Pressing Points

Pressing Points | CCC play resumes at home


Philadelphia Union will host second leg of their Concacaf Champions Cup Round One series against Deportivo Saprissa on Tuesday night at Subaru Park. After the team’s routine matchday -1 training at the stadium on Monday morning, Head Coach Jim Curtin met with the media alongside Homegrown midfielder Quinn Sullivan, previewing their second meeting with the Costa Rican team.

Who will start in net?

Philadelphia’s steadfast net-protector and three-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Andre Blake, missed Saturday’s Major League Soccer home opener due to adductor injury picked up in Costa Rica against Saprissa, and during his press conference, Curtin announced he’ll miss Tuesday's match as well. 

“Andre still doesn't feel 100% and we want to be smart with the injury. Andre knows his body as well as anybody and he has been through these types of games and knows what they need, but he's just not able to participate,” Curtin said. 

Instead, 25-year-old back up Oliver Semmle will be back in a net at Subaru Park, this time with one match under his belt, and his team is prepared to support him through the full 90,

“Anytime there's an injury early in the season, you're going to learn about the guys as a whole. So just collectively now as a team defensively, how do we work with Oliver? How do we try to help him? How do we limit chances? How do we limit balls in the box to make his first couple games as simple as possible?”

Semmle allowed two goals against Chicago, but came up big with an important 88th minute save against six-year MLS veteran Thomas Barlow, allowing the Union to capitalize on stoppage time where Daniel Gazdag found an equalizer. 

“It's a hard position and I talked about it with Oliver the other day. A goalkeeper can not be involved for 88 minutes then has to make a big save and he did that at the end of the game, which was a big one against Barlow, so I think after that, you get a little more confidence,” Curtin said.

Strenuous opening stretch

Should Philadelphia move on to the Round of 16 against Saprissa, they will have finished their first month of play having participated in eight matches in just one month, which is no simple feat. 

As he has throughout the offseason, Head Coach Jim Curtin emphasized the importance of using both depth and experience to win games in 2024 due, and he noted that veteran center back Jack Elliott will rejoin the lineup against Saprissa for the first time this year. 

Sullivan chimed in on the demands of this year’s start to the season, providing a player’s perspective on the number of games between CCC and league play.

“We’re ready for tomorrow, but when you look at the bigger picture, we have a pretty big group with a lot of depth. I think the team is confident in putting a group out there that can get the job done,” Sullivan said. 

“As a young player, I've had experience with Champions Cup and I think that I'm prepared for the quick turnaround. We know what it's like to play a team in such quick succession, and it's also good because we know how they play and it's fresh in the team's mind. Though obviously, there's going to be some changes here and there to their style and whether they push, whether they sit, whatever it is.”

Scouting Saprissa

Curtin provided a brief scouting report of their opponent after reviewing last week’s match, which ended 3-2 in favor of Philadelphia. All three of the Union’s goals game in the second half by way of Julian Carranza, but despite the comfortable position they’ve created with a trio of away goals banked plus hosting the match at home, Curtin is prepared for any changes they could send out.

“Both teams, Saprissa and the Philadelphia Union, have an incredible home field advantage – some of the best on this whole continent. In this building, we're a very difficult team, just like they're a very difficult team there. The reality is, they, at a certain point, will have to push and throw numbers forward, so we have to be very sound defensively. But also, the one thing we do very well is counter attacking, going transition. So we have to be ruthless,” Curtin said.

“Sometimes the best defense for us is to score the first goal – that would really change everything, and if we are able to score, they have to take more risk and throw more numbers for it. It'll be a very interesting tactical game,” Curtin said. 

In Saprissa’s last league match on Saturday, the played with a back three for the first time this year which is a change Curtin says they’ve discussed internally. He also pinpointed former MLS defender Kendall Watson, who played for Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Cincinnati from 2014-2020, as a potential threat they’ve prepared for as well. 

“He’s certainly a guy on restarts if he's in the game late, even as an attacking guy, you can throw him forward because he's so so dangerous, such a presence on restarts,” Curtin said. 

“There's a lot of things that they can do tactically to hurt us, they can take risks. In America, we say bend, but don't break, so we have to be very sound defensively and really be ruthless on the counter attack, even in our own building where we know that they're going to take risks. “