It wasn’t the outcome fans were hoping for, but the Union was able to walk away from the inaugural Leagues Cup with their heads held high and their ticket to next season’s CONCACAF Champions Cup punched, so it can’t be written off as a complete disappointment.
Between a semi-final run in both the Leagues Cup and CONCACAF Champions League, the Union has tallied up a lot of games already this season, and the schedule doesn’t slow down with the Union now needing to turn their attention back to MLS play. First up, a road trip down to D.C. United, a fixture that Union found a lot of joy in last season, and one they hope can kickstart the final stretch of their 2023 campaign.
Here’s what Jim Curtin had to say in his mid-week press conference leading up to the match:
“Excited to get back to league play. We’ve played 37 matches so far – For context, we played 38 all of last season. So in 3 months less time we’ve played a tone of matches and navigated it pretty well in terms of injuries, and now we look forward to the final 11 games where we have set ourselves up in a decent spot in the league, have 6 games at home, 5 on the road, and we want to finish as strong as possible and play as many home playoff games as we can. We look forward now to D.C., a team that is a rival, very competitive team. We’ve had two games against them already this year where we’ve kind of canceled each other out so we expect a difficult match, they’re well organized and well coached, we look forward to a tough game”.Jim Curtin
Jim Curtin was then asked for an injury update on Julian Carranza and any others who may be dealing with a niggle:
“Yeah, Julian was on the field today doing his final sprinting tests, looks like he’s moving well, I’ll check in with the medical staff but we hope he’s available for D.C. which would give our attack a big boost, we missed him a lot at the end of our Leagues Cup Competition. But to have him back, to have Mikael who’s in better form the way, he played against Monterrey was really positive so that would really help our attack. So hopefully he’s back as a full participant against D.C.”Jim Curtin
Jim was then asked to elaborate on criticism he and others have placed on Mikael Uhre this season and how he’s responded:
“Actions are what you want to see. We talked to Mikael yesterday about it – it wasn’t a situation where I needed to call him into the office or anything like that, it’s a situation where all good strikers, even in the best strikers in the world go through these little dips in form, but it’s about how you respond and how you come out of those dips and now ‘can you be consistent for the last 11 games of the season’, because that’s what people remembered and he agreed, and I thought his response against Monterrey was very good. He was involved more in the match, not just running in behind but hold up, bringing others into the attack, letting our strikers breathe, winning flicks and head balls and obviously the run he makes right before halftime where jack plays him a good ball, that’s a Mikael type of action and a Mikael type of goal. So that’s a positive performance and something for him to build off of. And I’ve told you guys, when him, Daniel, and Julian get going, they’re really really tough to stop. We have a solid defense, a stable team, everyone is asked to defend. But when those guys get clicking we become a really tough team to play against and I hope and that’s the hope down the stretch and into the playoffs.”Jim Curtin
Next, Jim was asked to speak a bit about how the Union moves on from Leagues Cup:
“Leagues Cup was a successful competition for MLS, it was a successful competition for Liga MX on a lot of fronts It was new, shutting down the league for a month time and I think what you saw was some teams build confidence and grow, and the teams that were eliminated early had a rough first week back into MLS play, where you saw wild score lines. So us being able to stay in good rhythm, winning 6 of 7 games, and most importantly staying busy during this period rather than the teams that went out after two games, I don’t know how they occupied the last 2, 3 weeks, almost a month where you’re just training. You can’t replicate games that easily. I think we navigated it well, we’re healthy for the most part, getting back our captain in Ale Bedoya, hopefully Julian like I said joins the squad fully, and then we make a run at these last 11 games. I think we learned a lot about our group, we saw some guys step up and emerge as contributors to the group, and that’s a good thing and adds to our depth down the stretch.”Jim Curtin
He then went on to answer whether the Union can see Leagues Cup as a win, even without winning the trophy:
“Look, you want to lift a trophy, thats obviously the goal for sure. 47 teams entered this thing, you could argue many are good or are a real contender to win a trophy, but we finish 3rd out of 47. We’re not completely thrilled about that, the guys wanted to lift a trophy, but at the end of the day we showed we can compete against Liga MX, I think our record this year is pretty positive in every competition we’ve played them in which shows we’ve progressed quite a bit. Lionel Messi got us and it hurt because we weren’t ourselves in that game, but at the same, Lionel Messi’s gotten thousands of other players and coaches as well, so we learned from that and if we see them again I think we’ll have some improvements and put on a better performance.”Jim Curtin
Moving on from Leagues Cup and looking forward to MLS play, Jim Curtin was asked to elaborate on how he would handle the reintegration of captain Ale Bedoya back into the lineup, and how players like Jesus Bueno’s minutes would be handled down the stretch:
