With six home and six away contests left for Philadelphia Union, a match like Saturday against the third-worst team in the Eastern Conference can become a chance to bounce back after the most disappointing performance of the season a week ago.
“We know it’s unacceptable to our fans and we will have a positive response Saturday,” said Head Coach Jim Curtin. “I think the group has taken it as a wake-up call. I think it was eye opening for the group.”
Union fans most definitely viewed last Saturday’s late night shellacking against Real Salt Lake which ended 4-0 in favor of Real. And it’s so far become a catalyst of sorts for Philadelphia. A gut check if you will.
But perhaps the hype over the lob-sided loss was a bit over the top. After all, the Union still sit atop the Eastern Conference table. Sure, following the Gold Cup break the club has failed to string results together. But it’s important to keep in mind the extensive traveling they’ve undertaken the last few weeks.
Excuses aside, a 4-0 loss is unacceptable. And Curtin and his players fully understand that.
“Things get magnified now,” said Curtin of the season as the playoffs inch closer. “We have to be the team that is peaking at the right moment. I don’t think we have yet which is a good thing.”
It’s a good thing for sure. Say the team did peak, it could be a very long summer. But they haven’t. They haven’t been able to string together consistent 90+ minute performances. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering injuries and suspensions have been a nagging theme so far.
However, Saturday night provides perhaps the most welcoming opportunity for Curtin and his group to get back on track. To be frank, Chicago have struggled this year. They have yet to win a road match and Saturday will most likely result in another road loss for the club in which CJ Sapong found a new home.
Union fans should pay close attention to the reception Sapong receives. He’s having a career year in some respects, utilizing his tactical prowess to create and finish chances for nine goals this season to date. Considering his career-high of 16 goals (2016 with Philadelphia) and a drop off the following year, Sapong seems to have found his groove yet again.
Along with Sapong on the offensive side of things for Chicago is Fabian Herbers, another former Union player. The two were sent over to Chicago in a trade this off-season and Saturday will be a mini-reunion of sorts for the former Generation Adidas Superdraft pick and veteran forward.
Chicago are winless in their last three matches, most recently earning a hard fought 2-2 draw at Columbus last night. The last win for Chicago came July 3rd when they shocked the entire league by defeating Atlanta United FC 5-1 at home.
The Union will have fresh legs compared to Chicago. Which makes this match even more important for Curtin to win.
“Ilsinho will be part of the selection for the weekend which is a real bonus for us,” said Curtin.
Other bonuses include the reemergence of Warren Creavalle as a crucial defensive depth piece and Kai Wagner – who is set to make a return to action after a minor quad strain a week ago.
“Warren is back fully. An experienced guy who brings a ton to training,” said Curtin of Creavalle. “It’s a great piece to get back.”
Only one negative remains on the Union’s roster currently. Jamiro Monteiro may not be available for selection Saturday. As of Wednesday Monteiro was held out of training. Union fans remember all to well the dirty and cheap tackle in which Sacha Klejstan stomped with great force on Monteiro’s leg, almost causing his ankle to sprain.
Creavalle’s return is even more welcomed if Monteiro can’t go Saturday. But one thing remains extremely clear. Philadelphia must not mess around with teams below them in the table. Saturday is a prime chance for a club who recently ran into hiccups to smooth things over as the quest for a home playoff match continues.
“Our guys can kind of laugh at it now since it was a comedy of errors,” said Curtin of their most recent loss. Let’s hope there will be more smiles and laughs after Saturday night.
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Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports