Union vs. D.C. United
7 p.m. on 6ABC
Slipping down the Eastern Conference standings with three losses in their last four MLS games, the Union (7-6-5) aim to regroup and get back to their winning ways when they host rival D.C. United (5-6-6) Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.
Here are five things to know for the matchup:
1. Standings recovery
With a loss to the Houston Dynamo last weekend, the Union dropped off their perch to second in the Eastern Conference, behind New York City FC. But even with the standings decline, Union manager Jim Curtin isn’t hitting the panic button quite yet.
“There’s a lot to be happy about in terms of where we are on the table,” he said. “We know it’s not going to be an easy thing where we just go wire to wire with no blips. We know it’s going to be a fight. You look at the table, it’s very competitive in the West and the East.”
One change that could help the Union is time to rest. The club recently completed five games in a 17-day stretch, including the U.S. Open Cup.
"It’s nice to have a full week of training,” Curtin said. “We haven’t had one in a while, so it’s nice to step back and work on some things, to get back to training twice a day and get after it. We’re excited for the challenge this weekend that D.C. United will present and I think our guys will be up for it.”
2. Recoveries for Le Toux, Sapong
The Union could see the return of Sebastien Le Toux, who missed last Saturday’s match with a concussion suffered against the Vancouver Whitecaps on June 25.
“He’s back quicker than I thought, to be honest,” Curtin said. “Initially, I kind of ruled him out. But the doctors saw him every day this week and he’s going through all of the precautionary measures. We won’t rush it but, at the same time, he is progressing in a way that it’s at least a possibility for the weekend.”
Le Toux, who has two goals and five assists in 12 starts this season, would be a valuable depth piece for the Union, on what is expected to be a hot Saturday against D.C. United. The Union are currently using Ilsinho as their starting right winger, with Le Toux serving as a backup.
“It adds to our depth,” Curtin said of Le Toux’s possible return. “And the more good attacking options I have to choose from, the better.”
But Le Toux isn’t the only one expected to be back in full force Saturday. After missing three games with an ankle injury, forward C.J. Sapong made his return against the Dynamo, playing 27 effective minutes in the 1-0 loss.
“He’s excited to get going again, it’s good to see,” Curtin said. “I’m hoping he’s able to start. His fitness has really improved over the course of the week.”
3. Return of Hamid, D.C. United
Consistency has been an issue for United this season, but things have come together a bit in their last three games. Ben Olsen’s club, which lost to the Union, 1-0, May 20, has gone 2-1-2 since then, unbeaten in its last three with a pair of shutouts.
“It’s a big game for us,” United defender Steve Birnbaum said. “We’re looking for revenge, to go there and pick up some points at their place. The guys are hungry and ready for this game.”
What makes United so dangerous, according to Curtin, is the combination of everyone buying into Olsen’s system and the inclusion of goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who has missed 12 matches but allowed just three goals in his last five starts.
“We look forward to D.C., a team Benny has playing very well right now,” Curtin said. “They are tough to break down. When you have Bill Hamid come back, it adds a whole new element. It takes a special play to beat a goalkeeper of his quality. We have a pretty good one, too, so it’ll be a good game.”
4. Keep an eye on …
Union: Sapong played 27 minutes against the Dynamo and appears set for a larger workload against United. That’s good news for the Union, who could use the boost. “He came into the game and impacted it right away with pressure,” Curtin said. “He makes a deflection, steals the ball in their end and draws a foul within 30 seconds.”
D.C. United: As Curtin explained, United are the ultimate team, with Alvaro Saborio leading the club in goals with four. But the difference-maker Saturday could be Hamid, who is good enough to steal United the game. “Every team goes through stretches where you need your goalkeeper to bail you out,” Curtin said. “Bill is certainly a guy who can do that.”
5. This and that
• One of the keys to the Union’s success this season is their ability to avoid losing streaks. The club has only lost back-to-back games once this season, June 25 against the Whitecaps and July 2 against the Dynamo. “It’s critical to avoid any losing streaks,” said Curtin, who broke up those two MLS matches with a U.S. Open Cup win over the New York Red Bulls. “We’ve done a decent job of that.”
• The Union are happy to be at home Saturday. The club is 6-1-2 at Talen Energy Stadium in 2016 and 1-5-3 on the road. “If you win all your home games,” Curtin said, “you’re going to be in the playoffs.”
• The Union are 7-2-2 against Eastern Conference competition this season and 6-0-0 at home over that span.
• Defender Josh Yaro, who was handed two yellow cards and a red card ejection against the Dynamo, will be suspended for Saturday’s match. Ken Tribbett is expected to play in his place.
• The Union are 5-3-0 all-time against United at Talen Energy Stadium.