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."