Head Coach of the Philadelphia Union Jim Curtin climbed the small platform and sat behind the mic dressed in a puffy winter jacket and knit hat with gloves Thursday afternoon for a weekly press conference with the media. Here’s what he had to say in his Week two press conference.
“Before we get started… a thank you to Johnny Torres and our grounds crew for clearing the field today. It was not an easy task. The weather in Philly the past two days has been rough,” said Curtin before he dove into his opening statement.
The recent unwelcomed nor’easter tried its hardest to disrupt the Union’s training plans but Torres and his trusty sidekicks were once again up to the task, creating opportunities for soccer in the snow, just like last November for the NCAA Men’s College Cup.
The storm forced Curtin and his team to travel north into Philadelphia Wednesday to train at the University of Pennsylvania’s Dunning-Cohen Champions’ Field which is covered by a 70,000-pound canvas seasonal air structure (resembling a bubble). The Union began their preseason under that same bubble.
But Penn’s bubble facility provides an artificial playing surface- something which Curtin would like to avoid – opting for natural grass playing surfaces, like those adjacent to Talen Energy Stadium instead. Torres and his staff’s’ efforts were highly appreciated.
Once Curtin wrapped up his shout out to Torres, he quickly transitioned his thoughts toward the match Saturday night in which his squad excelled to a 2-0 win to kick off the 2018 MLS season.
Thoughts on the first match
Briefly post-game Saturday night, Curtin mentioned how special the home opening victory was for the club. He reiterated those same thoughts again Thursday.
“Obviously, a special night for the club in a lot of different ways. Most important the three points but also the homegrown players with three of them on the field contributing big minutes to the group,” said Curtin. Anthony Fontana, Auston Trusty, and Derrick Jones all earn minutes in Philadelphia’s home win against New England Revolution. Fontana and Trusty both started while Jones entered the match in the second half to help close out the win.
However, those youngsters would not be able to earn first team MLS minutes without the presence of veterans like Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya anchoring the team’s spine. Curtin made sure to reference their play yesterday.
“Our veterans played very well.. I thought Haris ran the entire offense, especially the first half of the game,” said Curtin. “Defensively we were organized, very compact,” mentioned Curtin.
Sporadically throughout the first half of the match, Medunjanin dropped back alongside Philadelphia’s center backs to control the majority of the possession.
“We talked a lot about putting Haris on the ball offensively. He did a good job with some deception with him popping up out left. Popping up in the middle, being the one to decide the tempo of the game,” said Curtin.
The importance of Ale and Haris
The presence of both Bedoya and Medunjanin in the center of the pitch is a tremendous advantage for Curtin and his technical staff. Medunjanin possesses a rather unteachable skill: playing soccer at his pace and skill level. Throughout the season, Medunjanin will appear all over the pitch seeking touches on the ball hoping to control both possession and tempo of play for his side. In addition to his soccer smarts during the run of play, Medunjanin carries a rocket of a left league which he uses to lift balls up into the air in hopes of catching opponent’s center backs flat-footed allowing the Union’s speedy attacking players to get in behind. That game plan was extensively used by Curtin Saturday night.
Frequently Medunjanin played alongside Trusty on the near side of the pitch throughout the first half. Fabinho then pushed up the field eventually lining up next to Accam and Sapong in the attacking third in hopes of corralling a long ball sent forward by either of Curtin’s big bombing legs out of the back: Jack Elliot, Medunjanin, or Trusty. The long ball will be a constant mechanism utilized by the Union to create offense a bunch in 2018.
Sapong’s play & finishing issues
Elliot proved to be the catalyst behind CJ Sapong’s wonderfully drawn foul which brandished New England’s starting center back Antonio Delamea with a red card and an early shower. Having the ability to dominate possession in aims of sending speedsters in behind oppositions’ back line is something the Union could have benefited from in seasons past. Look for the same type of strategy throughout the Union’s early stretch of the 2018 season.
Curtin failed to find any significant errors in his team’s performance Saturday night. Perhaps the only area that needs improvement would be finishing. Philadelphia easily could have left Talen Energy Stadium with a 5-0 victory against New England. Scoring chances were abundant in the first half. Sapong missed three wide-open chances alone. The lack of finishing should not be something to focus on moving forward though, strikers find the net.
Despite having less than 30 minutes of 11v11 soccer to evaluate, Curtin and his Union team learned a lot about themselves. The most important lesson learned from the home opener has to be the attacking options on the bench available for selection at the winger position.
A fatigued Marcus Epps, and an old teammate returned in Eric Ayuk remained on the bench all match Saturday. The Union’s starting winger, Fafa Picault, served the first of a three game suspension. (Picault appealed… Lessened his fine but suspension will remain at three games.)
Curtin opted to bring in the Jamaican international forward and reigning Steel FC franchise goal scoring leader in the second half along with Jay Simpson to serve as a final death-blow of sorts against Brad Friedel and his Revolution team.
Burke played an incredible 20 minute stretch. His play and skill set should truly be no surprise given his performances in the USL the past two years. Nevertheless, Burke was able to “turn the heads of the entire technical staff” according to head coach Curtin.
Annoying off week
After a 2-0 victory and a seemingly perfect start to the 2018 campaign, the Union now have to sit patiently without a league match this weekend. MLS club Seattle Sounders are competing in the CONCACAF Champions League. Their first leg match up against Liga MX side Chivas Guadalajara on March 7th ended in a 1-0 win for Seattle. They play Guadalajara again on March 14th.
MLS officials would rather see an MLS side win the CONCACAF Champions League than compete in the second week of a 30+ week season. Cool MLS. Now Philly will have a midweek road matchup in Seattle later in the year. Very cool MLS.
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Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports