Union (6-9-5) vs. Columbus Crew (10-10-1)
7:30 p.m. on TCN
Feeling the sting of a punchless effort and defeat last Saturday, the hobbled Union return home Wednesday with revenge on their mind as they face the Columbus Crew at Talen Energy Stadium in the second half of a crucial Eastern Conference home-and-home series.
Here are five things to know.
1. Quick recovery
After a season of relative health and fortune, the Union's roster has taken a hit. The club lost Chris Pontius and Andre Blake to international duty, and spent Saturday without suspended Roland Alberg and injured Fafa Picault and C.J. Sapong.
The result? One goal and back-to-back losses.
"At the midway point we had hoped to have everyone in the group back and clicking on all cylinders," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "For a variety of reasons we weren't really together. Whether it was suspensions, injuries, the birth of a child, international call-ups, we had some tough variables to overcome and we didn't pass the test on the road."
Overall, the defense hasn't been an issue for the Union, as they only allowed three goals over the last two games on the road. It's the attack that is limping, a fact highlighted by the shot-less performance in their 1-0 loss to the Crew over the weekend.
"Columbus did defend well but at the same time to not have a shot on goal is inexcusable," Curtin, who expects to have Sapong back with Alberg in the attack, said. "It's not a good indication of us. We are missing our front four in the game and it looked that way. We need to step up as a group and recognize we weren't decisive enough, not good enough on attack and didn't create enough chances."
As a way to re-charge that offense Wednesday, the Union, who have scored 17 of their 26 goals this season at Talen Energy Stadium, will try to utilize that home field advantage.
"The good news is we get to regroup quickly and I'm very confident in our group that we'll have a good response on our home field against a Crew team we're very familiar with," Curtin said. "It's a chance to get things right in our home building with our fans behind us."
2. Sold on McCarthy
While there hasn't been much to celebrate for the Union over the last two games, there has been a lone bright spot that Curtin can look to.
"As disappointed as we are as a club over the last two games, the one thing we really learned is John McCarthy, across the board, has raised the bar in terms of where we view him," the manager said. "He's been excellent."
The third year backup goalkeeper has made 13 saves in his last three matches and is set to make his fourth start of the season Wednesday. Firmly planted behind starter Andre Blake, who has established himself as the star of the Gold Cup while captaining Jamaica, McCarthy kept the listless Union in games they otherwise shouldn't have been.
"He's shown he can start in this league," Curtin said. "He makes you feel comfortable, he's done a great job and that's something that maybe gets lost. We are still doing good defensive work, need to get a little sharper on offense but johnny has really turned the head of the coaching staff in the last three games."
Thanks to Blake's success, McCarthy will get another chance to impress Wednesday.
"[The Crew] is a team we're real familiar with," the goalkeeper said. "We have to get points at home, we need a big win here and take care of business."
3. Stingy Crew
Coming off back-to-back shutout wins, including one of the Union, manager Gregg Berhalter, and the Crew are feeling confident entering Wednesday's rematch.
"It gave us confidence," he said. "It was a total team performance and it gives us confidence that we can break through and keep going. It was more about team defending than individuals, it was a really good compact unit and I thought we made it very difficult for them."
Curtin didn't disagree. With playmaker Federico Higuain likely out again for the Crew with a knee sprain, Berhalter could return to the efficient 3-4-3 formation that dominated the Union on Saturday.
"We didn't do a good job against their three center backs, we really made it easy for them," Curtin said. "They had a comfortable day and they basically stayed in the width of the center circle, we never pulled them out and made it uncomfortable for them."
4. Keep an eye on …
Roland Alberg: After serving a one game suspension, Alberg will return to the Union on Wednesday. Expected at the No. 10 spot, the goal scorer will be the host's desperately-needed offensive catalyst. "This will be an opportunity for Roland tomorrow to play another 90 minutes," Curtin said.
Justin Meram: The midfielder leads the Crew in goals with nine and assists with six. If the Union want to keep a clean sheet at home, they'll have to stop Meram.
5. This and that
• Union right back Ray Gaddis was a late arrival to the MLS injury report, listed as questionable with a hamstring strain. If Gaddis can't play, Keegan Rosenberry would make his first start since April 14.
• Along with Gaddis, Picault, who missed the match Saturday because of a hamstring strain, is questionable again for Wednesday. Forward Jay Simpson has a lower-body injury but is off the injury report. "Jay has the injury from the tackle, he might be able to go," Curtin said. "Fafa did stuff on the side, he said it feels a lot better today."
• The Union are 7-11-1 against the Crew all time and 5-4-0 at home.