Coming off of Thursday’s 2-0 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League loss in Mexico City to Club América, Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin spoke to the media. Ahead of Wednesday’s game against New York City FC. Here are our Founders Brewing Co. Pressing Points.
Battle for Playoff Seeding
One of the highlights of the 2021 Major League Soccer schedule has been the lack of out-of-conference matches. With the schedule makers prioritizing conference matches, the Eastern Conference is as competitive as ever and has the fifth-place Union trailing second-place NYCFC by three points.
“They have good individual talent, for sure,” Curtin said. “But the one thing that jumps off the page that we went over in our film session is the way that [NYCFC Head Coach Ronny Deila] has them all defending and closing the ball down after they lose it is really impressive.
Deila’s revamped defensive style has led his club to have the Eastern Conference’s best defense—NYCFC has conceded 18 goals in 18 matches while the Union have conceded 19 goals in 19 matches.
The last meeting between the two sides took place on May 1st at Subaru Park, a game which NYCFC won 2-0. Since that match, NYCFC added young Brazilian wingers Thiago Andrade and Talles Magno to bolster their attack.
“With that youth, similar to us, it gives you an ability to do that extra running and pressing,” Curtin said. “They’re a very sound team on both sides of the ball.”
A Full Squad Finally
With no players absent for their national teams and recently injured players like Ilsinho, Anthony Fontana, and Matt Real available for selection, the Union have more squad depth than they have had all season.
“We’ve had the most guys we’ve ever had in training today,” Curtin said. “Everybody is available on the roster for tomorrow’s game.
Curtin feels relieved to have his squad at full-strength amid CCL matches and a hectic MLS schedule. Add new signing Matheus Davo, who is available for selection, and Curtin has plenty of options at his disposal.
“We’ll know when the time [to play Davo] is right,” Curtin said. “Certainly, over the next two games, you’ll probably see him in the squad. I think he’ll start to really get integrated into the group sooner rather than later.
Staying Close To Home
After last week’s trip to Mexico for the first leg of the SCCL semifinals, the Union kick off a two-match homestand this week but even more impressively is when you look at their upcoming slate. The Boys in Blue don’t play an away game further than Washington, D.C. until they visit FC Cincinnati on October 9.
“We have to take advantage of this portion of our schedule,” Curtin said. “We have 15 games left. It’s going to be a sprint. … We need a good performance over the next month or so to get some separation [in the standings].”
The final sprint of 15 matches sees the Union face Eastern Conference playoff rivals including NYCFC (twice), first-place New England Revolution, and fourth-place Orlando City SC. Along with that, the second leg of the CCL semifinal tie against Club América takes place on September 15.
“We want to be one of those top teams [going into the playoffs],” Curtin said. “Right now, we’re still in the middle of the pack. If we beat New York City FC, we’re tied with them. But if we lose and a couple of results don’t go our way, we could find ourselves below the red line. That’s just the way it is this year.”