After some much-needed rest during an international break, Philadelphia Union returns to MLS action with 3 games in a 7-day span to kick off a busy stretch to end the season. Luckily for Union, the next 5 of 7 will be played at Subaru Park, a venue in which Union seldom loses.
The difficult stretch starts with an important game against Support Shield leaders, FC Cincinnati, a team with familiar faces both on and off the pitch. However, Saturday night isn’t about reconnecting with old friends and could play a big part in how the rest of Union’s season will play out. Here’s every word Jim Curtin said in his press conference leading up to this weekend’s Eastern Conference showdown
First Jim gave his opening remarks and spent time speaking on the last week or so of Union training while some players were away on International Duty.
“Look, a unique week in that we had a little bit of a break, a little bit of downtime. Obviously six players away with their national teams doing a good job, playing some important minutes for their countries, which is always good. But we had a week where we could give some guys rest, we could work on some individual things with players, we could build some fitness with players, and we could kind of just maintain sharpness with players. So a lot of players that are at different points of their season and had a week last week where we could be a little bit selfish and focus on the individual. The numbers were really, really small, 8-12 guys some days, but we’re able to push and improve. This week, we have 16 field players here, so still haven’t gotten the guys back from the national team. But as they trickle back in, we obviously recognize we have a really big game against Cincinnati at home. Five out of our next seven are in our building where we’ve been really a strong team, but it starts with a good performance against Cincinnati. Obviously a very well coached team by Pat Noonan, a roster that’s as good as any in our league put together by Chris Albright. So we know we’ll have our hands full. It’s always a very tight game when we play Cincinnati. A lot of familiar faces on the field and off. So we expect a real high intensity match. And again, the team that gets plays right in front of goal, offensively and defensively, will come out on top.”Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin 9/13/23
The next question Jim would answer was on the Union’s availability with Gazdag and Uhre picking up knocks in the last game, and Bueno returning from international duty early with a slight injury of his own. Curtin also provided a positive update on Leon Flach
“Yeah, Jesus picked up a knock with Venezuela in the knee. Initially, there was some concern that it would be significant, and he’d missed some time. Luckily, it’s recovered pretty quickly and was able to come back from Venezuela, return here, get some tests done, and felt good enough to train the past two days, which helps our group a lot. And it’s good to have him back healthy. He’s had a great season, a breakout season for us. Daniel Gazdag is 100% healthy and fully training. So knock on wood – right now we are fully healthy, with the exception of Leon Flach. And just for full transparency, an update on that situation, actually, which is good news, we did get a second opinion in Germany. And we’ll try, I’ll just say a different approach and a different procedure that could maybe get him back in about two weeks rather than the longer(timetable). Once you have the surgery with the sports hernia, it becomes six to eight weeks, depending on how you recover. So we’ll try this procedure, see how he feels, see how he responds, but hopefully now maybe can return and play a real significant role with us down the stretch of the regular season and then into the playoffs again if all goes well elsewhere.”Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin 9/13/23
Next, the questions shifted to interest in Union forward, Julián Carranza from European clubs and how a number of offers have been reported to the public in the last week or soPhiladelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin 9/13/23
“From the mental, the emotional, physical side of things when you’re discussed and talked about in transfer rumors at big clubs – and there were more than just the one that went public, the Olympiacos one. There were several European clubs in for him with real dollars and with real offers on the table, which is flattering for our players. When you score goals in this world and in this game, that attracts the most attention. I’ll just put it that way. Right or wrong, that’s where the dollars go in the modern game. Julian’s an incredible striker. He’s an incredible person. He’s been amazing here at the club and is having a really good season. And I will add in, we’re lucky here in Philadelphia that Daniel Gazdag is incredible at penalty kicks. But if you give Julian half of those and he’s running away with the Golden Boot, adding in the penalty kicks to his total. So a player that is having a great season for us. I always still stress to the players, you’re remembered most for how your seasons end. So, yes, the transfer didn’t work out this time for Julian. I think it’s no secret that the winter is a real possibility.
So we’ll have him here till the end of the season and my message to him is continue to score goals, make a run at the Golden Boot. Let’s try to lift the trophy together. He’s been such a great player and a great person, like I said, for the club, great teammate. And I think sometimes we forget how young he still is as a striker. So his future is going to be he can play anywhere. I believe that. But let’s finish this thing now the right way here and whatever happens in January will happen.”
