Union (11-11-8) vs. Toronto FC (13-8-8)
5 p.m. on TCN
Dropping the first of their three-game road gauntlet to the Portland Timbers last weekend, the Union are desperate for points. But their path to the playoffs won’t get any easier Saturday when they take on scorching Jozy Altidore and East-leading Toronto FC at BMO Field.
Here are five things to know.
1. Slumping C.J.
With one goal in his last nine games, C.J. Sapong is officially slumping.
“You’d love for him to get a goal,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “He’s little bit unlucky in that instance.”
Unlucky indeed. Sapong, who rattled off five of his nine goals in a six-game span in late March, early June, has been struggling to get involved offensively. But it’s something Curtin chalked up to a game of inches, noting a lucky goal would alter the conversation.
“The margins in our league are very small,” said Curtin, who insisted Sapong’s slump is more misfortune than anything else. “He’s still a forward that I very much believe in.”
Although Curtin insists Sapong is generating enough, the physical forward only has two shots on goal in his last six games, with his last goal coming Aug. 13 against the New England Revolution. He had two shots on goal in the six games following that tally.
“He’s guy that brings a lot of intangibles to each game and he’s a big part of our success,” Curtin said. “We know that he will get going and get goals. He’s going to contribute and make everybody else’s job easier around him.
“I’m still very much a believer in C.J. and what he’s all about.”
2. Tribbett’s redemption
The last time Union center back Ken Tribbett faced Toronto FC, he was subbed out at half for Josh Yaro, after being run over by Sebastian Giovinco and Altidore in the 3-1 loss on Aug. 20.
He’s played just one game since.
“I think Ken learned from that game,” Curtin said.
Saturday will be a chance for Tribbett to put that education to use. Along with the entire Union back line, which wasn’t good on the day, it’s a chance for redemption for Tribbett with Yaro serving a red-card suspension.
“Ken is a guy who is confident,” Curtin said. “He plays the same way. We’re going to encourage him to still pass out of the back and in moments when he needs to be direct, be direct. He’s great in the air, he’ll win his battles. We know we’ll get a good performance from Ken.”
3. Altidore Powering Toronto FC
With Giovinco ruled doubtful for Saturday’s match as a result of an injury, the Union have their eye on Altidore. The Toronto FC and U.S. Men’s National Team forward has seven goals in his last seven games, including a brace last weekend against the New York Red Bulls.
“He’s on fire right now,” Curtin said. “Everything he’s touching is going in. He’s strong, he’s confident, he’s a top American forward. He’s our top guy, and when he’s scoring goals he’s tough to stop.”
But if Altidore is such a dominant force, how can the Union stop him?
“You don’t want to get into a shoving match with Jozy because he’ll manhandle you,” Curtin said. “You want to bump him early and give him a little bit of space. He’s not a guy that loves to get on the ball, turn, dribble and beat guys. That’s not his game. He’s a guy that does his damage in the box. Confident strikers are difficult to deal with and he’s at the top of the list right now.”
4. Keep an eye on
Union: Chris Pontius is not exactly on fire, but he did break a five-game scoring drought last Saturday. The Union will look to him to keep it going, as he pushes to tie a career-high of 12 goals set in 2012.
Toronto FC: Altidore’s so productive right now, he deserves to be mentioned twice. His scoring run started on July 31 and hasn’t let up. Since then, he has eight goals in nine games and a whopping 21 shots over that span. To stop Toronto FC on Saturday means the Union need to stop Altidore.
5. This and that
• Maurice Edu, who is recovering from a broken leg, continued his move toward the Union lineup. After playing his third conditioning match with Bethlehem Steel, the defensive midfielder will travel to Toronto with the club. “It’s trending toward him starting to play a role in our 18 as opposed to starting for Bethlehem,” Curtin said.
• Since their last match, the Union signed midfielder Kevin Kratz. He’s a utility player, able to give Curtin depth all over his midfield. He won’t be available for Saturday. “Hopefully all the paperwork gets taken care of and then we’ll be sorted out,” Curtin said.
• Fabian Herbers is set to make his fifth consecutive start Saturday. He has been working the right side of the attacking midfield in place of injured Ilsinho, who Curtin wants back in the lineup in a full-time capacity as soon as possible. “Right now, he’s not quite at the 90-minute stage to start him,” Curtin said of Ilsinho. “Is he getting closer? Possibly. But it’s something that he’s working towards.”
• The Union are 6-6-4 against Toronto FC all time
• The Union are two goals shy of setting a franchise record for goals scored. They currently have 49 but had 51 in 2014.