David Villa

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.

Union-NYCFC 5 things: Union aim to end recent 'bad spell' against Villa, NYCFC

Union-NYCFC 5 things: Union aim to end recent 'bad spell' against Villa, NYCFC

Sitting alone at the bottom of MLS, C.J. Sapong and the winless Union (0-3-2) look to break the curse and avoid their fourth consecutive defeat when they host David Villa and powerful New York City FC (2-2-1) on Friday night (7 p.m., ESPN) at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know:

1. Fighting the way out
With three straight losses and few ways to improve before Friday's clash with NYCFC, the Union will have to strong-arm their way out of this slump.

"We're in a bad spell right now, we've lost three games in a row and that's hard," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "We have to fight our way out. We have to stick together as a group and fight our way out of this thing."

Although the Union are at a low point, they do have hope. The club is doing well enough to create offensive chances and is in the league's upper echelon in shots against. This comes despite giving up the fifth-most goals in MLS.

"We are creating chances and we're not giving up a lot of chances," said Curtin, who insisted these type of numbers will pay off in the long run. "We're second in the league in shots conceded which is good. Every team goes on a good run and every team has a bad spell."

To help the Union avoid falling into listlessness, Curtin is working to boost confidence with a mix of perspective and pushing on-field passion.

"We're not happy with where are on the table, we've lost three games in a row now," he said. "It's important to keep perspective and recognize the good moments that we've had. We do still have a very good group, a good team and we had good meetings this week. We've stressed bringing the energy, bringing the passion on our home field."

2. Lineup changes
Following last Saturday's bitter loss, Curtin hinted that he would explore significant changes to his starting group. But during his press conference on Wednesday, the coach backed off.

"There's always a consideration for everything," he said. "We'll discuss things through. But we believe in this group and we believe in the formation we play. It just takes us executing. Making roles as clear as possible is something that we've stressed."

On Saturday, when the Union fell behind a goal in the second half to the Portland Timbers, Curtin tapped rarely used Roland Alberg to step in as the No. 10, while Alejandro Bedoya fell back deeper into the midfield.

"Roland has worked hard in that regard and we rewarded him with some minutes in this game," Curtin said. "We look forward to New York City now and will make the best decision and best group out there to get a win."

He also picked forward Jay Simpson to join Sapong in the attack. But despite the personnel to run a two-striker set, don't expect the Union to move away from their typical 4-2-3-1 formation on Friday.

"We still believe in what we're doing and we don't want to make it more complicated for the players," Curtin said. "We haven't performed how we want to on the field but if we continue to believe in the system that we have, we will get the results that we deserve. We've been beaten three times in a 34-game season."

3. Matching intensity
Aware of the Union's recent struggles, NYCFC knows what to expect on Friday when it faces a wounded club desperate for a win.

"It'll be a tough game for us, we have to be ready to compete," NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira said. "They are going through a difficult period. We need to be ready to fight.

"It will be two teams who need to win games. If we manage to play the way we know and add a little more aggressiveness in our game, we'll have a chance."

Ratcheting up the aggressiveness and tempo is something Vieira is pushing for Friday, especially following his team's 2-1 loss to D.C. United last weekend. The defeat brought NYCFC's record to a lukewarm 2-2-1 on the season.

"We need to add something more to our game too if we want to compete against MLS teams," Vieira said. "The way we want to play is positive and good, but we need to add a little bit more."

For Curtin, the match will be about meeting that tempo and keeping Vieira's club off balance.

"We know what they are going to do, but it starts with our initial pressure, not letting them get a rhythm," he said. "I'm confident our group will have a good response and do that on our home field."

4. Keep an eye on
David Villa: Villa isn't just a productive scorer (three goals on the season), he's also become an MLS playmaker. The forward ranks fourth in MLS with three helpers. "He's a guy who if you focus too much on him he'll set up goals, too," Curtin said. "He has that ability."

Haris Medunjanin: The Union season is not be going to plan, but that's not the fault of Medunjanin, a defensive midfielder with a flair for playmaking. With just two assists on the season, the MLS newcomer is overdue for a breakout game. "He's as good a passer as I've worked with," Curtin said. "He only has two assists but that could be up around seven or eight already if we catch those little breaks I've talked about before. He's a true professional." 

5. This and that
• The Union are 2-2-1 against NYCFC all-time, but 2-1-0 at Talen Energy Stadium.

• Union goalkeeper John McCarthy will miss his third straight game with a concussion.

"McCarthy still is not cleared to play yet," Curtin said. "We're in one of those holding patterns where he's not quite cleared yet." Jake McGuire will once again be the backup.

• Another injury to monitor is center back Jack Yaro, who is also close to being back in the lineup after missing all season. The second-year MLS defender is near full recovery from a shoulder injury suffered in the preseason. "Josh would tell you he's ready to go now," Curtin said. "He's getting closer."