Philadelphia Union are back at Subaru Park as they host the Portland Timbers on Sunday night. Coming off of a 1-0 win at D.C. United last weekend, Head Coach Jim Curtin spoke with the media ahead of the nationally broadcast contest. Here are our Founders Brewing Co. Pressing Points.
Ready for the Challenge
The match marks the first time since the two sides faced off in the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament Semifinals with the Timbers getting past the Boys in Blue and eventually winning the Orlando-based event. Curtin stressed the confidence he has in his defense while pointing out the solid identity that Portland has created under Head Coach Giovanni Savarese.
“We’re a group that has a real belief defensively that we can keep a clean sheet,” Curtin said. “We want to try and improve some of our attacking movements, our possession. We will look to do that going into a very difficult opponent in Portland, a team that’s always well-organized.”
With three clean sheets in the last four Union matches and one goal allowed in that span (compared to five goals scored), Curtin wants his team to build on that defensive solidity while showing improvement with the ball. The coach praised Jakob Glesnes for his Man of the Match performance against D.C., and said that the whole team is committed to the defensive side of the ball. He also said that assistant coach Pat Noonan, who has played an instrumental role in the defense’s success, should be one of the to take a Major League Soccer head coaching job (although Curtin does not want to lose him).
Despite not having beaten the Timbers in the last six seasons, the Union Head Coach expects his team to play fearlessly.
“We want to go into the break with a good result,” Curtin said. “Most importantly, a performance on the offensive side of the field that is better and [looks] more like the Philadelphia Union, so we’ll look to achieve that goal against a good opponent on Sunday and then have some time to recover for the second portion of the season.”
Curtin mentioned how having fans back in the stands makes winning more rewarding both at home and on the road, and he looks forward to seeing Subaru Park opening up to 75% capacity this weekend.
Another battle in the midfield
Curtin spoke about how the Timbers’ system under Savarese revolves around midfielders Diego Valeri—the 2017 MLS Most Valuable Player—and Eryk Williamson, especially with midfielders Diego Chara and Sebastian Blanco missing time due to injury.
“When you watch Portland play, they look the same all the time, and that’s the biggest compliment you can give,” Curtin said. “They have a true identity and a true way they want to play both offensively and defensively as well as in transition. I think they were unlucky in certain parts of the year, too, when some results didn’t go their way when they played great soccer.
Although Savarese’s strategy has stayed the same through a period with plenty of injuries, the Timbers’ shape has changed during that spell. They have used a few formations in recent weeks, including a 4-4-2 similar to the Union’s usual system.
“If they do match up in a version of a 4-4-2 diamond, then it becomes—similar to the Red Bull game—more about looking across from you at the man you’re up against and winning the duel on that day,” Curtin said. “It’s going to be a tough game for us, for sure. It starts with Valeri, trying to limit his touches, and he’s going to get on the ball because he’s so special and talented, but you want to make him play [the ball] square and backwards as much as possible. And with Williamson and his engine, not having him be on the ball as much helps as well.”
New attacking midfield signing Daniel Gazdag made his debut on Sunday against D.C. after one day of training, and he has left the squad to join up with the Hungarian national team ahead of its European Championship campaign. The Union’s new No. 6 will compete in a group with France, Germany, and Portugal. Each of those three nations has won a major international trophy within the last decade.
“We came to an agreement with Hungary that it was best to have Daniel there for them, to not have [his transfer] affect his selection for one of the most important competitions in his young, brief career,” Curtin said. “I give Daniel a ton of credit for jumping into the team, training once, helping us in a wild, kind of crazy game and a good three points. I wish him the best of luck, obviously, at the Euros. It’s no easy task when you get Germany, France, and Portugal [in the group], but in football, you never know.
Curtin said that midfielder Jack De Vries is still in concussion protocol and not training, and that while winger Ilsinho “is getting better and better,” he is not ready for selection after undergoing surgery last week. Additionally, goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh had surgery recently “to clean up his knee,” according to Curtin
Injuries to Timbers players including Chara, Blanco, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Andy Polo, and Christhian Paredes, among others will see a different Portland group than their first-choice XI, but Curtin knows squad depth is one of the team’s strengths. Despite those injuries, Portland beat the L.A. Galaxy 3-0 and the San Jose Earthquakes 2-0 in their last two games
“It’s a great opponent and a really strong team that has confidence and belief,” Curtin said. “They’re missing a lot of great players. Oftentimes, early in the season, you learn a lot about your group when you have adversity and certainly, his group had adversity with the injuries that they’ve had, but it shows the character of the team and the coach and the entire staff that they’ve just plugged away and gotten really good results.
The Boys in Blue will face off against the Timbers on Sunday, May 30th. The match will be broadcast on both FS1 and Fox Deportes. Tickets are going fast so make sure you click here before they are all gone.