After three games in a week, Philadelphia Union finally got some rest after their 3-3 draw in Chicago. Head Coach Jim Curtin spoke to the media ahead of Saturday’s game away to Nashville SC. Here are our Founders Brewing Co. Pressing Points.
First Time in the Music City
With 2020 forcing many adjustments to the Union’s schedule, they still have yet to face expansion team Nashville SC. Saturday’s hosts have taken four points from their last three matches and are known around the league for their stingy defense. The match will see the second-highest goalscorer in Union history, current Nashville striker CJ Sapong, play against his former club.
“They’re a team that does not give up a lot of clear-cut chances in the run of play,” Curtin said. “[Nashville SC Head Coach] Gary Smith has done a great job with them, having them organized, difficult to play against, and in their attacking moments still a dangerous team.”
Both the Union and Nashville prioritize the defensive side of the game. The two teams each rank in the top third of the league in terms of goals allowed this season: the Union have allowed 10 goals in 11 games while Nashville have allowed 11 goals in 10 games.
“We’ll have to be organized and we’ll have to be really decisive in our transitions from defense to attack,” Curtin said. “Once they set up their [defensive] blocks, they’re very tough to break down.”
A trio of Union players will be joining Daniel Gazdag (European Championships) and Jose ‘El Brujo’ Martinez (Copa America) as international call ups this summer as Andre Blake, Cory Burke, and Alvas Powell have been named to Jamaica's roster for the Concacaf Gold Cup.
“It’s good for them to be called in,” Curtin said. “It’s a great opportunity for Andre, Cory, and Alvas."
With Blake departing for the tournament, which runs from July 10 to August 1, Curtin says that the team will need goalkeepers Matt Freese and Joe Bendik to be ready. The coach said that he is encouraged by their training performances
Martinez has come back from the Copa America with Venezuela, where he started in three of his team’s four matches, mostly playing as a wide midfielder. Curtin said he will be available for Saturday’s match. t
“He should come back with nothing but more confidence as he comes back to our team,” Curtin said. “I know a lot of scouts watched the games and were very impressed with Jose, and we’re starting to hear that now.
Leon Flach was not called up to the United States’ Gold Cup roster, but Curtin is not too disappointed, especially with five games on the Union’s schedule during the Gold Cup. Flach, who also spoke to the media, said he is focused on keeping up his good form with the Union and that he is pleased with the current situation at the club.
“It’s good from the Union perspective,” Curtin said. “I think Leon was right on the cusp. [US Soccer] still thinks very highly of him. The conversations were good ones, just at this time, he wasn’t selected. They wanted to look at some other players. But they know what Leon brings. He’s certainly on their radar, even when all the top international players are there.”
Looking to the Future
With the U15 team in the MLS NEXT playoff final and Quinn Sullivan scoring a goal worthy of SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays in his first MLS start, the club’s future is looking bright.
“It was huge, it was a great moment,” Curtin said. “I put it on par with Brenden Aaronson’s goal in Atlanta or Mark McKenzie shutting down David Villa. Those moments stick in your head because they’re their first moments in their pathway. I was really happy… everybody in Philadelphia was very proud of Quinn and what he did in that game.”
According to Curtin, Sullivan has already become a celebrity after his wondergoal.
“I heard a rumor that Quinn spent the weekend watching some of his brothers and cousins at Beach Blast in Wildwood where he probably had a level of fame that he’s never had in his life after being No. 2 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 the evening before for scoring a bicycle kick,” Curtin said. “I’m disappointed in ESPN that frisbee golf was No. 1 on the day, but that’s another discussion.”
Curtin also shared his happiness with the U15 team’s effort to make its way to the MLS NEXT playoff final, which he says the first team has been watching.
“I’m most proud that they play the same way we do,” Curtin said. “It’s fun to watch. A lot of the same principles and same ideas are coming out. Sure, they’re a little younger and a little smaller and not quite as fast or athletic yet, but that will come in time. They’re playing in a way that’s the Philadelphia Union way. It’s a miniature version of the first team, which makes you proud.”