Back line injuries threaten Philadelphia Union’s stingy defensive record next weekend

Jim Curtin’s Philadelphia Union saddled with injuries to Fabinho and Richie Marquez prior to first road trip of season.

Wednesday afternoon’s press conference with Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin proved to be quite newsworthy despite the ongoing FIFA international break delaying the Major League Soccer season just a few weeks after it’s opening.

Curtin’s defensive veterans sidelined

“MRI’s came back, there’s a little meniscus tear,” said Curtin when asked about updates on Fabinho’s injury against Columbus Crew during the 25th minute last Saturday afternoon forcing Philadelphia’s coach to use an early substitute as Ray Gaddis came on to fill the gap.

“There’s an MCL sprain as well,” revealed Curtin.

The minor meniscus tear rings no alarm bells – the injury is common in many soccer players’ knees – a fact Curtin mentioned to quell worries regarding Fabinho’s injuries. “If you went and looked in every soccer players’ knee, there’d be a little tear in there,” said Curtin.

But of greater significance is the MCL sprain Fabinho also suffered, which more than likely requires surgery to repair fully.

“Our doctors right now are going through the options,” said Curtin of Fabinho’s treatment plan. “There’s a potential for surgery. There’s a potential for strengthening the muscles around it, seeing where he’s at,” Curtin said.

There are major differences between going under the knife and working through a physical therapy rehab plan of course. Physical therapy is only temporary and could leave the 33-year old susceptible to recurring MCL problems later. Surgery is the more definite avenue. Either option leaves Curtin without a key defensive player for a minimum of two to three weeks. Or according to Curtin “a couple weeks.”

The news did not stop with an update on Fabinho’s knock though.

Curtin disclosed his other ‘veteran’ of sorts along the back line underwent successful surgery to repair a common sports hernia injury.

“Richie Marquez is also on an injury-related note, undergone a sports hernia procedure,” said Curtin. “He’ll be out four to six weeks realistically,” Curtin said delivering a temporary stop-gap on the 25-year old fifth professional season.

Marquez’s injury remained under wraps mostly. Curtin and his staff asked Marquez to gut it out, literally, as a member of the matchday 18 against both New England and Columbus as an emergency defensive sub if needed. Marquez can now seek proper treatment. But at what cost?

The four to six weeks prediction is lofty. Marquez will not be a full participant in training for at least those six weeks leaving at least another week or two of training to regain chemistry with the group. Look for Marquez to be sidelined for a solid two months’ time.

Curtin’s backline now presses on without their oldest members.

Now or never for the young left back Matthew Real

Did anyone guess by the end of March the Union would deploy a potential total of four homegrown players in the starting XI?

By season’s end, this idea hopefully becomes less anxiety provoking than it currently is for Union supporters. But if not now, given an unwelcomed slew of defensive injuries, when is best for an 18-year-old left back to break through to the highest level of professional soccer the United States has to offer?

Short answer, no time is ideal. Or in other words, “It’s a hard spot, but there’s no easy spot,” admitted Curtin Wednesday.

But perhaps this week is truly the wrong week to grant Real his first MLS start. And Real’s recent international call-up is the reason.

Both Real and fellow homegrown youngster Mark McKenzie received call-ups for the U.S.M.N.T U20’s for a string of friendlies. Both are no strangers to the US youth camps, having received multiple call-ups in the past.

The current camp is arguably the least beneficial for the young defenders though. Granting Real his first MLS start while also adding McKenzie to the matchday 18 against Colorado next weekend would be much more manageable if both players were training in Chester rather than training in a less competitive environment across the pond in Spain.

Either way, whether with the first team or the U20’s, McKenzie and Real are earning minutes.

Earlier Wednesday, the first of two friendlies against France’s U21 club took place with the second slated for today. The U20’s then play next Tuesday against Atletico Madrid’s U21 team.

Both McKenzie and Real are scheduled to rejoin Philadelphia March 28th, just three days before the club plays their first road match of the season.

International duties potentially placed on hold

Curtin has four of nine defenders training on his first team club for the next five days. Philadelphia now has just one healthy left back on their roster in Real and just three healthy center backs.

Given the vacancies along the back line, Curtin reached out to U.S.M.N.T U20’s coach Tab Ramos regarding the possibility of calling both McKenzie and Real back a few days early. If called back, expect to see them no earlier than next Wednesday. Chances are they will stick with the U20’s for the Atletico Madrid match Tuesday.

International duties and the cold weather have hampered the team’s ability to train efficiently but they continue nonetheless.

“I can’t lie, it’s been a pain with the weather training out here along the water in March with the 35-40 mph winds,” revealed Curtin. “I give credit to our players, they don’t complain about it,” said Curtin.

Curtin acknowledged his club’s ability to close out the first two matches by effectively performing in the final 20 minutes of each. Perhaps the cold training weather and the addition of a few youngsters provides some perseverance to the mix this season.

Back line continues to remain the focus

So far this season, Curtin’s backline remains under the microscope. To date, the back four has yet to concede a goal – remaining the only team in MLS to do so.

“It’s been two games, a small sample size,” Curtin said. “The challenge now is to go on the road and have that same stinginess and not allow a lot of big chances,” said Curtin.

Jack Elliot and Trusty will look to anchor the back line yet again. Elliot earned MLS Team of the Week honors twice so far already. Trusty has yet to suffer any glaringly obvious set-backs either.

Next week should be interesting for Curtin as he preps for the first road challenge of the 2018 campaign.

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Peace out Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Graduate of Pennsylvania State University ’16. Interests include sports and history. Follow on twitter for Philly sports news – @m_mcclain15.
Philadelphia Union writer.

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