Philadelphia Union’s Jim Curtin & Mikael Uhre discuss Champions Cup fixtures & the season so far

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

After Ale Bedoya rescued a point at the death against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night, the Philadelphia Union face another quick turnaround with CF Pachuca coming to Subaru Park on Tuesday night for a CONCACAF Champions Cup Round of 16 matchup. Head Coach Jim Curtin and Forward Mikael Uhre met with the media on Monday morning to preview Leg 1 against the Liga MX side. Here’s every word they said:

Union HC Jim Curtin on the Goalkeeper situation

Curtin: “Yeah, Andre will return to the group. I think Oliver did a great job in his absence. I think we learned a lot about Oliver and gave him a taste of, you know, those first team minutes, which is important early in the season. But obviously it’s great to have the best goalkeeper in our league back behind us now. And we look forward to his return here in Subaru Park.

Julian is going to be close. It’ll be kind of a game time decision. You’re finding the balance of obviously playing against a high quality opponent in Pachuca in a very, very big game at home. Balancing being the first leg, you know, and not risking further injury. So we have a decision to make and that’ll be made tomorrow. We’ll see how he responds to his workout today. But in his absence, you know, we’ll have a plan together. If he, if he’s unable to go, if he does play great, he’s a great goal scorer. So, you know, finding a balance there between the two, but Andre will be back 100%.

Union Jim Curtin
CHESTER, PA – NOVEMBER 28: Philadelphia Union keeper Andre Blake (18) celebrates with defender Kai Wagner (27) and defender Jack Elliot (3) after winning the game between Nashville SC and Philadelphia Union on November 28, 2021 at Subaru Park in Chester, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

So towards the end of the game here with Saprissa, it just started to tighten up at the end. And, you know, it was something where last year he pushed through and maybe did further damage this year, uh, knowing his body a little bit better. I think last year it was his first muscle injury that he’d ever had. So he didn’t really know what he was going through. And this year he was a little more proactive. So, um, I don’t think it’s serious. I don’t think it’s long term, but we also don’t want to have it be a reoccurring thing.”

Union Head Coach Jim Curtin on the transformation of the team

Curtin: “Well, first and foremost, Liga MX is a great league, a league that I watch very closely, a league that is very entertaining and has real high quality players. There’s also now a lot of former MLS players that are playing there, a lot of Liga MX players playing in MLS. So it’s a good, healthy rivalry. To be playing in the Champions League as consistently as we are is something that we’re very, very proud of. Having said that, we also recognize how difficult these tests are.

Last year we had some, some success against Liga MX teams in, in Champions Cup, and also in the Leagues Cup. So again, we’ll look to try to learn about our group. I think you learn about your group in the hardest games, in the biggest games, and, uh, there’s none bigger than playing Pachuca in our stadium in Subaru Park in the Champions Cup.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

So both teams are on similar rest, which is helpful, but we expect a really tough opponent. And again, this will be half time. We still know we have to go to Pachuca’s stadium, and that’s a very difficult task. So we want to set ourselves up as best as possible. I’ve been stressing to the guys how important it is not to concede and be strong defensively, and obviously try to, you know, score a goal ourselves. So that’s the objective. We know it’ll be difficult and everybody will have to be playing at 100% at their max.”

Union Head Coach Jim Curtin on Guillermo Almada

Curtin: “Look I respect very much, uh, Petruca’s approach to, to football, uh, their approach to doing it with their academy.

If you look at the consistent production of good, young, talented players that are currently on Pachuca’s roster, but also have gone on to other clubs in Liga MX and Europe and all over, they really do a great job in their academy. Uh, similar to Philadelphia, we have a real emphasis on, on our home talent, our home-grown talent. But Pachuca is doing it very well, an incredible coach, uh, a tough task. And they have a lot of also not just academy talent, but also some real, real quality players players in Idrissi and Rondon that we have watched for several years in the Premier League.

Sanchez as a number 10 that can make a final pass – So Pachuca has a lot of weapons. Uh, they’re statistically one of the best attacking teams, uh, that Liga MX has this season. A lot of data shows that whether it be their chance creation, their shots on goal, the goal scored, um, and they have a way of really playing end to end exciting games, a lot of high scoring games. So, uh, we’ll have to do our best to try to stop that, but it certainly starts with their leadership and their coach, who is, uh, an exceptional manager.”

