It’s 4 draws in a row for Union, 3 of them coming at home, which admittedly feels like a bit of a lost opportunity when you look at how tight the standings in the Eastern Conference are with just weeks to hash out who claims what spot in the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.
This entire season has felt like big game after big game for Union, which is a lot of fun for fans, but all the high-stakes games are starting to take a toll on Union, and injuries have started to have a negative effect on results in recent weeks.
Once again, despite injuries to key players, Union still has the 4th most points in the league, and their position in the playoffs is in their own hands, with all 4 of their remaining games coming against Eastern Conference opponents right in and around Union in the playoff race.
Union Presser Round-Up Sept. 29, 2023
Here’s each and every word Jim Curtin said in his press conference on Friday afternoon to preview Union’s first of their final 4 difficult matches – On the road to Columbus Crew:
“Yeah, just to reflect back on Dallas, obviously it’s been a very busy stretch for us. You know, missing a few players, Important players against Dallas. I thought we still had some good individual performances and did a decent job to start the game, to make it hard on Dallas to get the goal. We then conceded from a, you know, a special goal from Velasco against the run of play and from there, you know, had some chances to win it. Dallas had a few chances overall on the night. You know, you always want to get three points. You know, we’ve had a run now where it’s a lot of ties. The guys, you know, are frustrated. They want to turn those ties into wins, obviously. I think, you know, looking back and having hindsight, some of the ties were what you’d call good ties. Some were ties that, you know, let yourself down a bit. But our reality is, you know, we’re a difficult team to beat, which is a good thing. And now we have to regroup quickly, go on the road to a Columbus team that, you know, is at the very top of our league in terms of goals scored. They like to play wide open. They really attack and they’re very, very good with the ball. Obviously, Wilfred Nancy’s a great coach and they’re going in a good way right now. Everyone sees how tight it is. The thing that I’ve stressed to our guys is that we sit with the fourth most points in the league, which sometimes it doesn’t feel like that. But now we control our own destiny. You see the teams in and around us, Columbus, Atlanta, New England, and we kind of control who we keep below us if we’re able to get ties and push them down. Nashville was the other team. And then you throw in Orlando as well, who we don’t play, so all of us play each other in the coming weeks. The margins are very tight, still all to play for. And obviously, like I’ve said 100 times, we want to push to get home field advantage and play in Subaru Park.”Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin
Jim next gave an update on the squad’s fitness, which has taken a beating due to all the fixtures this season:
“Julian(Carranza) was cleared to play this morning. He trained for the first time with the group, which is very encouraging. We’ll have to be smart and see what’s best from the start or off the bench for him. In some ways, you always want him to play. And obviously we missed him against Dallas, but he did get some build in and rest there as we go through this final stretch of games, and we want to have him finish the season on a high note and with goals. So that’s very encouraging. Jakob will still be kind of in that ‘day-to-day’ category as well as Jose.. We’ll see how they responded to different workouts today. But those two are less likely, I’d say, to start. You know, Julian, at least available for selection, we’ll just choose how we want to use him with the busyness of the schedule and the games coming up. So positive, but not all fully back yet, it doesn’t seem like.”Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin
Next Jim was asked if the availability of Julian Carranza might change how he manages the options at forward throughout the next couple of games:
“I think so. You know, we want to go after the points in Columbus, make no mistake about that. But we also have to be intelligent about how we do it. So, you know, we’ve gotten some contributions from different guys. Quinn obviously stepped up and scored a good goal and I thought had a good performance in our last game. So, you know, we have to utilize everybody and keep everybody fresh while still trying to take the most points possible. So there’s no perfect solution for that. And that’s not just the strikers, that’s midfielders and defenders as well. So we still have a really strong group, slowly getting guys back. And like I always say, you know, we want to be peaking now down this final stretch of games going into the playoffs”Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin
The next question Jim answered pertained to the center backs, and how Jim was going to manage that group of players heading into another busy week of games:
“We’re going to utilize all three. And I think all three have shown that they are starting caliber center backs in this league, which is good. So you can’t really prioritize one game over the other in this stretch just because they’re(opponents) all right in and around us. So it’s not like we have, you know, a Western Conference team left or a team that’s been eliminated or a team that’s at the very top left. It’s everybody’s in and around us and a direct competitor, which is good, you know. So like I said, if we tie or win our remaining games, everybody stays below us, you know which is a powerful place to be in. Also, though, teams are going to be gunning for us. And you look at Columbus, they’re on full rest. So we have to be smart about how we approach the game and have some legs on the field as well. Atlanta is sitting around now, I think, for 10 to 13 days on full rest for us, waiting for us as well. Nashville will at least be on the same rest as us. So that center back rotation, you know, as soon as Jakob is fully ready to go, we’re certainly going to utilize him. And then maybe as much as we can avoid the quick back to back, you know, the two day rest games if we can, with three really good center backs that we have.”Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin
Jim was asked again to elaborate on the seriousness of Glesnes’s injury, and in doing so gave a positive update on Leon Flach’s injury situation, whose season we all thought was done and closed:
