Ahead of Thursday night’s Eastern Conference showdown with Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the upcoming match and reflect on the weekend’s lightning-delayed win against D.C. United. Here are our Founders Brewing Co. Pressing Points.
Sunshine State Doubleheader
The Union travel to Orlando this week for a battle between the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 and No. 3 squads and third-placed teams in the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference before facing Inter Miami CF to cap off the road trip on Sunday. The trip will provide Curtin and his coaching staff a bit of a luxury and problem as the Boys in Blue will have midfielders Alejandro Bedoya, Leon Flach, Daniel Gazdag, Jose Martinez, and Jamiro Monteiro all available for selection.
“It’s a great luxury for any coach to have,” Curtin said. “We’re going to need to use all five of them, certainly in these two games. Someone will be the odd man out, but it won’t be based on performance because, if you go through them right now, Jose’s playing excellent, Leon’s been amazing for us, Bedoya’s our captain and leader and has had a great season, and Monteiro and Gazdag bring so much as well.
Curtin noted that having the five midfielders available for selection is exciting and important for such a hard stretch of the schedule. He also said that the team will bring Ilsinho to Florida, and the Brazilian could make his return to the pitch in one of the upcoming matches.
“It gives us real flexibility within our group,” Curtin said of his team’s availability. “Then it comes down to the opponent you’re playing, the strengths and weaknesses of that opponent, and how you want to set up.”
Players Stepping Up
With three key players in Andre Blake, Cory Burke, and Alvas Powell away with the Jamaican Men’s National Team for the Gold Cup, Curtin has relied on other players to fill the roles they left vacant for the time being.
Sergio Santos, who was excused from training on Tuesday for the birth of his second child, was one player that Curtin said stepped up. Curtin said that he admired Santos’ mental toughness to come off the bench and score against the New York Red Bulls on July 8 after he was not selected to start
“[Santos] has been excellent the past couple of games,” Curtin said. “Overall, he’s had a very good week, made Team of the Week, so again, he continues to improve each day. I was happy that he put in a longer shift for us and kept his intensity high throughout."
Curtin voiced his happiness regarding Gazdag’s performance against D.C. United, which included an assist on the first goal, saying that the team could have given him the ball more in the match
“If we put the ball on his foot, good things will happen, whether that be goals or assists,” Curtin said. “I thought that performance at home for the first time was excellent. He sets up Sergio on the goal on a pass that he meant and made a big play defensively to spring the game-winning goal."
Competition in Goal
The absence of Andre Blake—who inked a contract extension last Thursday— and the return of Matt Freese from suspension means the goalkeeper position is in question. Curtin would not reveal who he plans to start against Orlando, but he spoke highly of both Freese and Joe Bendik.
“Joe stepped in and made some huge saves at the beginning of the game [against D.C.] and also to close out New York and get big points for us,” Curtin said. “We’re happy with Joe, he’s been excellent for us.
The Union Head Coach said that Freese and Bendik are still competing to start against Orlando and that Wednesday’s final training session before leaving for Florida will help the coaching staff decide. Curtin stressed the fact that he and the club as a whole believe in young players like Freese.
“Matt is a kid that we believe in,” Curtin said. “We want to show that belief…. Philosophically, we are a group that believes in young players, and Matt’s waited patiently.”