Following Thursday morning’s training session Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin discussed his team’s plans prior to their major rivalry match against New York Red Bulls Saturday night.
Confidence and team chemistry is brewing down in Chester. It’s more apparent each week, and the recent two- match win streak is a possible by-product of an increase in chemistry.
Curtin took a seat behind the microphone and opened, “It’s been a strong week of training following the performance against Salt Lake. I think there’s confidence in the group.” That confidence radiated on the training grounds Thursday morning.
Earnie Stewart Update, or lack thereof
New York’s top players, offensive tactics, overcoming New York’s high-pressure system… All these things were discussed in-depth during Curtin’s midweek press conference. One topic, however, was briefly touched on and quickly put to bed. Earnie Stewart’s status regarding negotiations surrounding a General Manager position with the United States Soccer Federation was brought up.
The club released this statement: “Since Earnie’s first interview with U.S. Soccer, we have respected their process, and as such, we will decline further comment until a final decision has been made.”
Curtin revealed nothing new. He referenced that same statement from earlier this week. Then said, “We’re incredibly fortunate to have him here. I can’t really talk and speculate.”
Which makes sense. After all, Curtin’s team is riding a two-game win streak following two near perfectly executed matches complete with multiple goals in each.
But it must be on his mind.
“I can’t really talk and speculate what if this happens of this,” said Curtin. “I like to try and stay in the moment,” he said.
The key word there is try. Stewart’s leadership may not be obvious to the casual Union fan, but behind the scenes, Stewart’s abilities to manage an organization have made impacts.
“We could do the ‘what if’ game,” joked Curtin when asked one final time about Stewart. “What if I get hit by a SEPTA bus… You could go on and on and on,” he said. “We are focused now on Red Bulls and our players are focused in on that as you saw with a good session today,” Curtin said.
Jim Curtin & Staff: All Eyes on Red Bulls
Curtin responded to one question regarding the significance of his team’s match-up against New York with an increased sense of urgency. He first mentioned the passion of both Philly and New York’s fan-bases. Then he stated, “Philly vs. New York is a real thing. Guys are on guard and they’ll have to match the intensity first and foremost right from the opening whistle.”
Philadelphia’s young center back pairing entered the conversation yet again. For good reason too. Both Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie turned in excellent performances of late, 11 matches now for Trusty.
However, this week, they have a tough task on their hands.
“It’s a difficult place to go and play, in Harrison, NJ,” said Curtin. “They’re playing at a very high level right now… their ability to high-press is the benchmark and a standard in our league,” said Curtin.
New York deploys a style of play designed to create an up-tempo game in hopes of throwing their opponent on their heels. They commit well to getting numbers around the ball to win back possession too.
The high-pressure from New York does have one weakness though. “Their ability to have almost all 10 field players in a very tight area leads to certain instances where a longer diagonal pass to the opposite side can open up the game a little bit,” Curtin said.
Philadelphia’s midfield trio of Dockal, Medunjanin, and former USMNT captain Alejandro Bedoya all posses the ability to create with key passes, both long and short. That trio has proven to be of monumental importance for Curtin the rest of the club so far this season.
The midfield’s ability to execute smoothly under pressure could be the difference maker for Philadelphia Saturday night. Philadelphia’s backline will rely on those three veterans in the middle to relieve pressure.
Dockal and Medunjanin: Central European Pals
Fans and media alike remember Dockal’s first few weeks all too well. At one point, it seemed the chemistry so desperately needed between a team and its crucial #10 just wasn’t going to click. But now, Dockal and his skills have blossomed both on and off the field.
Perhaps Medunjanin, a native of Bosnia-Herzegovina, is a major factor in Dockal’s new comfort. After all they are roommates. Dockal being from Czech Republic, the two also share similar cultures to certain extents being from the same European region.
Training ended with both Haris Medunjanin and Borek Dockal taking turns rifling shots at keeper Andre Blake as other teammates trickled off the training pitch. Blake, arguably the best goal keeper in MLS, saved a few of the Central Europeans’ shots. Shouts of “Ahh Dre!” echoed throughout the grounds whenever the Jamaican batted away an attempt.
I asked Curtin about the two and their relationship, considering their laughter and antics as training ended earlier.
“They’re close,” Curtin said. “Two international guys from similar parts of the world… have had similar career paths in a lot of ways, and they’re roommates. All those things that factor into, as you can tell, two guys that like each other,” said Curtin.
That bond strengthens the team’s on-field performances as well. Which may serve as one main reason behind Philadelphia’s recent run of good soccer.
Curtin mentioned how those team bonds, not just between Medunjanin and Dockal, contribute to how they tackle tactics and game planning. However, he admitted friendships between teammates provide a bit more.
“But then there’s also those intangibles of do the guys get along and are they really willing to suffer for each through the course of 90 minutes. I’d say [Medunjanin and Dockal] have gotten to know each other, they’re close,” Curtin said.
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Mandatory Credit: USA Today Images
Graduate of Pennsylvania State University ’16. Interests include sports and history. Follow on twitter for Philly sports news – @MMcClain_PSN
Philadelphia Union writer.