Union Hea Coach Jim Curtin on the level of talent Pachuca has

Curtin: “Yeah, first with Jose, he’s fully fit and ready to play, um, which is good. A little bit precautionary at halftime didn’t feel great. So we, we made an adjustment in our last game, but he’ll be back and available for selection.

When you look at Pachuca on film, so much of their attacks come down their left-hand side, our right-hand side. So we’ll have to have a plan in place, uh, with our group. We obviously know we’re shorthanded at the center back position with two suspensions(Lowe and Elliott). So we’ll have a plan in place to protect the middle first because that’s where goals come from, but also have a real tendency to try to take away their strength.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

You can’t do that for 90 minutes perfectly. So we know a player of Idrissi’s quality is going to get chances. 1v1, I’d say he’s as, as good a player as there is in all of CONCACAF. So, uh, it’s not a one-person job. We’ll need to force him towards the sidelines, towards where he has help for double teams. But his ability to beat a player, 1v1, uh, score a goal, make a final pass, uh, fine rundown in the box who uses his body and his movement as well as anybody. It’s going to be a difficult test for us, but certainly being sound defensively on our right side of the field, their left, um, is a real key to tomorrow’s matchup.”

Union Head Coach Jim Curtin on the picture up front

Curtin: it’s been by committee right now, right? So, you know, whether it’s, it’s Markus, it’s Quinney, it’s Donovan, uh, Rafa even stepped in as a 10 last game and did a, a good job for us. Um, so again, it’s, it’s not just one player yet. Uh, the difficulty with the, The Champions Cup is we haven’t been able to play our best lineup all the time, consistently together. Um, and then with the injuries to Andre and, and Julian, uh, that makes it difficult. So much like Pachuca’s kind of three headed monster that we have, we’re at our best when it’s Uhre, Carranza, Gazdag, you know, uh, playing multiple reps together. And that is what will take us on a good run in competitions like this. So getting them all in the field and healthy together is, is certainly the goal.

Mikael Uhre: “And then the question about Markus, I feel like obviously he’s brought something to the group. He’s has a great explosion. He has some speed, but also some good touches and, and good cutting abilities in the dribbling. So I think that, yeah, he definitely provides something to the squad. But, uh, yeah, as Jim’s often says to us, it’s our job to make him feel welcome and make him feel a part of the team as quick as possible.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

And I feel like he’s, he stepped into that really well and the guys have taken care of him. So it’s, yeah, again, it’s about having the entire group working together and trying to, uh, what do you say? Like implement the guy that’s coming from the outside and help him reach his best potential.”

Union’s Mikael Uhre on adapting to a tough schedule

Mikael Uhre: “Obviously coming from Europe, you have to get a little bit used to all the travel over here, but I feel like, yeah, you get used to playing all the games all the time. It’s what we play for as players. We want to play as many games as possible. It’s the fun part. Obviously it’s, it’s going to be tough and it’s going to be hard. But yeah, this early in the season that, that definitely can’t be an excuse because we just started. So it’s, it’s just nice being back playing this many games and also the experiences of trying to play in different competitions against different opponents is always, again, what you play for as a player.”

Union HC Jim Curtin on Tai Baribo’s status

Curtin: Yeah, I had a healthy meeting with with Tai yesterday. Um, you know, he came in and we discussed things. We talked about, obviously every striker and every player wants to be playing minutes. We don’t want players that aren’t happy to not be starting and being involved. So we had a good healthy discussion, talked about now, the challenges of because we aren’t training a lot together – We’re basically playing, recovering.

There haven’t been the reps with the top group that any striker needs, right? Every striker looks better when, when Kai Wagner is serving them balls or, or Nate Harriel is getting into the end line and cutting balls back. And he hasn’t had many of those reps because he had an injury in preseason where he missed, you know, almost three weeks.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

So we talked about that. We talked about now doing it more consistently every day in training. Uh, and I think we’ll have a good response from Tai to fight his way up that depth chart. But, I say it all the time, like the game, in training tells the truth and the guys that we pick on the weekend are the ones that we think give us the best chance to win. So he’s going to work hard to be one of those guys.”

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union