Union

Union-Timbers 5 things: Desperate Union host best in West

Union vs. Portland Timbers
7 p.m. on TCN

Reeling from back-to-back losses and two points through their first four games, the winless Union (0-2-2) return to Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday (7 p.m., TCN) to face the Western Conference-leading Portland Timbers (3-1-1) to kick off a crucial three-game homestand.

Here are five things to know.

1. Restarting the season
After dropping their second consecutive match, a 2-1 loss to D.C. United last weekend, the Union find themselves in the Eastern Conference basement. They are one of three MLS teams without a win through the first four games of the season. 

"There's a sense of urgency," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "If you look at the table, we're in a bad spot."

But there is hope. Beginning on Saturday against the Timbers, the Union kick off a three-game homestand that could revitalize their young season. 

"We've played three of four games away so we're definitely looking forward to a long streak of home games," Union defender Oguchi Onyewu said. "Hopefully we can start winning and get the points we feel is deserved from our work ethic on the field. Hopefully, we can turn things around right now."

Although it's early, this home set is crucial for the Union to remain competitive in an improved East. As it stands, the Union are four points out of the postseason picture. Curtin's club made the playoffs last season with 42 points, taking the tiebreaker winner over the New England Revolution.

"You don't want to fall too far behind," Curtin said. "The good news is only one team has three wins in the East right now so we're not too far off the pace. But there is a danger that if you don't take care of business at home, you can fall into a hole. It's a tough league to chase from behind."

Because of that, the pressure will be ramped up Saturday.

"We now have three at home and still have 30 games left of the season, so we have time to get things right," Curtin said. "But there's urgency. We've lost two games in a row and it doesn't taste good to anybody and we're not happy with that."

2. Union center back shuffle
If the Union want to revitalize their season Saturday, they might have to do it with a rookie at center back. Jack Elliott, a 6-foot-5 defender drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, teamed up with center back Oguchi Onyewu when one of the club's most valuable players, Richie Marquez, suffered a concussion at D.C. United last weekend. 

"Jack came into the game in a tough spot," Curtin said. "I thought he passed the ball very well. D.C. was sitting back a little bit but he was good positionally in stopping counters. We're happy with how he played."

Marquez, who wasn't able to practice with the team all week, is expected to be cleared by Saturday but would be a coach's decision after that. Marquez has played 58 games over the last three seasons for the Union.

"There will be a tough decision to make," Curtin said. "We're confident in both guys, we're confident in Jack to play in MLS. He has the size, the feet, the passing ability to play in the league. He showed that against D.C. United, it was a good performance."

3. Slowing the Timbers
The Timbers enter Saturday's match tied for the MLS lead with 10 points. And it's easy to see why, as the club is armed with players like Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco, Fanendo Adi and Darlington Nagbe.

"They are dangerous, there's no question about it," Curtin said. "They are fluid in their attack, great in possession. You have to be decisive against them in transition because they recover so quickly with the speed that they have. They present a lot of problems and can beat you a lot of different ways."

But while his team is more individually skilled, Timbers manager Caleb Porter knows his club is facing a wounded animal in the Union. He's coming prepared.

"They'll definitely play in a way they are desperate for a win," Porter said. "That could be tough to deal with but also maybe help us open up some opportunities. We're going to focus on what we want to do and respect the individuals and their team. It'll come down to the matchups and who executes.

"They are a lot better than their record, I think they are a dangerous team because they haven't won." 

4. Keep an eye on …
Diego Valeri: When it comes to the Timbers, Valeri is the player to stop. He's currently on pace for a career season, sitting second in MLS in goals with five, including two penalty kicks. He has 16 shots in five games.

C.J. Sapong: One of the few bright spots in the first four games, the Union forward is riding a three-game scoring streak while coming off the bench. "C.J. is giving us some life now," Curtin said.

5. This and that
* The Union are 1-3-3 against the Timbers all time but are 1-0-2 at Talen Energy Stadium in the series. 

* Despite the lopsided lifetime series, the Timbers haven't scored a goal on the road against the Union in three games. The Timbers were crushed, 3-0, in 2015, during their latest trip to Talen Energy Stadium.

* Union backup goalkeeper John McCarthy is still suffering a concussion and will be out for his second-consecutive game Saturday. He will be replaced by Jake McGuire.

* According to Opta, Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin leads MLS in chances created with 13. He has one assist on the season, however.