Homegrown Matt Real makes most of minutes against Montreal

#PHIvMTL | Matt Real

The Philadelphia Union’s Saturday night victory against Montreal CF at Subaru Park was the team’s third game, and win, in seven days.

The slate was a physically challenging one for the now 9-3-4 Boys in Blue, and it understandably influenced a shift in Head Coach Jim Curtin’s starting lineup. He featured new starters on Saturday, namely 23-year-old defender Matt Real, who made an immediate impact against Montreal’s attack.

Real, who has now seen just four starts in eight games played in 2023, began the game at left back, pushing defender Kai Wagner to center back, and Damion Lowe, who started in the left spot last week, to the bench.

Lowe’s absence in the first XI wasn't unexpected – he battled knee discomfort following Wednesday’s game, subsequently undergoing a fluid release late in the week. He bounced back quickly, practicing in full on Friday, but Curtin still erred on the side of caution when crafting his crew.

“I think we're better with him on the field defensively for sure. But I also know he has played two games this week. To play a third, and then he has [Jamaican] National team and Gold Cup coming up, you start to run the risk of some injury,” Curtin said.

Lowe plays on the Jamaican National Team; he’ll soon travel to Austria for the first two contests in a tournament series preceding the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Cup itself begins on June 24th, and Jamaica's first game is scheduled against the United States Men's National Team.

“I talked with him, a good conversation, an honest one, where I said, ‘I think I want to hold you. I'm going to need you though, for the last 30 to close it out, because we're going to get a lead, and I'm going to need you in there to defend and we'll bump Kai up.’ And they did a good job with it,” Curtin said.

As for Real, Saturday was his fourth start of the season in eight total games played, and he was influential from the jump. In the 15th minute, shortly after the Union scored its opening goal of the night, Montreal attempted to match scores – midfielder Ilias Iliadis crossed the ball across the box to teammate Zachary Brault-Guillard, in scoring position, but the attempt was quickly thwarted by Real’s quick defense. He dove in the path of Brault-Guillard’s shot, deflecting it before it could reach Union goalkeeper Andre Blake.

The play, among others, were glimpses of Real’s recent improvement, of which Curtin had high praise after the game.

“He falls into the category where he could start on a lot of teams in this league at a position that's very, very, I'll just say ‘poor’ in this league – left back. We have the luxury of having two really good ones, and he happens to play behind the best one in Kai and that’s unfortunate,” Curtin said.

“Again, another guy that has had a great attitude and mentality and is getting better and better. And he’s still young. I know, we all think, because it’s true, Matt’s been around for 5 or 6 years now. But you still look at his age, and he still has so much ahead of him. And he's such a good young defender. So, happy for Matt he contributed in a big way.”

Before the game, Curtin could’ve decided to leave Wagner in his natural left wing back role and place Real elsewhere, but instead chose the alternative, which gave Real an opportunity to put his aptitude for the position on display.

“ I think if you gave him a run of games as a left wing back too, that could be a really good spot for him because it lets him get forward. You can see how good he crosses the ball, he can actually shoot very well, too. He didn't get too many opportunities tonight, but he can lock his ankle and really hit the ball. I liked what I saw, he did a great job, and he’ll get more and more minutes if he continues to play like that,” Curtin said.

Real’s fresh legs, among others, proved successful on the Union’s home turf as the team extended its win streak to four, and their game-without-loss streak to nine.

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