After meeting with the media on Wednesday to discuss his contract extension, Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin took to the podium again on Thursday with captain Alejandro Bedoya to discuss Sunday’s nationally-televised game against Atlanta United. Here are our Founders Brewing Co. Pressing Points.
Ready for Atlanta’s Full House
The Union will play in front of a full-capacity crowd for the first time in over a year when they face off against Atlanta United on Sunday. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, one of the biggest venues in the league, will host the match.
“They have talent and they’re dangerous,” Curtin said. “In that building, it gets loud. It really does. It’s a difficult environment, they have great fans, they get on you just the right amount in a nice, southern way, I guess you could say. It’s a beautiful stadium, a hostile environment, and a good soccer team that doesn’t lose very often there.”
The Union faced Atlanta in CONCACAF Champions League play and beat the Five Stripes 4-1 on aggregate, winning 3-0 in the first leg, which was played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We’ll have our hands full,” Curtin said. “We’ve had two heated, highly-contested, very good games in Champions League with both teams going at it, and competing the right way.”
After playing in front of 75% capacity in Philadelphia during the 3-0 win over the Portland Timbers, Bedoya is ready to play in front of a packed house, even in hostile territory.
“It’s going to be great. I can’t wait,” Bedoya said. “Atlanta has shown to have a great supporter culture and a great fanbase for their team, and as the away team, you live off of that energy as well. You want fans to get in your ear and to heckle you.”
Staying In Form Post-Break
The Union picked up nine points in their last three games before the break, ending the first period of the season that consisted of 12 games between April 7 and May 30. Results from the last three matches saw the club climb to second place in the MLS Eastern Conference.
Now, the team must face the challenge of keeping up that form after almost a month without a competitive game.
“This long break does break a little bit of that momentum, but I think we needed it,” Bedoya said. “I think that was the toughest stretch of my career. But now, the sun’s out, summer’s about to be here, and guys are enjoying themselves on and off the field, and it’s nice to be able to mix that. We’re confident now after those last results.”
Having scored three goals in the team’s last four matches, the team wants to see Kacper Przybylko keep up his hot streak, while also taking some of the pressure off of his shoulders.
“For great players like Kacper, we have to get him good service,” Curtin said. “If we do that, he’s going to get goals. Obviously, you need strikers scoring goals. We need more guys to step up and carry a little bit of that load because this league shows you it’s very challenging to have just one guy that you rely on to score the bulk of the goals. We need contributions and we’ve gotten them from Cory [Burke] and Sergio [Santos], so we need one of them to get hot and go on a run as well and maybe relieve some of the burden.”
Praise for Leon Flach
Midfielder Leon Flach has received plenty of compliments from his teammates, coaches, and the media for his performances in his first eight MLS appearances. Curtin and Bedoya both spoke on his time in MLS and how he can continue to grow after The Athletic published an article on the 20-year-old.
“Leon deserves every bit of credit and praise that he’s got in the media,” Curtin said. “He works so hard, he does things the right way, he trains hard every day, he’s very dialed into film, he respects the league very much. I think that self-awareness is such a good quality in a young player to recognize that this is a hard league, and if you get comfortable, there’s talent here that can make it go the other way pretty quickly.”
Bedoya praised Flach’s adaptation to the Union’s style of play, his defensive contributions, and his work rate, saying that those traits are a big part of what makes the team tick as a whole.
Curtin could only name one defensive lapse in Flach’s brief tenure in the league, showing the player’s effectiveness and intelligence early in his time in the league. The coach said he wants to see the newcomer develop offensively, particularly in his shooting and final pass.
“Defensively, he has been as close to perfect as you could possibly be,” Curtin said. “Gosh, he could go to an incredible level.”
Philadelphia Union face off against Atlanta United FC on Sunday afternoon with kick off set for 2 p.m. ET on ESPN.