The following questions asked Jim about the similarities between Philadelphia Union and FC Cincinnati
“Look, it’s award season too. So I’ll put my politician hat on for a second and know Chris Albright should be the sporting executive of the year. I think that that is a no-brainer for the rest of the league. The roster he’s put together speaks for itself, the point total, but just the way he’s done it in a smart way to build it that quickly and turn it, and I’ll just say cover and mask some maybe bad moves in the past that he had nothing to do with has been exceptional. So he deserves that award. Pat Noonan is the coach of the year for the way his team plays offensively and defensively. He’s a great person. They’re both close friends, so I guess I am a little biased. But at the same time, you just sit back and watch what they’ve done quickly there and transformed a club, transformed a culture, transformed a way that they play, obviously, with the ball, everybody knew how talented they were last season and how they attacked. But the thing that you watch this year, it’s how hard they are to play against, right, their team defending, getting Acosta to buy in on the defensive side, Barreal, these incredible attacking players, the work rate that they’ve now had on the defensive side is a testament to Pat and Chris and the job that they’ve done there. So are there similarities? Of course, you still see the names on the back of jerseys, too, and you see the Gaddis and the Alvis Powell and the Sergio Santos and some of the guys that we love here in Philadelphia as well. Yes, there’s certainly some crossover, but make no mistake, those two guys have done this themselves. They’ve done it and they deserve all the credit for what they’ve built there. So that part doesn’t have anything to do with Philadelphia. So those guys are winners first and foremost and have done an amazing job and deserve all the accolades this season for all those end-of-the-year awards that I spoke of. But I’m done being a politician for them and we want to beat them on the weekend, too.”Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin 9/13/23
Next was about one of the Union‘s most consistent players, Jakob Glesnes, and him looking to make his 100th straight MLS start for the Union on SaturdayPhiladelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin 9/13/23
“Yeah, look, he plays through soreness and pain as well as anybody. And again, I’ve relied in some ways, probably too much on him this year to start games because we are just better when he’s on the field. His vocal leadership, his willingness to train hard every day and show young players the way, he doesn’t let them have days off on the training field. So I believe if you do work hard on the practice field, you do the honest work in the weight room. These are the types of players that knock on wood, don’t need the load management or the off days or the rest. Yes, he does have little things going on, little Nicks that maybe would keep other people out, but he’s a real testament to the old-school defenders that like to defend first are so vital to our team. His leadership in the group has been incredible, a player I respect a ton. I think he might have almost 40 starts already this year, which is an insane number. So, yeah, great season so far for Jacob. He wants to end it the right way, has been a Defender of the Year last year, and again, can’t speak enough to the importance of that. Ability is one thing, right? And he has incredible ability. I think the accolades that he’s won and the respect of the league that he’s gotten shows that. But a lost art in this game is your Durability. I know that’s an old Bill Parcels durability is just as important, man. Being on the field every day, training, getting the continuity, the reps with your teammates is so important. And we stay pretty healthy as a group, so we get to know each other well. And Jacob, that 100 games consecutive in league is a pretty special mark to hit. He doesn’t know who Cal Ripken is, but it’s Cal Ripken-ish.”
Next, Jim was asked about how he sees the game playing out with both The Union and FC Cincinnati missing some important players like Ale Bedoya and Lucho Acosta
“Yeah, look, if you look at their chance creation over the year, a lot of it comes from Lucho, and that’s natural with any ten, just like with Gazdag, with us, that’s where a lot of our chance creation comes from. So it’s a shame. A game of, whatever word you want to use, magnitude, importance, significance. It’s a shame that it misses a player like Acosta from their side. It’s a shame that it misses a player like Bedoya from our side. I could write you a novel on how I think it’s too easy to get suspended in our league for yellow cards, and we want our best players on the field, so I think we do our best to try to have that happen. But if you look at the amount of games guys miss for kicking a ball away or saying a bad word, a curse word at a ref, it’s tough. So you want the best players on the field. So having said that, those two great players will miss the game. It’s a chance for others to step up for them. There’s a couple of ways Pat could do it. You try to get into his mind as best you can and think about who he’s going to put there. Obviously, they could put Kubo there. They’ve played Barreal as a ten against us in the past, so either way, we have to be prepared for that. They still are a great team. That’s really hard to break down, but, yes, they are missing one of their best players, but it’ll be a really difficult task to try to stop them.”Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin 9/13/23
One of the most difficult aspects of an MLS season, and this one in particular with the introduction of Leagues Cup, is the stop-start nature of the season. Here’s what Jim had to say about battling a unique schedule for the Union
