Some are calling tonights night’s Champions League Semi-Finals one of the most important matches ever played at Subaru Park. A rematch of the 2022 MLS Cup Finals, one of the greatest matches this league has ever seen, between two clubs on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of philosophy and roster building, with a chance to play in the CCL Finals. Union Head Coach Jim Curtin and Captain Ale Bedoya addressed the media on Tuesday to provide some thoughts and insight on the highly anticipated match-up on Wednesday night, and I’ve got quotes from the important talking points to get you caught up.
Two of MLS’ best going at it in the CCL Semi-Finals
Head Coach Jim Curtin was the first to address the media on Tuesday. As he normally does, Curtin spent his opening remarks paying respect to the opponent at hand and the work both organizations have done from top to bottom in order to reach the CCL Sem-Finals
“Obviously it’s a very important match. We tend to bring the best out of each other, i think we’ve had some special matches against LAFC. And when you think about both franchises it always starts at the top with strong ownership, and ownership that makes good decisions.”Head Coach, Jim Curtin
Curtin continued to draw the parallels that LAFC and Union share in their front office and coaching staff, saying that both teams have been assembled by some of the best in the league in John Thorrington at LAFC and Ernst Tanner in Philadelphia, and that both assistant coaching groups are made up of individuals who could be head coaches in the league themselves one day.
“These are clubs that have been built, I think, the right way, have really really strong and deep coaching staffs, and really really strong and deep groups of players.”Head Coach, Jim Curtin
Union recognizes the importance of Wednesday’s game but understands it’s only halftime.
There’s no doubt this is a big game. It’s a matchup everyone hoped would come to fruition once the CCL bracket was released, and while Union would love to secure the win at home against LAFC, they know a full performance over 2 games is needed in order to come away with the desired result in the big picture.
“This is the first leg, this is half time of a very emotional, high intensity series with two good teams. Both are early in the season, I think they have navigated the challenges of Champions League a little better than us obviously with being unbeaten, and we’re coming off a good win against Toronto where we looked like ourselves…”Head Coach, Jim Curtin
While Curtin says “Revenge” might not be the most fitting word to describe the motivations surrounding tonight night’s match, he did go on to express his recognition for Union fans’ dreams of lifting another trophy, and the opportunity Wednesday night presents.
“Yes the fan bases ultimately want to lift a trophy as all fan bases do, and we want it more than anybody…It’s an opportunity for us now to try and beat a very good team and get into the final of a major competition on our continent. The games on the field between us in the past speak for themselves, we bring the best out of each other. They’ve been amazing games”Head Coach, Jim Curtin
Handling the high-powered LAFC attack
While MLS teams competing in CCL typically struggle with the challenges that come with competing in both simultaneously at a high level, LAFC seems to be the exception to that which much could be attributed to their depth and willingness to adjust.
“What makes LAFC so difficult though is they’ll have interchange, whether it’s Opoku, or the new kid Biuk that they’ve signed that’s a real dangerous player that’s about to breakout in this league and is really really special, and obviously Carlos Vela and that left foot speaks to itself and what he’s done in this league as an MVP.”Head Coach, Jim Curtin
In addition to those aforementioned, Curtin knows his backline will have their hands full with the MLS MVP frontrunner in Denis Bouanga.
“Bouanga is guy right now that is getting a majority of their goals, it’s not just one person’s assignment, you have to have your back four in tune and you have to really try and cut out service to them.Head Coach, Jim Curtin
Many of the LAFC and Unions games of recent have been more offensive than defensive battles, which Curtin is hoping to avoid Wednesday night
“They’ve adapted and adjusted and can beat you in a lot of different ways, and I really like how they play in transition so our rest defending has to be perfect. If you go end to end with them, we’re not built for that and we’ll lose a game if it’s “They get a chance, we get a chance” because they’ve got some guys that can hurt you in space.”Head Coach, Jim Curtin
One player that will be vital for Philadelphia’s success against LAFC is defensive midfielder Jose Martinez, who Curtin is hoping provides a demanding presence in the middle of the park and helps Union transition the ball from defensive to attack.
“Jose is a guy that does the work of two players, he covers so much ground for us and he’s been in really good form in recent weeks and he’s really excited for the opportunity and the challenge.”Head Coach, Jim Curtin
Curtin was also quick to add that new eyes come with playing on the big stage.
