Philadelphia Union only allowed five shots – and only a single, soft volley on goal – against Columbus Crew last weekend. Despite missing multiple key players through injury, Philly’s strong showing gave Jim Curtin even more evidence that when his team shows discipline they can compete with anyone in Major League Soccer.

Structure and scoring

“Just talked about this with Ernst, those are two of the exact types of goals that he preaches in terms of taking away the opposing team’s strength,” Curtin explained. “You can see us really shadow and do a good job tracking Higuain, turning him over, playing forward first and in two passes be picking the ball out of their own net.

“It won’t be a perfect transition to playing exactly that way every game,” he continued. “But I thought the guys executed the gameplan really well and that’s a big piece of how we want to be moving forward.”

The head coach highlighted the tactical flexibility the team has already shown this season, and how that allowed him to fit available personnel to a shape and gameplan.

“Last week we reverted back to the 4-2-3-1 and there is familiarity and comfort with a lot of our guys in that,” Curtin admitted. “With the diamond, you want to keep things more central because that is where your numbers are with the midfield and you want to attack and defend and protect things centrally a lot more so it’s little different in the system. I think it’s good to have flexibility and Ernst has given that flexibility so based on opponent, based on personnel we have available.”

Top performances and returning players

“Center backs are usually doing a good job when you don’t mention their names just like offensive linemen,” the head coach smiled. “You only see them when they get holding penalties.”

That answer came in response to a question about Jack Elliott, who has quietly been a standout performer in back for Philadelphia. “Passing wise, excellent,” Curtin said. “Defending-wise: good. He’s really embraced defending forward [principles] that have come from Ernst and we’re instituting in practice every day. He’s less afraid 1v1 and isolated.”

Curtin also addressed the return of Marco Fabián, saying that the Mexican International had a “strange one.”

“We didn’t get notification of that until last Thursday to where Marco knew he wasn’t going to be playing,” Curtin shrugged. “We are trying to do things and give him reps and recovery sprints to try and get that as close as possible to 90 minutes. It’s probably not realistic to think that 90 minutes will come easy for him.

“He’s a guy that is excited to get out on the field and has some frustration and hopefully that comes out against Cincinnati because he has the quality to change a game.”

Given Brenden Aaronson’s recent strong play, Curtin was asked how he will keep both the homegrown player and Fabián on the pitch together. “People forget that Marco has played as an 8, as a 10 and as a second striker in the Bundesliga so he’s very adaptable to different things and scenarios,” the head coach explained. “You can move him around the field and he can get you a goal because he is a gamechanger.

“Brenden and him basically give us two guys on the ball that are very comfortable in tight spots. Maybe not the biggest in stature or physical presence but play a little bigger and are brave in getting out of tight spots, can challenge their center backs to make some tough decisions.”

Thoughts on FC Cincinnati

Challenging those center backs? No small task for the Union. “When you look at [Kendall] Waston and [Nick] Haggland, you aren’t going to win any physical duels with those guys so you have to be clever and smart in how you move around them to pull them out of their spots where they are comfortable,” Curtin said.

Waston, returning from international duty with Costa Rica, and local kid Hagglund have been steady presences in back for Cincy, but they are limited when isolated.

Speaking on FC Cincinnati more generally, Curtin pointed to an organized team in front of a giant crowd. More importantly, though, he said the playing surface poses new challenges for his group.

“The reality is that there are six or seven venues that have turf in our league so we have to be able to adjust and adapt to it,” the Union head man said. “Is it an advantage for them? Absolutely. Will it take our guys a little time to get used to it and be a little more safe? Certainly.”

Nippert Stadium, the soccer and football home of the University of Cincinnati, will host FC Cincinnati until their new West End stadium is complete.

“There are different types of turf and people will criticize me for saying this but it’s a lot different you play on it,” Curtin admitted. “There can be turf that is matted down and plays like cement, or concrete and plays very fast. There is turf that is newly laid and can feel like you are running in sand because it has a lot of that rubber that has settled down.

“And it sounds like maybe that is the instance with this turf.”

Jamiro Monteiro status update

“It’s as frustrating for the player as anyone, he wants to be out on the field,” Curtin said when asked about Jamiro Monteiro. The loanee continues to be sidelined as he waits on his International Transfer Certificate to clear. “Hopefully things get resolved quickly and he can contribute but I think he adds a new special dynamic to our midfield,” the Union head coach continued. “Incredible feet, incredible speed and a real engine and willingness to learn, and he’s embraced his teammates.

“He was one of the happiest faces I greeted when I came off the field after the win, he was really excited and he’s part of this thing. It’s just a matter of now when the fun can actually start for him.”

With or without Monteiro, Philly travels to FC Cincinnati on Saturday, March 30 for a 7:30 p.m. ET showdown on PHL17.