Major League Soccer’s conference leaders square off on Saturday night as Philadelphia Union makes the cross country trip to face off against LAFC. Before the California road trip, Union Head Coach Jim Curtin had his weekly press conference where he talked about the big match up and the busy stretch the Boys in Blue are about to embark on. These are our Founders Brewing Co. Pressing Points.
East meets West
The last time the Union crossed paths with the Western Conference giants came in March 2020 in front of a national television audience. As the league continues to grow Curtin noted that it does make it harder for the to keep an eye on all of the teams in the league. Especially when it comes to teams from the othere conference which rarely cross pathes with the Boys in Blue.
“There was a time where I was a player and as a manager where you knew every player inside and out in this league,” Curtin said. “Now as you get up to 28 teams and with 30 man rosters, I’ll just say we analyze the west a little bit less now. We certainly don’t play a lot of the West anymore until MLS Cup or maybe an Open Cup so it doesn’t making as much sense as you are breaking them down.”
Nonetheless the Union know that they will play against a very dangerous opponent on Saturday night at 11 p.m. ET on PHL17.
“They played some great Soccer all year again they defend very well as a team,” Curtin said. “They’re organized and they are great in transitions. What is even more impressive is if you look at the data, they are the best team in the league in offensive transitions but also defensive transitions so we will have our work cut out for us to get a result on the road.”
Play, Travel, Recover
An added layer to the 2,700 mile trip to Los Angeles is that it will not be the Union’s only leg of the trip. Curtin announced the Union will travel straight from Los Angeles to Orlando to play their Round of 32 match against Orlando City in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. With the possibility of squad rotation needed, Curtin said that the focus is right now only on Saturday night.
“Our priority right now is going all in for three points against LAFC there is no games you can kind of just throw away in this league, every point is valuable. It’s a busy schedule, it’s the fun part of the year where you are basically playing, recovering and going again so it’s a good test for us early in the season but I think we will get through these tough games by getting better.”
With so many games in a short succession, Curtin did say that you could expect to see some changes to the lineup but not major ones based upon years of league data the club has compiled.
“You have to find a way to put a balance and to put premium on certain points,” Curtin said. “You obviously want advance in competitions that are a knockout.”
Returning to LA
The Union’s return to Banc of California Stadium also serves as a reminder of just how far the Union have grown since their last match up. Prior to the 2020 kick off, the Union were seen as one of the possible rising clubs in the league but many thought the club’s use of Academy grown talent couldn’t lead to a trophy. With a 3-3 draw just before the Covid-19 pandemic it served as a lasting moment that the club utilized for momentum that led to a lifting the Supporters’ Shield.
“I still love talking about this game because it was a crazy game for a lot of reasons,” Curtin said. “It was really entertaining because was on national TV against was a great LAFC team but selfishly for us you know we were kind a new and we still had a lot of unknowns People knew that Andre Blake was great right but people did not know really quite yet who Jakob Glesnes was. I think he put us on the map with the goal that he scored and we still watch the highlights and the replay of that. Brandon Aaronson was still an up and coming young player but in that game he played as fearless as anybody and made a name from himself and really a name from Philadelphia in what he has done now and probably moving on to a top club in a top league in Europe.”
“Jose Martinez that was the first game he ever played for us. You know, a young kid from Venezuela who was on the league minimum contract who because of an injury got thrown out there and rose to the occasion more so than ever and has emerged as one of the best No. 6’s in our league so I think it put us the map and maybe in more ways than people realize.”
“Maybe you can take that game and do a 30 for 30 for me on it. There is a lot of cool story lines and it let to us ultimately starting that run. To win the Supporters’ Shield, doing a little bit better and better each year in the playoffs. It was certainly a big moment in our club’s history and again there are little moments that lead to bigger moments. I think we are still a growing club. One that does think a little differently. One that you know, a lot of people talk about now and something that we are proud of. But certainly you can go through that game with a lot of big things happened that night.”