“And look, these are the kind of games that a lot of eyes are on, it’s not the same eyes that are on your typical midweek MLS game. I tell our players in all big games like this, you’re play or two away from a top team coming and wanting you to play for them.Jose is a guy that’s been in that category for a number of years, i love what he brings to the team, i love the intensity that he has and plays on the edge and you want those in the biggest games, and this is a big game.”Head Coach, Jim Curtin
Jim circled back once again to the importance of looking at tonight’s match as “Half time” in the greater picture of the two-legged tie and how things can change tactically after every goal scored.
“You can’t win the whole thing in the first leg, but you can lose it, because if you get behind against this team you can really hurt yourself. So while those first 15 minutes have to be chaotic and we want the crowd to be nuts, and we know they’ll come out and support us even though it;s a 9pm game for some reason, we know that we’ll have them behind us, we want to get that early goal and try and push for it, but maybe even more importantly than that goals is keeping the clean sheet, i think we learned that over our first two ties, it sets yourself up for the second 90 minutes.Head Coach, Jim Curtin
Before heading off into the distance to do his last bit of planning and scheming for tonight’s match, Curtin provided an injury update which Union fans will find relieving.
“We are fully healthy and ready to go. We have the full squad available for selection and everybody is excited for the opportunity to play in a big semi final. 9pm [kickoff] is certainly unique, it pushes everybodies routines and habits back about an hour and a half / 2 hours, but again we’ll be up for the game theres no question about that and so will they [LAFC], I know our fans will be ready too.”Head Coach, Jim Curtin
Ale Bedoya previews Leg 1 VS LAFC
Next, Union captain Ale Bedoya, who missed last year’s MLS Cup Final due to injury, stepped up to the mic to deliver his thoughts on tonights night’s rematch and how the team is trying to keep cool heads amidst the excitement and hype surrounding the game.
“It’s a big game for us, semi final, but we’re approaching it like the other games you know, after the last tie against Atlas we know how important it is to get a good result at home, keep a shutout because we know how important that is, and i don’t think we’ve beaten LAFC so hopefully we get that victory tomorrow.”Union Captain, Ale Bedoya
But like Jim Curtin, Ale Bedoya understands the importance of looking at things from the big picture and focusing on a result that will set them up for success in leg 2.
“But it’s halftime…of course we want to show what we’re all about and get a good result against another quality team, probably the best team in the MLS at the moment, but we know we’re a very good quality side as well and we gave them a run for their money in the MLS Cup final in their home, and we havent played them in our home in a quite some time, so we’re all itching to get on the field and see if we can pull off a great result for our fanbase.”Union Captain, Ale Bedoya
Union has been struggling to find and keep their best form so far this season, while LAFC picked up right where they left off in 2022, but Bedoya says Union will be looking to take control and dictate how things play out.
“Jim has been preaching it all week, it’s about finding that right balance [between attacking and keeping the clean sheet], but we know we want to make sure that we set the tempo early…if we can jump on their first passes and win those second balls and hit them with our transition, exploit some of the spaces they leave behind, we can jump on them.”Union Captain, Ale Bedoya
After being spoiled with incredible football and picturesque weather for almost the entirety of the 2022 season, Mother Nature has given Union fans the exact opposite in 2023 so far. I asked Ale how the fans who show up despite the bad weather and later kick-off times contribute to this team’s success
“Credit to them for sticking it out in terrible weather, that’s what we like to see from our passionate fans, that’s one thing I love about Philly sports fans in general, just very passionate. I do enjoy that when we’re not really playing well they let us hear it, right? And when we’re doing well they let us hear it too. We always talk about the fans being that “12th man” but certainly they definitely help us, motivate us to get going, pick us up when we need to get picked up. I’m looking forward to a good crowd tomorrow.”Union Captain, Ale Bedoya
As I said before, Ale Bedoya missed the MLS Cup Final last season, which had to be heartbreaking to watch from the sideline and having no opportunity to change the game, but Bedoya is excited about his opportunity to put his fingerprints on this two-legged tie, with a chance to send his team to the CCL Finals.
“As a player who’s been a starter year in and year out, It’s one of those tough pills to swallow to be on the bench and not be able to help out, or not being able to come in late in the game to kill the game off and win a championship, so I’m definitely itching to have my opportunity tomorrow.”Union Captain, Ale Bedoya
The objectives for Wednesday night seem clear – Come out and dictate the tempo, find an early goal, but most importantly, head to LA with a clean sheet. The full squad is healthy and available, and they’re coming off a win in which the Union finally looked like the Union of last season. So tonight, grab some coffee, get in a nap, use one of those sick days to call out from work on Thursday, and get down to Subaru Park Wednesday night. It’s going to be a big one down in Chester.
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