Union at New York City FC
1 p.m. on 6ABC
After suffering their first loss since April 14, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Real Salt Lake on the road, the Union (4-5-4) aim to regroup on Saturday as they travel to Yankee Stadium to challenge reigning league MVP David Villa and New York City FC (6-5-3).
Here are five things to know for the game:
1. Learning from the past
In the first meeting with NYCFC in mid-April, the Union stood toe-to-toe with their Eastern Conference opponent for a half, only to fall apart in the 51st and 90th minute for the 2-0 defeat.
"In the first 45 minutes we did make it uncomfortable but we didn't punish them," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "We turned them over but we didn't punish them and we were not able to sustain it for 90 minutes. We fatigued."
But the Union are a new team this time around. The loss to NYCFC was the Union's fourth consecutive defeat at the time. On Saturday, the same team will be 4-1-0 in its last five matches entering Yankee Stadium.
"When we played them earlier, it was when we were trying to figure out stuff," Union goalkeeper Andre Blake said. "Not to take anything away from them, they came here and they did good. But we have to believe we can go there and believe we can beat them. We're playing better than when we last played them and I think we're a better team now than we were then."
That belief stems from experience. Curtin, who wants to apply an aggressive press to disrupt NYCFC's more skilled attackers, knows his team has to hang with NYCFC for the full 90. The strategy is worthless unless the team can keep it up.
"In order to press a team with their quality, you have to be able to sustain for the entire time," he said. "It will be a real challenge in their building."
2. Preparing for the outfield
To also aid in their revenge match against NYCFC, the Union are in deep preparation for unique circumstances in the outfield at Yankee Stadium. The home field of NYCFC is considered to be near the smallest dimensions that FIFA will allow and is in the running for smallest in MLS history.
"We shortened and narrowed the [practice] field being that the New York stadium is a bit more narrow," Union attacker Fafa Picault said. "It's about getting used to it so we don't over-hit balls and get used to holding shape within the lines of the game."
Curtin didn't stop with just altering his club's practice field, which is located just outside Talen Energy Stadium. He assigned the Union's USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel, to act as NYCFC in a scrimmage on the narrowed field.
"I put the group through a good training exercise where Bethlehem represented a New York City team and how they like to build out of the back," Curtin said. "It was a good exercise. Overall it was good preparation for what will be a good game this weekend."
3. Bedoya out, Creavalle in
If the Union are going to take a result from NYCFC, they'll have to do it without captain and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who is away from international duty with the U.S. men's national team.
Filling that void will be veteran midfielder Warren Creavalle, who will slide into the No. 8 spot behind Ilsinho and ahead of Haris Medunjanin. It will be Creavalle's first start of the season.
"He brings it each and every day in training," Curtin said of Creavalle. "He works his tail off, he's sharp, he competes, he fights for every yard and inch in practice. He's a true pro. He's a guy who will be called upon to play this weekend."
While Creavalle may not be a flashy replacement for Bedoya, he's a serviceable one. The midfielder covers ground and excels in mucking up the middle of the field for the opposition. That's exactly what Curtin is looking for on Saturday.
"He's a guy I have full confidence in," Curtin said. "He does the stuff that doesn't show up on the stat sheet. I'm excited for Warren. It's a good spot for him because it's tiny and not a lot of space for teams to hide. It's a good situation to have a quality player like Warren ready to go in."
4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: Although the rookie winger likely won't get the start on Saturday, Marcus Epps is expected to back up Chris Pontius on the right side of the Union's attack because of a lower-body injury suffered by Fabian Herbers. That means he could be a major part of the Union's second half. "We're happy with him," Curtin said. "He has a ton of potential and he's a guy we are really high on. With the injury to Fabian, he has an opportunity to step in and perform."
NYCFC: Villa is the player to watch on NYCFC because he's always the player to watch. Curtin called him probably the best player MLS has ever had. And that's without considering the incredible April goal against the Union, in which Villa buried a shot from midfield over Blake and under the crossbar.
5. This and that
• The Union are 2-3-1 all-time against NYCFC, including a 2-0 loss at Talen Energy Stadium in April.
• Saturday's match will feature two of MLS' most productive scorers in C.J. Sapong and Villa. Both players are tied for third in the league with eight goals on the season.
• Led by Villa's 21, NYCFC leads MLS in shots on goal with 76 in 14 games. The Union rank ninth with 60 in 13 games.
• Both clubs have hit a speed bump on their season of late. NYCFC is coming off a 3-0 loss to Atlanta United and a 2-2 draw with the New England Revolution, while the Union are coming off a disjointed 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids and a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Real Salt Lake.