Ahead of the nationally televised battle at Subaru Park on Sunday against Eastern Conference rivals New York City FC, Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin spoke about the upcoming contest and the areas that the Union will look for success as they make a push to go back atop the East. These are our Founders Brewing Co. Pressing Points.
A Big Response
Sunday’s match features not only two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference but marks just the sixth time since 2022 that two teams in league play will face off with 8+ game unbeaten streaks. While the Union have found ways to remain unbeaten, Curtin said the amount of shared points has reached where they club isn’t happy anymore with just a draw.
“We are not happy with the amount of ties in recent weeks and we do recognize that we can only look forward to the game against New York City FC where we will be playing for first place on national TV in our home stadium,” Curtin said. “It’s a big opportunity for us. We’ve had good film sessions, good training sessions and I think the players will have a good response to a disappointing result at home. It is something that happened too many times at home and we need to get back to our winning ways in front of our great fans.”
One area that has gotten the majority of the focus during the Union’s run of draws has been the offense. While the Boys in Blue have been finding the back of the net, the team hasn’t had the offensive breakthrough quite yet. With an ever-changing striker group from one match to the other, Curtin said that team chemistry has been on the front foot in the run up to Sunday’s match.
“The players have talked openly this week about relationships about when do we want our strikers to come back to get the ball or when we do want them to go in behind so the timing of those movements are sharper,” Curtin said. “The block of eight has been strong and tough to break down but we haven’t had the continuity of our strike force to get things going which has been challenging but we have the opportunity against New York City to improve and be more like us.”
It's a Rivalry
While it might not have the same allure as D.C. United or the Red Bulls, Sunday’s match is conceded a rivalry match by Curtin. Just look back to the few times the two sides have squared off and its hard to not see the emotion and physicality that is required for such a label. Despite picking up the road win at Yankee Stadium earlier in the season, Curtin said Sunday’s showdown is still one that carries a bit of revenge.
“It’s a huge match. It is the team that won MLS Cup last year and the team that is playing the best in the league right now based on recent form. It’s a team that knocked us out of the playoffs on our home field the last time we played so a lot weight into the game.”
NYCFC comes into the match with a nine-game unbeaten streak in MLS play after a 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids last Sunday. The contest saw the coaching debut of interim Nick Cushing after Ronny Deila departed the club last week for Belgium side Standard Liege. NYCFC is also coming off a midweek loss to the Red Bulls in the Quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. While the Union have the fresher legs, Curtin said that the midweek loss could help the reigning MLS Cup Champions before they arrive in Chester.
“It’s a team that has had a busy schedule so maybe we have a little advantage with them playing midweek but I’m sure they will be disappointed off of the midweek result. Sometimes off a loss you get a big response so we’ll need to be at our best to beat a really strong opponent.”
Away from Chester
Just like last week, Curtin confirmed that he will not have a full bench available for the FS1 matchup. One reason of course was the U.S. U20 call-ups of four homegrowns that have been competing in the 2022 Concacaf U20 Championship. Despite the lack of numbers, Curtin said there will be benefit for the club down the line.
“In all the games down there we have certainly been represented well on the U20 National Team and I sent them all a text to let them know we are all pulling for them here in Philly. It was a calculated risk to let them go when our team is so thin and we won’t have a full bench again against NYC. But we support the national team because the importance of those minutes and fitness will see our group get a huge boost when they do come back. The confidence, the fitness, the intensity of playing in pressure games in the knockouts. Quinn [Sullivan] is getting the headlines by scoring a hat trick but all of them are contributing in their own way and getting better.”
Curtin also confirmed that forward Sergio Santos will also not be available for the match against NYCFC. Santos departed the club at the start of the international break to obtain a green card in Chile but thing haven’t gone as smoothly as hoped.
“When we let him go, we thought it would be a one-week process and we are in week four now and he’s still not in the country. These green card situations are hard all over the world and league so it is one where he is not here and I’m sure he is frustrated and so are we,” Curtin said. “During the green card process and once you get into the final stages, you give up your passport. It has gotten to a point where if he had his passport, we would have had him fly back without the green card because it has been so long. He doesn’t have his passport so he has to wait and go through that process.”