Picault, in final year of contract, poised to make impact Sunday for Union

The utility man of the Philadelphia Union’s offensive grouping is hoping to earn some meaningful minutes on Sunday afternoon. Fafa Picault spoke with PhillySportsNetwork.com this past Friday afternoon about the match-up with NYRB, his season as a whole, and a look back on his three-year stint with Philly and what the future might be like.

Following a 10-goal campaign bolstered by five assists with 2,190 total minutes of game action, Fafa Picault envisioned a more stable role in the Philadelphia Union’s week-to-week plans. However, the 28-year old speedster found himself battling for game-time while enduring significant stretches with little to no time at all – ultimately logging the least amount of minutes played since signing with the club three seasons ago.

However, Picault relied on his patience and work ethic to grind through those moments of uncertainty in 2019 and turned the year into a success for both himself and his teammates.

Picault tallied four goals and four assists in 31 total appearances. He was left out of the starting XI a bit more often this season, earning just 20 starts as opposed to last year’s 24. With just 1,866 minutes logged in 2019, Picault described the season as “different.”

“I’ve played everywhere, I haven’t had a secure spot,” said Picault of his unsure standing in the game-plan. “I kind of knew it was going to be like that going into the season with the new formation and the direction we were heading. In the end, I guess I sacrificed a little bit of individual stats and success for the greater cause.”

Picault transitioned from being a weekly regular on the left-wing in Philadelphia’s previous style of play to having to play in a much more narrow space in a formation with no true wingers to speak of.

“Apart from the stats, I’ve done very well off the ball both offensively and defensively. It doesn’t show up on the stat sheet but overall, I’ve been happy with my performances. It’s just different from the last seasons.”

The off-ball movement Picault mentioned has been crucial for Philadelphia in 2019. Picault along with the likes of striker Kacper Przybylko have both contributed in large-scale ways with their hustle and consistent defensive work rates at the top of the formation. With their soccer IQ and non-stop engines, Philadelphia has enjoyed the successes that come with an effective high-press system.

But the adjustments for Picault weren’t necessarily easy.

“I think it was a bit difficult at first but as time went on, I made it work a little bit better and made it happen,” said Picault. “Even psychologically as a player, you go from two strong season standing out on the left wing and then you go to a narrow formation where there are no wingers. You have to try and find different spots on the pitch where you can still make things happen.”

Picault earned six-straight starts to being the 2019 campaign for Head Coach Jim Curtin. Through the first three months of the year, Picault saw action in every game. He started 10 times and was subbed on five others. During that opening stretch, he tallied two assists and a goal while firing off 30 shots.

Philadelphia was well on their way to the best start in franchise history and Picault was a regular fixture in the lineup.

June, however, was a different story for Picault. Following his start and 67-minute performance at Portland Timbers May 25th in which he tallied an assist, Picault didn’t crack the starting XI for a month straight. He ultimately earned under 75 minutes of game action and saw zero minutes of action during the 3-2 road win at Minnesota to begin the month.

“It was frustrating,” said Picault.

And who wouldn’t be frustrated? It’s a natural reaction. Yet the key is how you handle the adversity, something Picault was able to do well enough to keep an important role heading into Sunday’s matchup.

“I didn’t expect to see much of any time on the bench, or at least minimal time on the bench if any,” said Picault. “But it’s just part of the game and even if you don’t agree you have to accept it. I accepted it. It requires patience. I’ve been in this long enough – I’ve been in a professional environment for 12 years now.”

The mindset Picault carries seems to be a common theme throughout the Philadelphia locker room this year. It’s been mentioned on several occasions by Head Coach Jim Curtin and the terms ‘relentless’ and ‘character’ and ‘grit’ have been used interchangeably to describe the collective thinking of the group. A seasoned pro like Picault is an important reason why that mindset has taken hold.

“Once you’ve been around enough clubs and you’ve been around the game long enough, you realize there are going to be stretches or even systems, that no matter how good of a player you are, no matter how much effort you give, you may not fit into them,” said Picault.

For now, Picault fits in nicely with Curtin’s style of play. He should be expected to log minutes on Sunday. In what capacity? Still to be determined. But Picault knows the match is on the grandest of scales and is focused on making himself available in hopes of contributing.

“I think I’ve always had good games against Red Bull. In all the big games, I’ve showed up,” said Picault.

For Picault, the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs could be his final go with Philadelphia. The winger with game-changing pace is on the final year of his contract with the club and his future holds nothing but question marks. With the new style of play and subsequent lack of a need for true wingers, will Philadelphia elect to bring back Picault or move on amicably? If Picault’s uncertain standing in the club at times during this season and overall fit within the tactical system, he may be on his way out.

But for Picault, none of that is on his mind.

“That’s another thing that’s not really in my hands,” said Picault. “I think I’ve proven what I’ve been capable of in this league. I hate always repeating it, but for two years straight I led American wingers in goals,” said Picault despite a down year in terms of goal production.

“Obviously, you’re proving yourself every day but there’s only so much I could’ve done on the field to prove my worth and now it’s out of my hands. But I’ve definitely enjoyed being here and I’ve gotten to know the city and the club itself and the fans. It’s been a great time,” said Picault.

Picault will hope to make major impacts Sunday afternoon in what will be the first home playoff match for Philadelphia since 2011. Picault, who hasn’t scored since early August, could provide an enormous spark if he can get on the score-sheet to cap off a solid three-year stint with the Boys in Blue.

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Mandatory Credit:
James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

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