Philadelphia Union punched their ticket to the semifinals in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League on Tuesday night and can now comfortably turn their attention to MLS league play until August. Ahead of their game against Chicago Fire FC on Saturday, Head Coach Jim Curtin took to the media to provide updates. Here are our Founders Brewing Co. Pressing Points.
Last One Standing
Not only did the Union notch a historic win in the quarterfinals of Champions League play against Atlanta United, the club is the last remaining MLS side in the competition. Though Curtin was rooting for the other MLS teams to advance, save for Atlanta, the team has embraced the challenge of being the last ones standing. “Obviously we wanted more MLS teams to have success and be there with us because this competition does mean so much to our league. We have a way to go to catch up to the teams in Liga MX. They have such quality and great players.”
Of course the Union’s reward for advancing to the semifinals of the Champions League is playing Club America. Club America is the most successful soccer club in North American competition, and Curtin is well aware of what hosting them at Subaru Park means.
“It is a great honor and challenge. A challenge that we had as a goal when we got into Champions League,” Curtin said. “I’ll send out service announcement now to our fans to make sure it’s mostly Union fans. Club America fans are incredible. Wherever they play in the US they find a way to get all the tickets. Do our best to start that now to make sure there is more blue and gold than bright yellow.”
The Union’s core back line of Kai Wagner, Jack Elliott, Jakob Glesnes, and Olivier Mbaizo, have been locked in to start the season. However, except for Kai Wagner coming in off the bench in the 61st minute against NYCFC the core backline has played every minute of action to start the season. In a particularly busy stretch of games Curtin recognizes that this amount amount of minutes on the same four will be unsustainable. “We have to find ways to start to get some rotation. We will wait to see how they are feeling tomorrow. That will be the true test. Their bodies will let them know, and our medical and performance department will let us know exactly where they are at.”
This need for a rotation is hurt by the fact that Stuart Findlay sustained a mild quad injury. It’s nothing to raise the alarm about. “A very minor half grade strain in his quad” Curtin describes. They are playing it cautious as he is building back his fitness and getting up to speed with the group but there is optimism he will be available for next week. Ever the professional, Aurélien Collin may provide the answer here as the savvy vet maintains his body so well that Curtin feels he may already be 90-minute fit.
Windy City Focus
It’s no secret that playing in the Champions League has taken its toll in league play for the teams still competing. However, with the Champions League put on pause provides the Union a chance to regroup and get back to their winning ways in the MLS. The team as a whole has strung together some strong performances in league play but have not gotten the results to match. “We have a lot of games in quick concession to get points and right that ship.” said Curtin.
Though this Chicago team is also winless on the season, the Union know not to take them lightly with head coach Raphael Wicky at the helm. Straight to the point Curtin describes Wicky as a winner. He took victories off of Manchester United and Manchester City in the same Champions League season when he was the manager of Basel. “He is kind of a blend of an international coach and player who has done it at the highest level and has seen it. But also, is in support of the MLS, he’s played in the league and knows how it works and the uniqueness of the American player.”
Philadelphia Union look to continue their strong momentum and pick up their first MLS win of the season when they face off against the Fire on Saturday, May 8th. Kick off from Soldier Field is set for 1 p.m. ET and can be seen on 6abc and PhiladelphiaUnion.com.