Atlanta United will enter Philadelphia’s fortress for a midweek matchup with postseason implications on Wednesday, kicking off the Union’s final regular season homestand of 2023. Before the match, Head Coach Jim Curtin met with the media, previewing what’s to come for his side in their final stretch before the postseason.
After persevering through one of the busiest slates of their 2023 schedule with an injured and exhausted squad, Curtin’s group will nearly be back in full force on Wednesday. Jakob Glesnes, Jose Martinez, and Leon Flach are each expected to return to the bench after missing time due to injury and rest, and the only starter missing from selection will be Kai Wagner due to card accumulation.
“Happy to get them all back. We'll have to decide who's ready to start and who's ready to come off the bench. But outside of Leon [Flach], the other two haven't missed a ton of game time, so they still were able to maintain fitness.”
Though the defensive trio will be back on the gameday roster, Curtin and his staff will continue to monitor their respective ailments as their season persists.
“With both Jakob and Leon, they've gotten two opinions. They're in a lot of pain. But it's a matter of that pain tolerance and navigating that and being smart,” Curtin said.
“They're getting treatment, they're doing all the things they can. But it's not something that's going to all of a sudden wake up tomorrow and feel good. And it's not something that can heal. So obviously, we'll explore things in the offseason. But right now, they're ready to go and make a push down the stretch here in these last three games and then the playoffs.”
The last time the Union took on Atlanta United was on Independence Day, losing 2-0 after an impressive performance from the team’s 22-year-old Argentine Designated Player Thiago Almada. During his pregame press conference, Curtin spoke to what he gleaned from that last meeting, what’s changed since then, and how they can flip the script when Atlanta makes the trip to Philadelphia’s home turf.
“We had a penalty early and from that point, that building when it gets loud, you start chasing it, it becomes very difficult. So they were at a point at that stage, if you remember, where they were a little bit desperate for points. And that's hard when you run into a team on the road like that was backed up against the wall a little bit.”
Since then, Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda has welcomed new depth to his already talented roster during the Summer transfer window. Four players joined his group, namely, Jamal Thiaré, Xande Silva, Saba Lobjanidze, and Tristan Muyumba.
“They're strengthening that roster and pretty quickly adds two wingers that are a real handful, a six that is as good as any I've seen so far. So they've really strengthened their team, it's going to be very difficult, and they're a much different team than the one that we played early on in Atlanta,” Curtin said.
“Obviously, at our home stadium we've had a pretty strong record, too, and when we play Atlanta, it's always a really tough test. They're a good team, so you can't take a ton from that one. We had the penalty early. And like I said, we didn't play our best. I'll say a questionable penalty, early too if I remember. But overall, we changed formations that day, kind of pieced together a lineup, and they got the best of us on the day. So, have to have a good response now. It's a big game, you see the points and how tight the table is. So yeah, a big match against a good Eastern Conference team.”
Securing the score
Philadelphia enters the matchup after claiming five consecutive draws, most recently tying Columbus Crew 1-1 on Saturday. Within a crowded Eastern Conference table, each point moving forward has a monumental impact on the standings. Curtin spoke to the importance of capitalizing on scoring opportunities when they arise when there’s postseason home field advantage on the line.
“We get chances every game. We had a lot even on the road in Columbus. If you take your chances at this stage of the year, that's usually who comes out on top. Who does the best in that red zone offensively and who does the best in that red zone defensively,” Curtin said.
“I don't think we've struggled to create good opportunities, we have struggled to finish them off – and that even goes for our restarts. If the amount of times we get on the end of restarts and Kai [Wagner] whips in a good ball, where Nathan [Harriel] scores the one, but we had three or four other opportunities in that game. So the margins get really tight, the chances are less and less at this stage of the season. So again, finishing those chances is going to be the difference maker in terms of whether we finish second or whether we finish out of that top four.”