“It’s not easy. So we had this little pause now and then you look up again and you basically have a league’s cup seven-game stretch where we go Saturday, Wednesday for seven straight games. Then you have an awkward two weeks off before you play New England. So the schedule is a schedule. The international windows pop up at unfortunate times. I’ll just say, for our league and the way our calendars aligned. Talk to the team today, and again, it’s cliche, but we’re going to need every guy to be ready. Some games you might be called upon to close out a game and play three minutes at the end. Some you might be called upon to start, but everybody has to be prepared and ready. Fortunately for us, we’re relatively healthy. We’re going to have to have a plan for each game. You’ll have things like suspension. You’ll have an injury or two down the stretch here. But I think we do have a lot of guys playing at or even above their maximum right now, which is a good thing to have. So, yes, we obviously full focus on Cincinnati, quick turnaround on turf against Charlotte and then LAFC. So our schedule is not easy. We recognize that. But I do love that we’ve played on the road quite a bit now. Five out of seven at home is significant in our league. Doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed points, that’s for sure. But in that building, you know, we’ve done pretty well over the Know stretch of everybody.”Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin 9/13/23
Jim was then asked about the availability of Union players returning from International Duty for Saturday’s game
“Luckily Andre got the minutes in last night’s game, He had – what’s the word? A Cold, COVID, whatever you want to say. I don’t know exactly what it was, but ihe was out, missed a game, was able to play last night, which is good. So, yeah, he’ll be back. Jose is in transit and will be back, Damion as well, Tai and Mbaizo, they all should be here barring a flight change or visa issue, but they all should be here and ready for the game Saturday.”Jim Curtin 9/13/23
Jim was next asked to speak on how the Union would manage without Bedoya in the lineup, and if someone like Jakob Glesnes could be leaned at times in a leadership role
“Yeah, leadership. The vocal leaders are a dying breed in our game. We’re really fortunate that we have a lot of guys that are comfortable wearing that captain’s armband and have worn it in the past. A guy like Jakob was captain of his teams in his early 20s, which speaks to the type of person and character he has. But, yeah, when Ale isn’t on the field, obviously Andre Blake has taken that role and done amazing with it. In games where we missed Andre as well, Jakob’s done it. So you need those voices in the locker room while I’m doing a press conference. Those are the guys that are down in the actual players locker room kind of keeping the coaching staff’s messages going. So, so valuable to have, and we happen to have three of them. Leadership is, I’ll just say, a lost art, maybe a little bit of a dying art. More now it’s by committee, but we actually still have some of those vocal leaders know, also show it by example and how they play, for sure, but we’re fortunate to have those vocal leaders as well. So Jakob does a great job of that.Jim Curtin 9/13/23
Jim was next asked about how the Union is handling the load management of this season.
“Yeah, look, it’s a lot of games. So again, we’ve played, I think, 40. This will be our 41st game, which is more than we’ve ever played in our club’s history. We’ve also won, I think, 22 games. So it won’t get talked about much, but that’s the highest amount of wins we’ve had in a season in our club’s history as well. Of course, we have the League’s Cup and it adds extra games. So it’s still important to say we’ve won 22 games and that’s not easy. Winning games in this league, whether it’s in Leagues Cup, whether it’s in Open Cup, whether it’s in the regular season, whether it’s in the Champions League, every win is really, really valuable, really hard to get. So credit to the players for 22 of them so far this year still have eight difficult games left as well as playoffs. So hopefully we can really add to that total. But it’s a lot of minutes, it’s a lot of games and I continue to say it’s new for all of us as coaches. This has been the longest year in terms of number of games played for a lot of clubs in their history and we’re also in that same category. Hopefully we can finish strong because that’s what people remember.”Jim Curtin 9/13/23
To wrap up his press conference, Jim was asked about what Union fans tuning in can expect from Saturday night’s match between two of the League’s best.
“Yeah, I’m not tuning in, I’ll be there, which is good! But no, for the people on the outside, you have two teams that I think know each other well. I think that they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. In some ways. The beginning of the game will probably cancel each other out and hopefully it’s an exciting match for the fan bases. So whatever personnel or formations or tactics that are decided, I think it’s two teams that have shown that they play the right way in the Eastern Conference. I think we have pretty clear identities. When I tune in and watch Pat’s team play and Chris’s team play on a night where we’re not playing them, I know what it’s going to look like, which is the best compliment you can get in this league, because your identity is what you believe in as a coach. And it’s something that I think a lot of clubs are chasing. And since he has a true identity, and I like to think that we have one too, so it’ll be a great game, exciting margins will be tight, and hopefully we can execute and put on a good performance for our fans at Subaru Park.”Jim Curtin 9/13/23
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