Ahead of the Philadelphia Union’s debut at the CONCACAF Champions League against Deportivo Saprissa, Head Coach Jim Curtin met with the media to provide some updates heading into the first leg. Here are some of the key takeaways.
A First for Curtin
Even for Jim Curtin, who has played in the tournament before, the format of Champions League puts the Union manager in uncharted territory. Unlike in the current format of MLS Cup, this tournament features a two-leg competition where the aggregate score will determine the final winner. The Union was only able to bring an 18-man roster to the game as opposed to the 20-man roster in the MLS. Decisions had to be made for who would come with the team, though the sheer number of injuries the Union are dealing with made that list a little easier to determine. Additionally, both sides will be able to call on five substitutes during play instead of the usual three traditionally seen in the sport.”
“It becomes about getting through the first 90 minutes. That’s essentially halftime,” Curtin said. “Recognizing that you cannot necessarily win the tie in the first 90-minutes but you can lose it. The last 15 minutes of games things can change quickly, and you really have to focus most defensively especially on the road. Away goals become increasingly valuable. In a league game situation, you may pack it in in a 3-0 game. If you can push and sneak out an away goal that can be huge.”
To make a long answer short, Curtin is fully expecting everybody he brought to Costa Rica to be prepared to play tomorrow. That is some welcomed news for the club as Kacper Przybylko will be playing after running into back issues during the MLS preseason. He has experienced some lower back pain but he has been able to train at the last three sessions. The team will have a strong starting unit for the match, but you can expect to see some of the young guns on the field at the end of the match. Jack De Vries did make the trip down to Costa Rica with the team, but it remains to be seen if he will see any playing time after being held out with a concussion sustained in preseason action.
There is no favorite
In Costa Rica the belief is that American soccer, and the MLS in particular, is a more competitive than Costa Rican Soccer. Jim Curtin does not entirely buy into that belief as someone who has faced off against Saprissa himself. “This country takes incredible pride in its football. They have had incredible players over the years. We recognize the MLS as a whole and is continuing to improve, but there is still so much talent in Costa Rica with their league and the national team has done amazing things in the World Cup.” Plain and simple Curtin echoed “There is no favorite.” All that said the Union will have one advantage tomorrow as Saprissa will be without fans. Curtin knows just how lucky his side is as Saprissa fans can be quite intimidating for the away team.
It is a tough task to come into Costa Rica and leave with a win. Though Saprissa is not necessarily having the domestic success that they have grown accustomed to, Curtin knows there is no easy game. “Every team in this tournament is a champion and we must respect that. The biggest games bring out the best in top players and they have a lot of top players.” After a lot of offseason scouting due to the hiatus, as well as some former MLS players, Saprissa has some weapons to look out for. Kendall Waston at center back and Christian Bolaños, David Guzman, and Mariano Torres in the midfield are just a few names on Curtin’s radar for tomorrow.
The Union face off against Deportivo Saprissa on Wednesday afternoon. Kick off from Costa Rica is set for 6 p.m. ET and can be seen on FS1 and TUDN.