Andrew Wenger

Union becoming Buffalo Bills of U.S. Open Cup

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Union becoming Buffalo Bills of U.S. Open Cup

The Union aren't quite the Buffalo Bills of the U.S. Open Cup, but they're getting close.

Mauro Manotas scored a pair of first-half goals as the shaky Union were toppled by the Houston Dynamo, 3-0, on a rainy Wednesday night at BBVA Compass Stadium.

It marked the club's third Open Cup finals loss in five seasons. 

After losing to the Seattle Sounders in 2014 and Sporting Kansas City in 2015, both at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union hit the road for their third Open Cup finals. But unlike the Sounders match, when the Union relinquished the lead, and the SKC match, which went to penalty kicks, this one wasn't competitive.

The Dynamo opened the scoring in the fourth minute on a brutal defensive breakdown by the Union. Beating Auston Trusty to the ball on the goal line, Alberth Elis placed a bouncing cross between defender Jack Elliott and goalkeeper Andre Blake, giving Manotas the easy header goal.

Manotas made it 2-0 in the 25th minute, when he moved past Trusty, easily gained the top of the box, and ripped a shot that rolled past the fingertips of Blake and in. It was a back-breaker for the Union, who put an onus on keeping Manotas in check.

Trusty's poor night went from bad to worse in the 65th minute, when he scored an own-goal off a rebound for the 3-0 Dynamo lead. It wasn't a mistimed header either, he kicked it right in. Would have been a strong finish if it was on the opposing goal.

Union manager Jim Curtin pulled Cory Burke for Jay Simpson in the 68th minute. It was the right move, albeit a tad late. Simpson, the reigning MLS player of the week, had three shots in under 20 minutes, while Burke finished with three on the night.

Former Union player Andrew Wenger made the start for the Dynamo. If you can remember, it was Wenger who missed a crucial penalty kick in the Union's PK loss to SKC in 2015. He had the last laugh.

The Union will look to put this devastating loss aside quickly as they visit the Columbus Crew in MLS action on Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium. The Union are one point behind the Crew for No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Union-Dynamo 5 things: A reunion in Houston

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Union-Dynamo 5 things: A reunion in Houston

Union vs. Houston Dynamo
9 p.m. on TCN

If the Union (7-5-5) want to shake off a run of two losses in their last three MLS games, they’ll first need to get through their former teammates Andrew Wenger, Cristian Maidana and the Houston Dynamo (3-8-5) on Saturday night at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Here’s five things to know:

1. Wenger, Maidana reunion
The Union revamped their roster this offseason, shipping Wenger and Maidana to the Dynamo, where they joined up with another former teammate, longtime Union fullback, Sheanon Williams. 

Saturday will mark the first time the Union get to face their former mates.

“I've been waiting for this game since I got here from Philadelphia,” said Dynamo midfielder Maidana, who played two seasons with the Union. “I hope this Saturday to be as positive for me as for my team. I still don't know if I am going to play but I am really looking forward for this game. I hope to be there to face my ex-teammates and hopefully win the game.” 

But even while the emotions might run high for players like Wenger, Williams and Maidana, who were ejected from the Union roster involuntarily, the Union’s demeanor will stay the same. For them, it’s just another game.

“It’s not so big of a deal,” Union midfielder Brian Carroll said. “It’s good to see them beforehand, maybe have a bite after the game, but really it’s shake hands and get on with it.” 

2. Battered forwards
Entering the 2016 season, the Union were noticeably light on forwards. That fact might come back to bite them on Saturday, as they are dealing with injuries to their top-three striker options -- C.J. Sapong (ankle sprain), Fabian Herbers (hamstring) and Sebastien Le Toux (concussion).

Le Toux is out and will not travel with the team, while Herbers and Sapong are questionable.

“We have a good group, we have a deep team, and we have a lot of guys who have stepped up in tough times,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Whether it’s losing players to injuries or international duty, we’ve managed to have the next-man-up mentality.”

Though Sapong should be available in limited duty, the Union are expected to tap into that “next-man up mentality” when they lean heavily on Leo Fernandes, a midfielder by trade that played forward in college. 

“Leo has done it in college,” Curtin said. “And he showed he could do it in Major League Soccer. He’s very good holding the ball, fighting for things, strong. The last two games now he has come into, he’s left a real mark on. It’s the sign of a young player that’s growing up and getting confidence.”

Fernandes, who has played in eight games this season, is expected to work in a false-nine style, which has the potential to throw the opposing defense out of whack without a true forward to cover. 

“I say it in front of my whole group in training, Leo is our best player,” Curtin said. “Almost every day, in terms of getting goals, setting up goals, he does an excellent job and now it’s translating to the field in the big moment.”

3. Houston heat
When facing the Dynamo as visitors, there’s one constant: The unbearing Houston heat.

“The pitch and the weather help us a lot here,” Maidana said. 

And it could on Saturday, as Houston is expected to see scattered thunderstorms and a high of 94 degrees, including close to 90 at game time.

“Yeah, it’s hot,” Curtin said. “It’ll be right around 100 degrees, so you know you’re dealing with the elements. They’re a little more acclimated to it, which is an advantage for them. We’ll have to be smart with how we keep possession, how we move as a team.” 

When asked how to deal with that, Union midfielder Warren Creavalle, who played three seasons with the Dynamo, didn’t really have an answer.

“Hydrate? I don’t know,” he said. “Teams usually do have a tough time coming into the heat. But after breaking through that initial barrier, get your wind and adjust, it’s just another game. You just have to manage yourself well.” 

Carroll is also wary of the task at hand. 

“It doesn’t matter if they are friends or foes, playing in Houston in the middle of the summer isn’t an easy task,” he said. “We’ll have to rise to the challenge.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
C.J. Sapong: After weeks of false starts, Sapong is set to play on Saturday. But as Curtin noted, the amount of time he’ll contribute is unknown. “C.J. will be a factor in Saturday’s game, I can say that with confidence now. Minutes? I don’t know yet, but if I know C.J., he’ll want to start.”

Andrew Wenger: He couldn’t fit in with the Montreal Impact and he couldn’t find his way with the Union. But now that he’s with the Dynamo, things have been looking up for Wenger. The attacking player has been dangerous this season, with four goals (two off his career high) in 16 games. He’ll be looking to punish his old team on Saturday. “Andrew is a great player,” Curtin said. “He’s having a good year for them. He’s a player I always thought highly of. It’s a good change of scenery for him.”

5. This and that
• The Union are 4-5-5 against the Dynamo all-time and 2-4-0 in Houston.

• Despite the Western Conference beating up the East this season, the Dynamo are just 0-3-2 against the East, while the Union are 0-3-3 against the West.

• Though the Dynamo have improved throughout the season, the West’s lowest team is winless since May 14 (1-0 win over Real Salt Lake). Since then, the Dynamo are 0-2-3.

• During that five-game span, however, the Dynamo have only allowed six goals -- three came in a 3-2 loss to the Portland Timbers on June 26.