Following a 2-1 win in Wednesday's exhibition match vs. FC Schalke, the Union will need to take that game plan and efficiency into Sunday's game vs. the suddenly hot New York Red Bulls. Sunday's game will be much more difficult than Wednesday's since there are three points at stake in this one.
Looking back at Wednesday, the Union were able to play some of their younger players while giving rest to others. They changed their formation to more of a 4-3-3, and with three in the attack the offense found some success. Even though the Schalke game didn't count in the standings, 22 shots and eight on goal represents progress for a team whose offense has yet to come close to matching the effectiveness of its defense through eight games. Maybe the newfound offensive confidence gives the Union a lift on Sunday.
With Zac MacMath (concussion symptoms) out of the lineup -- based on past international friendlies, he likely would have been regardless -- the Union were able to give 45 minutes to Chase Harrison and Chris Konopka, both of whom played very well. This game experience will come in handy should MacMath be unavailable to play on Sunday vs. New York.
Speaking of New York, how about three straight 1-0 wins under rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara? The club won those three minus Rafa Marquez (suspension and injury) and those last two minus the injured Thierry Henry (hamstring).
Because of injury, the Red Bulls have had to start a back four with limited experience, but their hard work and effort has definitely paid off. Without Henry in the lineup, the club has focused more on the defensive side, giving more responsibility to hard-working midfielder Dax McCarty.
While the Union won't have to contend with Henry on Sunday, they still have to be concerned with Kenny Cooper, who has eight goals this season. Other players to watch include Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards in the midfield, assuming head coach Hans Backe gives them a spot in the starting 11.
The Red Bulls are coming in strong at 6-1-1 in their last eight games. This will also be their third game in eight days, which will certainly test their depth.
The Union's showdown vs. New York at PPL Park will be carried live by ESPN2, with coverage starting at 12:15 p.m.
Other games to watch this weekend:
D.C. United travel to Houston Saturday to take on the Dynamo as MLS unveils their newest stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium. It's the first home game for the Dynamo, who have started the season with a 2-3-2 mark, good for eight points. D.C. United are one of the early surprises in MLS, claiming third place in the Eastern Conference.
While Dwayne De Rosario only has two goals, he does lead MLS in assists with seven. De Ro returns to Houston where he helped the Dynamo win titles in 2006 and 2007.
The marquee matchup of the weekend is also on Saturday with Real Salt Lake at Seattle. The two teams are separated by a single point in the Western Conference, with the Sounders winning five straight games. After a very slow start, Fredy Montero has now picked up three goals and an assist in his last three games. It's an important game in the standings, with first place in the West at stake. A draw or win would keep RSL in the top spot, at least for a day. San Jose (22 points, tied for second with Seattle) could change those standings on Sunday when they host Chivas USA.
WATCH: Union-Red Bulls preview