Union

Union-New York City FC 5 things: Seeking revenge vs. David Villa and company

Union-New York City FC 5 things: Seeking revenge vs. David Villa and company

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.

Inside Doop: Lack of star power continues to doom Union

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Inside Doop: Lack of star power continues to doom Union

At long last, the Union’s season is coming to an end. Even better, they no longer have to play any games on the road this year.

In their final away match of a disappointing 2017 campaign, the Union let a lead slip away in a 3-2 loss to the Fire, finishing the year with a dismal 1-10-6 road record.

What went wrong? And what can we expect from next week’s regular-season finale at Talen Energy Stadium? Here’s a look in the final Inside Doop of 2017:

Three thoughts about Sunday’s game
1. The Union were once again reminded what star power can do for a team. On Sunday, the Fire’s Nemanja Nikolic put on a show with three goals — his 22nd, 23rd and 24th of the season — to all but wrap up a Golden Boot crown and put on his back a Fire team that was without fellow star Bastian Schweinsteiger. In Philly’s last road game, Atlanta also overcame the loss of star Miguel Almiron to ride Josef Martinez to a big win. That’s what happens when you spend a lot of money: you have a stable of difference-makers and their presence trickles down to the rest of the club. The Union, simply, don’t have anything close to that — one of the big reasons why they can’t play well for 90 minutes on the road and why they’ll be missing the playoffs for the sixth time in the franchise’s eight-year history.

2. The closest thing the Union do have to a true star, apart from goalie Andre Blake, is the midfield combo of Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. And both overcame their recent heartbreak of missing out on the World Cup (Bedoya with the U.S., Medunjnanin with Bosnia and Herzegovina) to put in strong shifts. Medunjanin’s pass to set up Bedoya’s second goal of the season was a thing of beauty — and marked his 11th assist of the season. Say what you want about the Union, but those two are consummate pros and locker room leaders who will do everything in their power to get this thing turned around in 2018.

3. Sadly for the Union, one of their best stories of the season — Jack Elliott — had a night to forget. The rookie center back, who went from fourth-round draft pick to Rookie of the Year contender, lost track of a long ball on the Fire’s first goal and then committed a penalty to set up Nikolic’s second goal. Elliott will still be an important piece heading into 2018, but it’s important to remember that he’s no sure thing, especially after seeing what happened to Keegan Rosenberry and Josh Yaro in their second seasons. Meanwhile, Richie Marquez continued his late-season revival with one of his better games of the year. Raise your hand if you have any kind of handle on the team’s center back situation right now.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. Home finales are usually special no matter how a season turns out but it’s hard to figure what kind of crowd and reception there will be when the Union take on Orlando next Sunday (4 p.m., 6ABC). This has been a trying season for Union fans who watched their team fail to build on any kind of momentum from last year’s playoff berth while lowly teams like Chicago or expansion teams like Atlanta (for the reasons listed above them) skyrocketed past them. At the same time, the Union have been mostly fun to watch at home, where they’ve set a franchise record with nine wins. The chance to go for a 10th victory and have C.J. Sapong break the single-season scoring record could be a couple reasons that people will flock to the stadium — that, and the realization that there will be no more soccer there until March.

2. Another big reason to come to Talen Energy Stadium is to see Kaka, the Brazilian legend who will play his last game in MLS. Who will play their last game for the Union? It’s hard to say for sure but Roland Alberg, Ilsinho, Chris Pontius and Brian Carroll are decent bets as an offseason potentially filled with turnover looms.

3. How will head coach Jim Curtin construct the lineup? He doesn’t like to switch things too much, but fans may be clamoring for young guys like Derrick Jones and Adam Najem while Curtin may want to give something of a send-off to Carroll or Charlie Davies, well-known veterans who have hardly played this year. And what about Maurice Edu? He hasn’t played in more than two years — but will a player who led the Union to back-to-back U.S. Open Cup finals in 2014 and 2015 get to say goodbye to fans in some way?

Stat of the week
Even after Bedoya’s goal Sunday, the Union’s four highest-paid players — Bedoya, Edu, Ilsinho and Jay Simpson — have combined for only seven goals this season.

Quote of the week
"It was definitely nostalgic to come back and play at Toyota Park. When I was younger in the U-16s and the U-18s, I played a lot here when I was with the academy. It was good to come back on the professional side and be able to play on the same field I play it on when I was younger." — Union rookie Marcus Epps

Player of the week
Bedoya scored a very nice goal, made a couple of perfectly timed tackles and generally looked sharp in his first game back from the USMNT’s World Cup qualifying failure. Maybe he should’ve played in Trinidad, huh?

Union blow another lead, beaten by Fire

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Union blow another lead, beaten by Fire

BOX SCORE

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Nemanja Nikolic scored two of his three goals in the second half, increasing his league-leading total to 24, and the Chicago Fire rallied for a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Union on Sunday.

The Fire (16-10-7) moved into third in the Eastern Conference, which would be good for a home game in the playoffs. Nikolic is four goals clear of his pursuers for the Golden Boot with one game to play.

Nikolic opened the scoring in the third minute, getting to a long feed from Brandon Vincent and aided by a bad angle by defender Jack Elliot before beating Andre Blake. Nikolic's penalty kick in the 64th tied it at 2 after David Accam was taken down in the penalty area. Nikolic completed his first career hat trick with an easy finish from the middle of the box on a feed from Brandon Vincent for the game winner in the 78th.

Chicago defender Johnan Kappelhof's own goal put the Union in a 1-1 tie at the six-minute mark and a feed from Haris Medunjanin to Alejandro Bedoya for a chip shot was good for the lead from the 13th minute.

Philadelphia (10-14-9) finished 1-10-6 on the road this season.