MLS play is back! A week after their third-place clinching Leagues Cup win against CF Monterrey, Philadelphia Union resumes regular season competition on the road, taking on rivals D.C. United on Saturday. Head Coach Jim Curtin met with the media midweek, recapping the team’s busy summer slate and previewing the match ahead.
Philadelphia Union has played nearly the same number of games this season than they played throughout their entirety of the 2022 campaign….and still they have 11 more to go before their playoff push begins. The past several months haven’t been easy, but the Union has emerged in good shape, ready to attack their upcoming schedule.
“Excited to get back to league play. We've played 37 matches so far, and for context, we played 38 all of last season. So in three months last time, we've kind of played a ton of matches and have navigated fairly well, in terms of injuries,” Curtin said.
“We have set ourselves up in a decent spot in the league and have six games at home, five on the road. We want to finish as strong as possible and play as many home playoff games as we can.”
Duking it out with D.C.
Philadelphia is no stranger to this weekend’s opponent; Saturday's matchup will be the third installment of the pair’s East Coast rivalry this season. Their most recent matchup was in the Leagues Cup Round of 16, ending in a Union win after a 5-4 shootout finish.
“We can look forward now to a D.C. team that is a rival, a very competitive team. We've had two games against them already this year, where we've kind of canceled each other out. So we expect a difficult match. They're very well organized and well coached. So, obviously, look forward to a tough game,” Curtin said.
Their first meeting with the team from the Capitol was during MLS Rivalry week, similarly finishing with a 0-0 draw. Though D.C. sits in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference standings at 10th, Curtin assured the media they are no team to count out.
Julian Carranza update
After missing two Leagues Cup games due to a Grade 1 hamstring injury, forward Julian Carranza could be ready to rejoin the lineup this weekend. On Wednesday, Curtin provided an status update, emphasizing what he brings to the squad.
“Julian was on the field today doing his final sprinting tests. Looks like he's moving pretty well. I'll check in with the medical staff but I'm hoping he's available for DC, which would give our attack obviously a big boost. We missed him a lot at the end of the Leagues Cup competition,” Curtin said.
“But to get him back and to have Mikael in better form, the way that he played against Monterey I think was a real positive. That would really add to our attack. So hopefully he's back as a full participant against DC.”
Against Monterrey, forward Mikael Uhre ended a month-long drought without offensive production, scoring off a Jack McGlynn pass to extend the team’s lead to 2-0. Pleased with his play, Curtin spoke about his recent conversations with Uhre and his hope for consistency from the 28-year-old Dane in the team’s remaining matches.
“Actions are what you want to see, and look I talked to Mikael yesterday about it. It wasn't a situation where I needed to call him into the office or anything like that. It's a situation where all good strikers, even the best strikers in the world, go through these little dips in form,” Curtain said.
“But it's about how you respond and how you come out of those dips, and now can you be consistent for the last 11 games of the season? Because that's what people remember.”
Future of the formation
Curtin experimented with a myriad of lineups and formations during Leagues Cup, but he stands by the 4-4-2 diamond when he has his team at full throttle. He provided insight regarding his formation plans for the remainder of the season, detailing what has worked best and what the team has learned as of late.
“I think when our best players are all healthy and available and playing good, not great. If we're all good, I still will always say our best formation is the 4-4-2 diamond. In this competition. We did learn a lot with the three in the back for sure. I think we again, grinded, we went differently with three in the back. It's not a barrage of chances,” Curtin said.
Though it sounds like it won’t be a go-to, Curtin shared that he’ll keep his defense-heavy lineup in the team’s tactical arsenal, should they need to revisit it to pull out a win.
“We're still a team that wants to be hard to play against defensively, but in those back threes, we kind of grind out ugly wins, I think it's good, because we now know, if we have to go to it at the end of a game on the road to close out as an example, a team that's really coming at us,” Curtin said. It won't be foreign or new to drop Damian in there and have Jack and Jakob in there, have Kai and Mbaizo or Nathan jump into those spots. It'll be at least fresh in their head, and they know that they've won elimination games playing in that formation.”