Union

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."

Union's season ends with loss to NYCFC in MLS knockout round

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AP Images

Union's season ends with loss to NYCFC in MLS knockout round

BOX SCORE

After suffering a lopsided defeat to NYCFC in the season finale at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, the Union marched back up to the Bronx on Wednesday night and did it again, falling, 3-1, in the knockout round of the 2018 MLS Playoffs to end their season.

• It was the fourth playoff match in franchise history for the Union and also their fourth loss. The club has yet to win a playoff game in its nine-year history. NYCFC moves on to face Atlanta United in a home-and-home aggregate series. 

• Union manager Jim Curtin put his fingerprint on the playoff match by slotting Alejandro Bedoya in at his natural right attacking midfield side, while tapping veteran Warren Creavalle to break up the middle of the field next to Haris Medunjanin. 

• It was a creative idea that ultimately failed to impact the match. Creavalle was pulled for Ilsinho at the half as the Union pushed for a more sustained offense. It took a while but paid off in the 83rd minute, when Ilsinho found Burke for the cross and tap-in goal to make it 3-1. 

• Before that, though, off a Mark McKenzie turnover in the 10th minute, NYCFC opened the scoring on a beautiful play. A Maxi Moralez pass found Ismael Tajouri-Shradi for the half bounce rocket to beat Andre Blake and claim the 1-0 NYCFC lead. David Villa doubled the NYCFC lead in the 26th minute. 

• The Union appeared to gain traction late in the first half when Bedoya was de-cleated in the box. It should have been a penalty kick but somehow went uncalled. It was that kind of night. The Union finished the first half with no shots on goal and just two in the second. 

• It didn’t get much better in the second half. As the Union pressed, Moralez chipped Blake on a fast break for the 3-0 lead. The Union were thoroughly outclassed all match long and especially struggled to generate offensive chances.

• The sting of defeat in important matches is a familiar one for the Union, who have lost four playoff matches and three U.S. Open Cup finals in the club’s history. Wednesday wasn’t even the most painful of the season, as the Union were crushed in Houston against the non-playoff Dynamo, 3-0, in the Open Cup finals back in September.

• But despite the disappointment, it was still a record season for the 2018 Union, who claimed the franchise record in total points, wins and road wins. Midfielder Borek Dockal took the MLS assist crown and young defenders McKenzie and Auston Trusty made names for themselves. Things have been worse for the Union.

Union lose at NYFC in regular season finale with playoff seeding on line

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USA Today Images

Union lose at NYFC in regular season finale with playoff seeding on line

BOX SCORE 

NEW YORK — David Villa scored his 14th goal of the season and New York City FC beat the Philadelphia Union 3-1 on Sunday to clinch the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

NYCFC (16-10-8) won for just the second time in its last 10 matches, with five loses, averaging just 0.9 goals per game. Philadelphia (15-14-5) has lost five of its nine matches against NYCFC.

Either team could have secured the top-three seed with a victory.

NYCFC had a 2-0 lead in the opening 10 minutes on Maxime Chanot's first goal of the season and Auston Trusty's own goal. Villa made it 3-1 in the 34th.

Cory Burke pulled Philadelphia within 2-1 in the 14th. C.J. Sapong was fouled inside the penalty area in the 59th, but NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson denied Fafa Picault's penalty shot, diving to his right to block the low attempt.