“Yeah, we have a busy schedule coming up. So finding the way to get Bedoya back on the field is really, really important, we’re a better team with him on the field. You can see with his passing, his entry balls into the green zone, he’s probably our best player at that and certainly our smartest and most experienced player and our Captain, so he’s really important. The challenge is, he has had some injury setbacks. So we want to be cautious about how we bring him along, will it make sense to throw him into 3 games a week like the old days? The probably isn’t the smartest way. But we know in the biggest games and the most important games we need him on the field and we need him peaking at the end of the year where I know he will. To answer your question, it won’t be 90,90,90(Minutes). I talked to the guys today, was probably our last physically demanding normal week of training we have, cause otherwise we go Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, international break, and then it gets incredibly busy for 5 games, another international break, a little bit of a busy stretch at the end, and then playoffs, so it gets busy. Like I said the loads have been big, 37 games already, We’ll probably play 50+ games this year so that’s a challenge for sure, but we want our best players on the field and Ale is certainly one of our best. And to Buneo – Buneo’s the guy who took the big step forward, he; ‘s been really, really good. We’ll determine who starts in what games, but there will be a plan in place it’s a good time to have a deep midfield and guys all playing and competing really well in that diamond midfield.”Jim Curtin
Jim was asked once again about Leagues Cup and what Jim has learned about the group, despite falling short of the trophy:
“They know how to compete, they know how to grind out results on the nights when we don’t play our best soccer, we have different ways we can win which is important. Because against once you get to the playoffs, you look at our league and anybody can beat anybody. Cincinnati emerging and has had a wonderful season, LAFC is probably the most elite talent-wise roster that our League has, but on any given day we believe we can beat both of those teams. I think the one thing that maybe was best about Leagues Cup is we did get to see different styles. We saw Liga MX teams that are coached by coaches who have a different way of thinking, so I think that was really beneficial for our group, they were hard-fought games and like you said elimination games. We can’t replicas them in the middle of the season, so we got our taste in Champions League, we got them now in the middle (with Leagues Cup), and now it’s up to us to conclude the season the right way. But all those experiences, even the penalty shot pressure, that adds and helps to a team that has multiple ways to win right now, but doesn’t hurt to go through that exercise.”Jim Curtin
Jim was asked to elaborate on if he thinks the team has figured out their preferred formation over Leagues Cup:
“When our best players are all healthy and available and playing good, I will still always say our best formation is the 4-4-2 diamond. In this competition we did learn a lot in the 3 in the back for sure. I think we grinded, we win differently with 3 at the back, it’s not really a mirage of chances. When you think of teams that play 3 in the back, our wingbacks our “Defense First”, you think of some of the wingbacks all over the world and they’re more almost wingers, so we’re different in that mold. We’re still a team that wants to be hard to play against defensively, but in those back 3’s, we kind of grind out ugly wins. I think it’s good because if we have to go to it at the end of a game on the road to close out as an example, a team that really coming at us, It won’t be foreign or new to drop Damion in there and have the other guys jump in those spots and it’ll be fresh in their head. They know they’ve won elimination games playing in that formation. While we didn’t play perfect in it, It’s a good default to go to in certain moments against certain opposition, and in particular on the road.”Jim Curtin
Next, Jim was asked about chasing the top of the Eastern Conference:
“I said it to our guys today, we want to put as much pressure on them (Cincinnati and New England) as possible, we still have 11 games that 33 points out there for us to get, and we play them at home, which is in our building where we’re very strong. So yeah, you want to put as much pressure on them and make it as hard as possible, and see where things fall out at the end.”Jim Curtin
To finish up, Jim was asked to give an update on how new additions Olwethu Makhanya and Tai Baribo are integrating with the rest of the Union squad: Yeah, they’re getting acclimated. The tricky part has been, that the last few days have been the first they’re playing with the “top” group, you know what I mean?
Because every other training day has been basically recovery, short training session, playing games, or they’re training with the reserves a bunch which is fine. So today and yesterday were the first tests where they got to play 11v11 with our top guys, so they’re still getting acclimated to this Union team.
Makhanya is a young defender that plays well defensively in space, he’s getting used to Jakob and Jack and Damion and playing with them and the intensity that entails, so he’s going to be I think a good one for the future for the Union.
Tai is also getting acclimated, to the Philadelphia Union, and a new culture. He is getting up to speed with how we want to play, but they’re both building in a positive way towards ultimately helping this team down the stretch. 11 games left, hopefully they can contribute in some of those, and we’ll go from there.”
That’s it from Jim Curtin’s press conference leading up to this weekend’s road match against Wayne Rooney’s D.C. United. Make sure to check back with PSN for more coverage on this match.
Best Philadelphia Union Bets
Be sure to return to Philly Sports Network for more Philadelphia Union and other soccer content!
Follow our Union team on Twitter:
Doop on Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union