Union vs. D.C. United
7:00 p.m. on 6ABC
Looking to avoid four-straight losses for the second time this season, the last-place Union (4-7-4) aim to prey on vulnerable D.C. United (5-8-3) in a battle at the bottom of the Eastern Conference Saturday night (7:00 p.m., 6ABC) at Talen Energy Stadium.
Here are five things to know:
1. Back to slump-busting
The Union are a streaky team. After losing four-straight matches earlier this season, the club claimed two draws then went on a four-game winning streak. Things were looking up until the Union stumbled again and dropped their last three matches, including a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls last Sunday.
"We had a tough start, a hot run and a little bit of a dip," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "We can not allow this to be a long-term thing."
Although the potential of another four-game losing streak will loom large over Saturday's match, the Union will have to shrug it off if they want to turn their season around. The weekend tilt features the two lowest ranked teams in the Eastern Conference.
"It's a weird run of form," said Curtin, who pointed out the Union's recent losing streak was more about bad luck than poor play. "Streaks get longer and can get problematic or we can step up on Saturday night and put an end to it."
To do that, the Union need more on both sides of the ball. Over that four-game winning run, the Curtin's outscored their competition 11-1. They took the lead and locked the game down.
"It's a league of runs," Curtin said. "The strong teams are the ones that aren't conceding a lot of goals. If you start with that foundation, which is something we believe in and something we've improved on but that hasn't been perfect, it at least gives you a chance to get results in every game. We showed glimpses of that through the four-game stretch of winning."
2. Looking for a fix
To get back to those winning ways, the Union need a quick fix. But as Curtin explained Wednesday, the defense, which has allowed five goals in its last three matches, has been unlucky rather than poor.
"If you look at our last eight games as a team defensively we've conceded six goals, which isn't bad," he said. "Four of them are without [Alejandro] Bedoya in the last two games. Two of the goals were down a man and two were on restarts. We have a team that needs to do a little better offensively and is a little cleaner defensively decisions as well. But overall I don't think there's a real problem with us conceding a ton of goals."
But while leaning away from putting all of the losing weight on his defense, which has recently included Ray Gaddis, Jack Elliott, Oguchi Onyewu and Fabinho, Curtin, a defender at heart, didn't let his team's defensive effort go unscathed.
"We need to continue work on things, to build on that," Curtin said. "It does start with defense in this league. If you at the team at the top of standings and they defend their butts on for 90 minutes. We've been able to do that in patches of games but it's been too inconsistent."
One solution? Score more. The Union have only managed one goal in their last three games. Curtin stated that it's not for lack of chances but missing finish that has caused the trouble.
"You want to try to get into the situations where you get to [Chris] Pontius comes to life, that's where [C.J.] Sapong comes to life. In short, we need more crosses."
3. Basement battle
Although Saturday's match against D.C. United is technically just another early-summer game, it will tell a lot about where the two clubs are headed. It's a battle of teams trying to climb out of the East basement.
"If we can [get a win], we put ourselves in a good spot moving up the table," D.C. United manager Ben Olsen said. "Philly is right around us so it's an important match at this point in the season."
The Union are leaning on previous success against United as navigation through Saturday. On May 13, they dismantled their rivals, 4-0, at RFK Stadium.
"We were good with the ball, possession was strong," Curtin said. "We were clinical with our finishing. When you take your chances in this league it's everything. That day we finished everything and that's what it comes down to. Hopefully, we have a sharp day in front of goal, we've proven we can do it."
Olsen is expecting a familiar contest.
"We know them very well and they know us very well," he said. "There will be no secrets on what our teams are about, it's always a physical matchup, it's a rivalry game for us. It's going to be a lot of fun. It's never an easy place to get points but we've done it before."
4. Keep an eye on
Deshorn Brown: The United newcomer, who was acquired this week from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, made his debut Wednesday for United and will likely play a factor on Saturday. He's a speedster that the Union know well. "Tough timing," Curtin said. "It's speed, that's what he is. He looks to get in behind, he's a guy who creates chances and he's dangerous. We'll see him for sure. That's my belief at least. I think we'll see Deshorn one way or another. It was a good acquisition for them."
Alejandro Bedoya: After missing two games with a lower-body injury, the midfielder is expected to return Saturday against United. That should give the Union a boost on both ends of the ball, as the club found chemistry and settled nicely with Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin working together in the center.
5. This and that
• The Union will be without Derrick Jones, who is suspended after receiving a red card last Sunday against the New York Red Bulls. It puts Curtin is a tough position as Warren Creavalle (out with a right hamstring strain) would be the primary depth behind Bedoya at the No. 8 spot.
• The Union will also be without Fabian Herbers and potentially Jay Simpson, who is questionable with a left hamstring strain. United will miss Nick DeLeon, Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin and Patrick Mullins.
• The Union are 8-8-4 against D.C. United all time and 6-3-0 at home.