The defending Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Union start their new journey on Saturday night as the Boys in Blue open the season at Subaru Park against the Columbus Crew. Ahead of the start of the season, Head Coach Jim Curtin spoke with the media on Wednesday and talked about kicking of a new campaign and how the club is handling the outside noise associated with being one of the favorites for MLS Cup.
Continuity For the Boys in Blue
After such a success 2022 campaign, many expected that the Union would lose key pieces from the squad to Europe. Instead, the Boys in Blue return all 11 starters from the MLS Cup Final and top 12 players in minutes played for the 2023 season. With so many pieces back, Curtin said that it is continuity that isn’t brought up enough.
“We’ve been able to stay together and we all know each other’s strengths and that includes both the coaches and players,” Curtin said on Wednesday during his virtual press conference. “Maybe more importantly we know how to hide each other’s weaknesses which is a really powerful thing. The fact that this group stays healthy all season for the most part thanks to our great sports performance department it means we get to play over and over in training and in games; I think it’s been a real weapon for us.”
Curtin acknowledged that it is a whole new journey this year with 50+ matches expected which will test the club’s depth. The preseason slate was used to prepare the club for just that with countless players getting to learn each other’s tendencies. With a new year sometimes defense can have an advantage early but the Union head coach believes this club is prepared to weather however Saturday starts out.
“The offensive part I do believe takes a little bit longer to click for sure but if your principles are strong, you defend as a team and don’t concede goals then you’ll be in every game,” Curtin said. “We know we have talent with Mikael Uhre getting a full preseason now and having his first full year in the league, much like Daniel [Gazdag], I could see him breakout. [Julian] Carranza has been incredible in preseason and Daniel Gazdag is coming off a MVP like year. That front three is going to score a lot of goals and we’ll have midfielders chip in with some goals and a few on restarts. I do believe that the defense is our most important part and it’s our foundation and offense will come as the weather heats up.”
Block Out The Noise
After such a memorable run that saw the club claim the Eastern Conference Championship and come within minutes of a MLS Cup, expectations for Philly are at an all-time high which the staff is guarding against.
“We had a film session where I said point blank to the full group that everyone is picking us to win and be in first place which is unchartered territory for us and it’s a dangerous thing,” Curtin said. “We have to block out and not read our headlines and not get too high because this game has a way of humbling you. There are plenty of examples in our league’s history of teams that have gone to finals and had a difficult time the following season because they get complacent. I just gave them a reminder that while yes there is noise outside about how great we are, don’t get caught reading those because you can get yourself into trouble fast.”
Those expectations do have merit though as no team has claimed more regular season points over the last four seasons than the Union. Those results in the regular season have led to major success with the 2020 Supporters’ Shield, 2021 Concacaf Champions League Semifinal appearance, 2022 Eastern Conference Championship and a trip to the 2022 MLS Cup.
“They have grown each year but with the season we had last year, they have gone very high. It will be tough to replicate our goals against and goals for but we’ll do our best to do that and that will mean another very special season. We have to go for every point, every clean sheet and every win that we can get because we know how tight it will be at the end of the season. That’s the difference between hosting a MLS Cup Final or going on the road for one so you have to go for every goal and goal against.”
2023 Home Opener
Don't miss seeing the Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Union open the 2023 season at Subaru Park against the Columbus Crew on Saturday, February 25th! Watch free on the Apple TV app.
Nancy’s New Look Crew
Whlie the Union have had continuity in the offseason, their opposition for Saturday has had quite the opposite. Wilfred Nancy will roam the sideline for his first match in charge for the Columbus Crew after coming over from CF Montreal where he lead the Canadian side to a second-place regular season finish in the East.
“We have a very tough opponent for week 1 and Wilfred Nancy is one of the top coaches in our league and he’s implementing a new with some really highly talented players on his roster. We know it will be cold but we know the crowd at Subaru Park will be loud and filled with energy which will be great. I’ve been stressing to my players that you only get one home opener each year so make the most of it and make it a memorable night.”
While the club might still be trying to fully incorporate their new manager’s style and tactics, they possess
Wilfred will implement a new way of playing and you can see that in the tape that we’ve seen. As much as they will change there will still be things that don’t and that starts right up the middle. Darlington Nagbe who between the 18-yard boxes is one of the best players our country has ever had and our league has ever had. It starts with him and with Lucas Zelarayan and Cucho [Hernandez] right up the spine of the team. They have some real weapons and are really dangerous so I expect the shape to be different, the tactics will be different. I expect it to evolve from Week 1 to Week 34 but those names aren’t big surprises so we’ll need to do a good job on the day to keep a clean sheet.
The Boys in Blue battle the Columbus Crew on Saturday, February 25th with the match available for free on Apple TV app.