The MLS Eastern Conference is tightening at the moment, which means that the Union (4-3-3) will have to keep their momentum going among the East’s best. Just four points separate the top team from the seventh place team. On Saturday, the Union came away with a 1-1 tie to the Montreal Impact (4-3-4), who ranked first in the East heading into the match.
In the match prior, they faced one of the top teams in the Western Conference, the L.A. Galaxy (5-1-4), coming away with a 2-2 tie while proving to the league they were for real.
The team now has a good idea where they stand on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball and are hoping to keep their consistency level up against one of their biggest rivals, D.C. United (3-4-4), on Friday night.
“They have a good attacking group,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I think [Nick] DeLeon’s done a good job in the center of midfield. They have a strong team. They represent their coach, who is a competitor, knows the league so well. They fight for everything, and they have a good team that’s playing well right now, so we’ll have our hands full.”
United sits in sixth place in the East with 13 points, while the Union sits just above them in third with 15 points. Like the Union, United is a very defensive-minded team, allowing just 13 goals on the year which ranks sixth in the MLS. They’re led in scoring by forwards Alvaro Saborio (4 goals) and Fabian Espindola (3 goals) as well as midfielder Patrick Nyarko (3 goals).
“I think it’s early in the season still but it’s a big game and, again, this league, and our conference especially, is a game of — a conference — of runs,” Curtin said. “Two and three games getting results, two, three wins here and there can really separate you. That’s something we’re fighting for right now. We don’t want to go back to being a .500 team, and this is a game where we really have to take advantage and try to jump on D.C. early and really protect our home field to get that little bit of separation from the danger of mediocrity, which is a .500 record. We don’t want that.”
In a defensive game, the Union will have to show some life on the offensive side of the ball. The Union have scored two goals or more in just five of their 10 matches so far this season. They’re led by C.J. Sapong (5 goals) and former D.C. United forward Chris Pontius (4 goals).
Curtin talked about the emotions that will be going through Pontius’ mind, facing his former team on Friday.
“It’s actually harder to go into RFK Stadium and walk towards a different locker room, I think that’s the hard one where it will really hit Chris,” Curtin said. “Yes, he wears a different jersey now; I just told him today to do exactly what he’s been doing: don’t try to do too much, don’t try to do too little, just be Chris Pontius and that will take care of itself. You know, he just wants to win — at the end of the day it’s about getting three points.”
Friday’s match will be played at Talen Energy Stadium at 7 p.m. The game will air on Univision Deportes.