Cup), Ambroise Oyongo (right knee surgery) and star playmaker Ignacio Piatti (groin injury).

“You dodge a bullet because he’s as talented a guy in the league that there is,” Curtin said of Piatti. “We’re missing guys, they’re missing guys — it will be a real fight.”

2. Brutal schedule
It was recently revealed that, of every team in MLS, the Union have the toughest remaining schedule for the second half of the season with trips to home powerhouses Toronto, Chicago and Atlanta looming.

That means that even though it’s tough to win on the road in this league, the Union know they need points in Montreal and Columbus — two teams near them in the standings — before coming home to face Columbus again next Wednesday.

“It’s a tricky time, with the combination of the Gold Cup and the schedule,” Curtin said. “They gave us Saturday off, which was I guess nice. But then they crammed in Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday, so you’re playing the same amount of games. I’d rather almost that they kept us in the rhythm of a weekly game. It’s a challenge.”

According to Curtin, there is at least one positive about hitting the road for a midweek game, however.

“The old Wednesday night is good for us because it’s not quite the same atmosphere on a Wednesday night in a home stadium,” the Union coach said. “We have to jump on them and take advantage and try to take points.”

3. Ilsinho back to the wing?
With Pontius on U.S. national team duty in Philly and Fabian Herbers out indefinitely after undergoing sports hernia injury, the Union are a lot thinner on the wing — once arguably their deepest position.

Fafa Picault will start on one side and it looks like Ilsinho will slide back over to the wing from the central midfield position he had been occupying for the last couple of months. That means Roland Alberg, who had lost that No. 10 spot, is in line to start his first MLS game since early May and play alongside Ilsinho in Montreal.

“They’re both experienced players, and I’m totally comfortable with them being on the field together,” Curtin said. “We will have a little more possession. They’re guys that are very good on the ball. I’m comfortable in that regard.”

Curtin added that speedy rookie Marcus Epps will continue to be a top winger off the bench while Herbers recovers from surgery (which could be up to the next eight weeks).

“Every time he comes into a game he changes it,” Curtin said of Epps.

4. Players to watch
Union: If Bedoya doesn’t make the trip to Montreal, Warren Creavalle will almost certainly get the start in the midfield alongside Haris Medunjanin. Although it will only be his second start of the season, Creavalle is a seasoned MLS player who started 21 games last season, so he should be up for the challenge. And look for veteran Brian Carroll to back him up and possibly make his season debut if the Union are holding a late lead.

Impact: Since coming over in May as a Designated Player, Swiss midfielder Blerim Dzemaili has three goals and four assists for Montreal in only 626 minutes.

5. This and that
• The Impact are 5-1-1 all-time vs. the Union in games played in Montreal.

• The Union had a stunning collapse when the Impact visited Talen Energy Stadium earlier in the season, blowing a 3-0 lead for a 3-3 draw.

• Montreal just acquired Shaun Francis, but Curtin said he thinks the experienced Jamaican left back may be immediately thrown into the fire and see time tonight

• Union striker C.J. Sapong remains one goal away from hitting double digits for the first time in his career.

• With Blake gone, John McCarthy will get his second straight start in net after making six saves in a 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City two weeks ago.