“I’m fully confident that he’ll play a role in the games down the stretch here. And then in the playoffs as well. I know the mentality that he has. You know, he has gotten clarity from a second opinion from the doctors that there’s no real more damage that you can do, you know, to the area. It’s a very sensitive area with a lot of nerves and a lot of muscles in there. So sometimes, you know, it’s challenging. Right? So him and Leon are two guys that this is the first time in their careers, in their entire careers they’ve ever had injuries. You know, and that speaks to the toll of the 44 games we’ve played so far. For what it’s worth. Leon is back here in the States and, you know, out on the field, not fully training yet, but is with us. So that’s a good positive note, too. So again, getting guys back slowly. But you’re certainly right, we have to be smart about how we reintegrate them(Flach and Glesnes) to the team. But I’m fully confident it might not be Columbus yet as a starter for Jacob, but I’m confident that he’ll be starting one of the next two home games, I’ll put it that way.”Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin
The focus then turned from Union and their team to Columbus and how Wilfred Nancy has them playing this season:
“They’re as good as any in the league. You know, and the addition of Rossi, obviously everyone remembers him from LAFC and just how dominant he can be. So that’s a great piece that they’ve obviously added there. You know what he’s(Nancy) been amazing at, is taking players in some instances that are wingers and turning them into wing backs, taking outside backs and turning them into, you know, center backs in the back three. So now everybody’s really comfortable driving and dribbling with the ball. They score a ton of goals. They create a ton of chances. You know, with that, they do concede some chances as well. So we have to be very compact and organized. You know, he’s an incredible coach and an incredible soccer mind and has done a really great job with Columbus this year. So, you know, it’ll be very hard for us for sure, just like we previously did with Montreal last year. So you have some real, real weapons in their group. And I’ll just say some nice toys for Wilfred to play with. And when you talk about now, Cucho, Rossi, when Nagbe and Morris get the ball moving in the middle part of the field, everybody wants the ball. They have Gressel who can provide service and whip in a dangerous cross. And then they all defend pretty well as a team too. So it’s a really good opponent. It’ll be a big challenge for us. They’re fresh and sitting around waiting for us to come into their stadium where they’re really, really good. So it’ll be a tough test for sure”Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin
The next question Jim answered was about Mikael Uhre and his scoring drought as of late, and if there is anything Jim can do tactically to get Uhre more scoring opportunities:
All strikers go through highs and lows during a season and you know, our strikers are no different. You know, we can run very, very hot and then we can go cold. And the hope is that, you know, we can pick each other up when the other’s going through a tough moment. Mikael scored a lot of big goals for us. Again, we want to get that front three clicking before the time the games become elimination games and we now have four games to do that against really good teams. So you know I always say to not just the strikers but the entire group, you know people remember how you finished the season. You know, again, teams get hot at this moment of the year, someone’s going to go on a run and score a hat trick or two in the league down the stretch here and their season will be remembered, you know, differently than maybe how it’s been for the last 6 or 7 months – So how you finish is most important. But you’re certainly right, trying to get him more service, get him on the ball a little bit more, you know, not be in a situation where he’s fighting with two center backs because that’s not his strength. He wants to be out in open spaces and we want to be a little bit lethal in transition. So it’s not just him. You know, we’ve missed him on some through balls as well. His timing of his runs have been good and sometimes you need service as well. So it’s a combination of things and we’ll continue to work on it and try and get him going again”Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin
This is the 5th season out of the last 6 that the Union have reached 50 points, and in a shortened 2020 they reached 47, but 50 points aren’t being celebrated this season, and there’s a lot of worry amongst fans that things are slipping for Union down the stretch – Jim was asked about how those expectations around the club’s success have changed throughout the years:
“Yeah I think, and I’ll throw in that(with playing) the 44 games, there’s a little bit of just fatigue with everyone. You know, the people that work at the stadium are working so many more hours, our staff, our players, there’s a greater demand. So I think there is a little bit of…I don’t know what the exact word is, glaze? I don’t know what the word is, over this whole season, because it’s been so long, there’s been a million competitions. There’s been almost confusion as to what counts for the most and what’s the best. But yeah, I think the guys still have gone about their business and taken a lot of points. We know in the recent weeks the ties are frustrating for everyone. We’ve played some good opponents. We want it to be better, but the 50 point mark and still having the fourth most points in the league is strong. You know, and I think that the group, you know, really has worked hard on the consistency thing. And it’s not easy in this league where there is a lot of big, big spending or there’s a lot of parity, whatever you want to use as a benchmark for the league. We have done things pretty well over the last several years. Of course, you want to challenge for trophies, you want to win trophies. But overall, our group and our players have done a really good job of being consistent, sticking to what our principles are and staying within our philosophy. So, yes, that is well, it doesn’t feel great right now. You know, we’re still in a decent spot and 50 points is hard to get in this league and it’s hard to do that many years in a row.”Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin
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