The Philadelphia Union are just about halfway through Major League Soccer’s extended international break. Head Coach Jim Curtin spoke to the media 10 days before the team gets back into action on Sunday, June 20th at Atlanta United. Here are our Founders Brewing Co. Pressing Points.
Union add Alvas Powell
Earlier in the day the Union announced the signing of Alvas Powell, a 26-year-old defender with 150 league games under his belt with the Portland Timbers, FC Cincinnati, and Inter Miami CF. The Jamaican international, who won the 2015 MLS Cup with Portland, last played with Sudan’s Al-Hilal Club and joined the Union as a free agent.
“I remember him terrorizing that right side on some really good Portland teams,” Curtin said. “We saw a talented player that we thought could come here and push to be a starter—he has that kind of quality.”
Curtin noted Powell’s versatility as one of the main reasons the Union signed him. Known mostly as a right back, Curtin said that Powell prefers to play center back because he played there as a youth player and that his speed indicates that he could play further up the pitch on the right wing.h
“He plays a great final ball, he can cross, he can defend 1v1 and has the athleticism and speed in our league that is necessary when you’re playing against some of these great attacking players,” Curtin said. “The versatility piece is huge for us. With all our players, we want them to push to be starters. He’s building back fitness. I always joke with him, ‘I want Alvas from the Portland days’ and he knows exactly what I mean by that and that’s what I’m starting to see.”
Curtin also mentioned that, because of the player’s strong performances this season, he could see a French team swooping in for right back Olivier Mbaizo: “If Olivier keeps playing like he is, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a French team says, ‘we’ll make him our right back.’ We have to be prepared for that.”
Previewing Atlanta United
Over the last two months, the Union have played 12 games, including a two-legged CONCACAF Champions League tie against their next opponents, Atlanta United.
“Those were two very high-intensity games,” Curtin said. “Atlanta is a great team. Heinze is a great coach. They have a group that, for my money, is one of the best at keeping possession.
The Union won 3-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on April 27 and drew the return leg 1-1 to advance to the CCL semifinals. For the upcoming match, Atlanta’s stadium will be at full capacity
“They have improved as the games have gone on, so we know it’s a very tough test right off the bat,” Curtin said. “To go to Atlanta is a very difficult task off of the break, so we know we’ll have to play perfect to get a result down there.
The Union are set to return to the pitch before that contest however with a friendly set up against New York City FC on Friday, June 11 that will allow the players sharp during the break and to prepare for the match in Atlanta. He said the Union staff see NYCFC and Atlanta United as teams with similar styles of play.
The international break has already seen two Union alumni take to the pitch with the US Men’s National Team: Curtin called Brenden Aaronson “the best player on the field” against Costa Rica on Wednesday while praising Mark McKenzie for bouncing back from an early mistake against Mexico and keeping a clean sheet against Costa Rica.
Soon, current Union players will see action in major tournaments with their national sides. Jose ‘El Brujo’ Martinez and Venezuela kick off the Copa America against Brazil on Sunday, June 13. Daniel Gazdag and Hungary begin their Euro 2020 campaign on Tuesday, June 15. Cory Burke and Andre Blake could join up with the Jamaican national team in July for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Jamiro Monteiro and Mbaizo might miss time in early September when Cape Verde and Cameroon have World Cup Qualifiers
“It’s a busy, busy summer,” Curtin said. “It’s a unique summer, and you need squad depth. We think we have good squad depth, but we also think we can always add another piece. We have the flexibility because of the great moves Chris [Albright] and Ernst [Tanner] have made to give us salary cap and roster spot flexibility.