Discipline has been one of the very few weaknesses in German left back Kai Wagner’s game so far in his first MLS season with Philadelphia Union. Wagner has missed four games to date and only one of those absences was due to injury while the other three were due to a red card, a ‘supplemental disciplinary’ suspension from the league, and most recently yellow card accumulation.
April 27th and May 1st were the first two games Kai Wagner was forced to sit out from following a red card during a 3-0 home win vs Montreal Impact April 20th. Fast forward three months and Wagner was left watching his team play that same Montreal group at his home on TV while they struggled mightily during a 4-0 loss.
“It’s bad to sit out for a game especially when you have a situation like we had where we have to win the games,” said Wagner Tuesday afternoon during a phone conversation with PSN. “For me it was not a good game to sit out.”
Wagner was most definitely missed during that tough loss but he will return to action Sunday night for what promises to be not only the biggest match of the season to date for Philadelphia but also a playoff preview of sorts.
“I think when you see the next games, they are important games for us and we really want to win those games,” said Wagner.
One key to finding victories in the next stretch of matches (which includes DC United, Atlanta United, LAFC, and New York Red Bulls) will be having Wagner in the lineup each contest. Without Wagner on the pitch, Philadelphia is a much different team.
Without Wagner AND Jamiro Monteiro? Well, we saw what happens then: poor transition defense, a lack of attacking prowess, and defenders left isolated during counter-attacking scenarios.
Monteiro returned to training this week and could potentially be available Sunday night, but there is not much certainty in whether his body will heal properly after a week of intense training following his leg injury.
But Wagner will be there. And with it, brings some more dynamic play in the attacking half and hopefully a more organized defensive effort.
“We have to improve everything,” said Wagner rather bluntly. “We have to improve our defensive shape, our forward play, our free kicks, and corner kicks. Everything needs to be improved because we know we can play much better than the last three weeks.”
Sunday night’s match-up against the third-place Eastern Conference team and a bitter rival could potentially serve as a spark plug for Philadelphia if a positive result is the outcome. August is jammed with five matches, four of those against elite MLS opponents. The best way to attack this slate of matches is to win the first one. And that’s what Wagner and Philadelphia are laser-focused on at the moment.
“We know that the next few months are important. All the games are important,” said Wagner. “But we will think of it as game by game and get our points and don’t think about the playoffs. We just have to keep going and win the games.”
Head Coach Jim Curtin reiterated a similar message during his weekly press conference with the media Wednesday.
“I expect a strong response from our group,” said Curtin. “The group is getting healthy at the right time. I’ve stressed to the group that we have 900 minutes left in the regular season and every minute now has to be played at the intensity of the playoffs.”
With national TV coverage (FS1) slated to carry the match Sunday night, Philadelphia has a chance to not only show markets outside of the area that they are indeed a team poised to make a deep playoff run, but to ditch their recent struggles in hopes of stringing together positive results with the playoffs looming.
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Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports