Union (8-12-8) at Red Bulls (12-10-5)
1 p.m. on ESPN
Separated by nine points in the Eastern Conference standings, there’s little at stake when the Union and New York Red Bulls meet Sunday afternoon at Red Bulls Arena. But that won’t stop either team from preparing for a fight as the familiar clubs clash in New Jersey.
With six games remaining in the regular season and the Union sinking to the bottom of the East, the focus turns to the future. But as Union manager Jim Curtin explained Wednesday, that change in focus doesn’t mean playing time will come as a charity for up-and-coming players.
“It won’t just be to throw six or seven guys out there and say good luck, I don’t think that’s a good idea for the development of young players,” the manager said. “We need to continue to fight for points, we have six games left. Is there a window and dip in form from certain guys, maybe we’ll find a way to get them in.”
Players like Adam Najem, Marcus Epps, Derrick Jones, Keegan Rosenberry and even defender Auston Trusty, are considered the next wave of talent for the Union, a team with little to be excited about. Yet if those young players want more playing time, they’ll have to earn it.
“We still pick the team each week based on how they perform in training and things won’t be just handed to people,” Curtin said. “If Warren Creavalle is outperforming Derrick Jones in training, in every practice session, and I choose for Derrick because he’s young, I think it sends a bad message to the team.”
But that process doesn’t mean the Union are analyzing every move from their prospects. Curtin explained that if you can’t impress with the Union’s USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel, you probably won’t thrive with the Union.
“Right now, how many guys do we have dominating those Bethlehem Steel games? It’s not enough, it’s not enough right now,” Curtin said. “The performances that happen in those games are judged and judged harshly. We will play young players but we’ll also play the team that gives us the best chance at getting three points.”
One of the Union’s young prospects that is getting an opportunity to shine might not dress Sunday. Defender Josh Yaro, who sat out last weekend’s draw with Minnesota United because of a red-card suspension, injured his knee in training this week.
“Yaro picked up a knee injury, it swelled up on him,” said Curtin, who also noted that Yaro could still make Sunday’s starting lineup. “A knock he took on the knee in training.”
If it lingers, however, the injury puts the Union in a tough position. With center back Oguchi Onyewu suspended against the Red Bulls because of yellow card accumulation, the Union could pull Richie Marquez out of mothballs to play next to Jack Elliott at center back.
“Richie had a very good day of training and that’s how we trained today, with Elliott and Richie on his left,” Curtin said. “It’s something that we’re confident in, something we’ve seen a bunch of the years.”
If Marquez does make the starting roster, which isn’t a given, it will be a golden opportunity for the 25-year-old. After making 53 starts over the last two seasons, Marquez only made eight starts in 2017 as he fell behind Elliott and Onyewu on the depth chart.
“Richie is a guy who is a pro, keeps his mouth shut and does his work each and every day,” Curtin said. “He’s a guy that I trust and still believe in. I know it’s been a difficult year for him, he’s been kinda the odd man out, but he can easily get in. He knows what we’re about with our back line and a guy whose number could be called.”
Up for the fight
Despite the difference in the standings, the Union have played the Red Bulls with vigor in the club’s first two matches. The Union dominated the first game, 3-0, but dropped the second, 2-0, after falling to 10 men.
“We know what they’re about, they are a team that will high press, have a ton of fight and energy,” Curtin said. “It’s a rivalry game in their building, which will be difficult because they are in a good run of form now and we need to give maximum effort to get three points.”
If the two previous matches weren’t a signal to the Red Bulls to take the Union seriously, playoff implications will. As it stands, the Red Bulls, who have an Open Cup finals against Sporting Kansas City match Wednesday, hold the final playoff spot in the East with 41 points — five more than trailing Montreal Impact.
“They are a better team than their results,” Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch said about the Union, “They are a dangerous team. I know they are always up to play us, especially at Red Bulls Arena. We know that will be a really important one.”
Keep an eye on …
C.J. Sapong: The Union leading scorer buried his 13th of the season last weekend against Minnesota United, and he should have had a second. Sapong is playing well and will be a person of interest for the Red Bulls back line.
Bradley Wright-Phillips: With the Open Cup Finals on Wednesday, it’s not a given that Wright-Phillips will even play Sunday. But if he does, he’s the guy to watch. BWP had both goals in the 2-0 win over the Union back on June 3. He has 15 on the season.
5. This and that
• The Union are 6-12-3 against the Red Bulls all time, with much of that damage coming on the road. They are 1-7-1 at Red Bulls Arena.
• The Union enter Sunday’s match winless in their last five matches, with a 0-2-3 record. Meanwhile, Red Bulls are 1-1-3 over the same span.
• With 13 goals on the season, Sapong is one away from the Union franchise record of 14, set by Sebastien Le Toux in 2010.
• The Union will get captain Alejandro Bedoya back in the midfield after he missed last week’s match because of a yellow-card accumulation suspension.