Union

Union-Impact 5 things: Playoff-hungry teams face off in East showdown

Union vs. Montreal Impact
8:00 p.m. on CSN

Attempting to claw into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Union (8-10-5), coming off a dominating 3-1 win over FC Dallas last weekend, want to keep the momentum rolling as they host the Ignacio Piatti and the Montreal Impact (7-8-6) on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know:

1. Elliott’s rise
Jack Elliott has been a revelation for the Union. 

The quiet and unassuming fourth round selection in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft will make his 19th consecutive start at center back for the Union against the Impact. 

“Jack Elliott has been the Rookie of the Year,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “He’s been excellent.”

And that’s not just a coach spewing positives for an undeserving player, there’s momentum behind Elliott for Rookie of the Year. The Union, who are 8-10-5, are 8-7-3 with Elliott as a starter, including seven of the team’s eight shutouts.

“It’s good to see a young center back playing at the high level he is,” Curtin said of the 6-foot-5 standout. “It is my duty as a coach to get the word out for my guy and Jack has been exceptional.”

But despite his worthiness, Elliott might not stand a chance. As Curtin explained, and as the Union experienced in 2016 when Keegan Rosenberry lost out to Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris, goals open eyes. Currently, Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel, with three goals and six assists in 18 starts, may have the edge.

“I always want to be a voice for the defenders,” Curtin said. “When people start banging in goals, that’s what stays in people’s minds. You wish there were more quantifiable metrics for defenders. It is tough to really get recognition as a defender for awards because if you’re winning games, 3-0, they are talking about the guys who score three goals, not who kept the zero.” 

2. Learning from the past
Before the Union were able to turn their season around, they hit the ground. That thud happened against the Impact at home on April 22 when they blew a three goal lead to draw the visitors, 3-3.

“That was probably rock bottom,” Curtin said.

The Union were winless in their first six games of the season entering that contest. Claiming the opening three goals was a breath of air for the struggling club, and to lose it was devastating. 

“We got up three goals and gave up the one to [Ignacio] Piatti before the half,” Curtin said. “It was a time when we didn’t have a lot of confidence and when that goal went in you could feel the life go out of the stadium and go out of the group. It’s two points that we dropped and two big points.”

But the club recovered. Though disappointing, the draw was the start of a six game unbeaten run that sparked the Union’s come back to Eastern Conference relevance.

“That was the low point for the group but they stuck together and rebounded well,” said Curtin, whose team is three points out of playoff position. “We still have an opportunity to get ourselves back into the discussion for the playoffs.” 

3. Impactful match
Separated by two points in the East standings and with two games in hand, Saturday’s match means as much for the Impact as it does for the Union.

“Getting a result is really important right now,” said Impact’s Dominic Oduro. “Because we can come home for a couple of games, and if we can win those, will be right in playoff position.”

But the Impact understand what they’re stepping into. The Union have been fantastic at home of late, currently on a 4-0-0 run while outscoring the opposition, 10-1, over that span.

“Philadelphia is a team that always comes out strong when they play at home,” said Impact manager Mauro Biello, who mentioned C.J. Sapong, Ilsinho and Haris Medunjanin as players his club needs to watch. “They score goals early so we have to be ready for that. It’s about being aware of those elements and being able to focus on what brings us success.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Ignacio Piatti: The dynamic midfielder was out for the Union’s 2-1 loss to the Impact at Saputo Stadium in late July, but was key to the Impact comeback draw. “When you talk about Montreal, it starts with Ignacio Piatti and trying to contain him the best you can,” Curtin said. “He’s not the kind of guy you can shut down for 90 minutes.”

Ilsinho: The Brazilian had the game of his MLS career last weekend by putting up a goal, two eye-popping assists and five shots in a 3-1 rout of FC Dallas. It was exactly what the Union needed from the No. 10 position.

5. This and that
• The Union will once again be without goalkeeper Andre Blake, who is set to miss his third game with a laceration to his hand suffered in the Gold Cup title game. Blake hasn’t played for the Union since July 2 - a 3-0 win over the New England Revolution.

• With Blake out, John McCarthy will get his seventh consecutive start on Saturday. He’s been solid in reserve, making 28 stops and allowing eight goals over that span.

• Masterful at home of late, the Union are 7-1-0 at Talen Energy Stadium since May 1. 

• The Impact are 1-5-5 on the road this season and have never won at Talen Energy Stadium (0-2-5). However, the Union are 3-6-6 all time against the Canadian side.