LAST TIME the Union traveled to Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., on May 24, the team came home with its first win in seven tries on New York's home turf, largely thanks to second-half goals from midfielder Vincent Noguiera and leading scorer C.J. Sapong.
Sapong leads the team with six goals, but he won't be adding to that tally in today's U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal matchup at 4 p.m. against the host Red Bulls, after picking up a red card against D.C. United in the previous Open Cup game.
"Not having C.J. is big," head coach Jim Curtin said yesterday morning at PPL Park. "But we have to have a next-man-up mentality with Conor [Casey] and Fernando [Aristeguieta] that are back now, so they'll both play a significant role in this game."
Casey, a 33-year-old forward, has missed six games this season with a nagging quadriceps injury but returned to form on Saturday in a 2-1 loss to Toronto FC, scoring the Union's lone goal in the 91st minute. Aristeguieta, on the other hand, has not played since June 3 in a 3-0 home victory over the Columbus Crew, in which he turned his ankle badly.
"[Aristeguieta] is a guy that I believe in a lot," Curtin said. "He's a guy that can score goals, and he's a guy who's very eager to get back on the field and contribute to the team."
The 23-year-old Venezuela native was a significant factor in the Union's offense through the first five games of the season, scoring two goals in a 3-3 tie at Real Salt Lake and netting another in a 3-2 loss at Sporting Kansas City.
For the past month and a half, Aristeguieta has been forced to watch from the sideline as his team has emerged victorious in only two of six MLS matches since he last played. But he feels optimistic about his return to the pitch, as well as his club.
"I want to play . . . training without playing is not the best that you can have," Aristeguieta said. "Obviously, right now, it's a different reality of the team than when I went out; the team now, it's much better, we're in good shape.
"The team is almost there for accomplishing the objective of being in the playoffs, so now I have to get in the [flow] of the team. They're in a different speed right now, and I have to get in. I'm anxious to start playing again."
While Aristeguieta claims he's still on his way back to "100 percent," he said he is healthy enough to play, and that's more than Curtin can say for several key players heading into this game. Forward Andrew Wenger is out with a concussion; defender Richard Marquez is nursing a sprained left ankle; and midfielder Cristián "Chaco" Maidana has a "big bruise" on the front of his foot, but "should be fine" going forward.
Curtin also is facing the possibility of playing without a backup goalkeeper. Andre Blake is playing for Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals tomorrow against the United States, and Brian Sylvestre is part of the Carolina RailHawks' Open Cup roster.
"That would be the worst case," Curtin said. "It's a possibility obviously, but John [McCarthy] will be called upon to play a good game for us. We do want to try to find a solution. We need to have a second goalkeeper."
Curtin says the team has requested that Blake be returned from Jamaica, which advanced with a 1-0 win over Haiti on Sunday.
"Currently, their stand is they won't release him, so we're trying to work with the league to find a solution to that issue," Curtin said.
With a win against the Red Bulls, the Union would move a step closer to avenging its loss to Seattle in the 2014 Open Cup championship game. Seattle is not among the remaining squads: Tonight features Houston Dynamo at Sporting Kansas City; tomorrow features Orlando City SC at Chicago Fire; and Los Angeles fell to Real Salt Lake, 1-0, last week.
"There's two trophies you can win, and obviously we want to get in the [MLS] playoffs, but this trophy builds momentum for teams if you get on a streak at the right time, and I think it's good for confidence," Curtin said.