Union vs. Colorado Rapids
7 p.m. on TCN
Not long after setting one of the longest winless streaks in MLS history, the resurgent Union (3-4-4) can now set a franchise record for consecutive wins when they host the struggling Colorado Rapids (2-7-1) on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.
Here are five things to know:
1. Going streaking
Yes, the same team that started 0-4-2 has rebounded from that dreadful start to go unbeaten in five games with three straight dominating wins by a combined score of 9-0.
It marks just the third three-game winning streak in history for a club that's never had a four-game winning streak. But they have a golden opportunity to do just that with a very winnable home match against an equally tired Colorado team playing on the other side of the country.
Remarkably, the Union can also move their shutout streak from four games — already a club record — to five.
What do these records mean given the 15-game winless streak that came before it?
“I think it’s a testament to the players,” Curtin said following Friday's practice session. “They stuck together through a difficult time. I think we’re stronger because we did stick together through as difficult a stretch as you can go through.”
2. All about the defense
The only thing more surprising than the fact that the Union haven’t given up a goal in four straight games is the personnel they are doing it with.
Rookie Jack Elliott, one of the last picks in the 2017 draft, has been starting at center back along Oguchi Onyewu, who was out of soccer for two years. And Ray Gaddis, who had been relegated to a reserve role last season, has supplanted Keegan Rosenberry at right back, at least for now.
“I think it’s a testament to how they hard they train, the preseason they go through,” Curtin said. “We treat each guy the same way, whether you’re old or young, the reps that you get in training are all equal. It’s not a big surprise now when a guy gets thrown in.”
Interestingly enough, oft-overlooked left back Fabinho has been the only defender to play every minute as he prepares to play his 100th MLS game.
“He’s a guy who is a great player for us,” Curtin said. “He’s been with the club for a while, has a good idea of what we ask out of our left back. He’s done a better job I think this year of not running himself into the ground in the first 20 minutes or so with those 80-, 90-yard tiring runs, and has been very disciplined and has had a great season for us so far.”
3. Rotating the attack?
No one on the Union has been hotter than their two wingers with Fafa Picault scoring in each of the last two games and Chris Pontius leading the way with two assists in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Houston to match his career high with six assists on the season.
But with the Union playing their third game in eight days, will both get the start once again — especially with a talented winger like Fabian Herbers waiting on the bench?
“We’ll have to look at what makes the most sense,” Curtin said. “Do we use one as a reserve? It’s a possibility. But they’re confident right now, they’re flying, and they’re getting goals and assists, which is a bonus.”
4. Keep an eye on …
Rapids: Perhaps the best goalkeeper in American history, Tim Howard, will face the Union for the first time. It’s fair to say Curtin thinks highly of the 38-year-old stalwart who’s had a remarkable career, including an epic performance for the U.S. national team at the last World Cup. “Anytime he’s in the goal,” the Union coach said, “there’s a darn good chance he’s going to get a clean sheet. … It takes a special effort to beat a guy like Timmy.”
Union: Curtin said that attacking midfielder Roland Alberg won’t be able to return from a quad injury in time for the game, which means Ilsinho, fresh off a great game Wednesday, should be in line to get his third straight start in that position. But can he handle another grueling shift just three days after the last one? “Ilsinho is in a newer position for him,” Curtin said. “I think he has adjusted well to it. He’s doing a lot of running defensively. It is tough on the legs, so we’ll look at everything.”
5. This and that
• Union goalkeeper Andre Blake hasn’t allowed a goal in 363 minutes and counting — currently the second longest shutout streak in Union history. The longest currently belongs to Zac MacMath, who went 408 minutes without surrendering a goal in 2012 and will be in town Saturday as Colorado’s backup goalkeeper.
• The Union have beaten the Rapids just once in nine all-time meetings and never at Talen Energy Stadium (0-2-3).
• In last Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of D.C. United, Haris Medunjanin became the second Union player to have a goal and multiple assists in the same game, joining Sebastien Le Toux.
• The Rapids rank last in MLS with eight goals scored this year and have only scored one total goal in their last seven regular-season road games
• The Rapids are 0-5-0 away from home this year and have been outscored 10-1 in those games.