Ahead of tomorrow’s second leg of Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinal against Atlanta United FC, Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin met with the media to provide some updates heading into the final leg. Here are some of the key takeaways.
Atlanta coming out strong
“The job is only halfway done.” Curtin’s words that echo through the locker room heading into Tuesday night’s tilt against Atlanta. Atlanta of course boasts is a high-quality team and is coming into Subaru Park knowing that they have their work cut out for them. If the Union thought Atlanta came out aggressive on their home turf, it can be reasonably assumed that that was the tip of the iceberg compared to what they will need to bring on Tuesday. “They have to throw numbers forward. Their approach was aggressive in Atlanta and they’re a very good team. The longer we keep a clean sheet the numbers they will have to throw forward will increase. It’s going to be an effort of bend but don’t break, and then try to be efficient in the counterattack situations.”
Curtin said the plan of action is to take the game in 15-minute intervals, hoping to set the tone of play in that crucial first 15 minutes. The team is aware of the attacking weapons Atlanta has at their disposal with players like Josef Martinez. “In our home stadium we always like to be proactive and not reactive. We don’t want a situation where they jump out infant of us like in Atlanta. We want to be aggressive and play our style in our home building at Subaru Park.”
Natural Flach coming to No. 6 spot
As soon as José Martinez picked up his yellow card in the Union’s first leg match against Atlanta, Curtin and his staff began prepping for who would fill that role in José’s absence for the second leg. Always prepared, the team has what Curtin calls a “1A and a 1B plan” depending on what the game calls for. As it stands it seems as though Union newcomer Leon Flach, who has been playing on the left side of the midfield diamond so far this season, will slide over and take control of the spot left by Brujo. “When he has played on the side of the diamond it’s been great.” Curtin praised his young midfielder. “He has the instincts of a 6 and also of a left back. The closing speed and everything that goes along with those positions.”
The move to the 6 will be a seamless one for Flach who came up through his academy playing the 6 and is actually the position he is most comfortable at. Though he has been playing the 8 role so far he was brought in with the intention of moving him around to the 6 when the lineup needed it. The value of Flach’s flexibility in the midfield will be at an all-time high with El Brujo set to miss time in league play as well.
Champions League Toll
Survive and advance has been the priority for all the MLS teams involved in the opening month of the season. The five remaining MLS teams in the competitions have combined for only two wins in their 13 league matches as a result. Philly and ATL are both coming into the second leg off short weeks and without some key players out for the match, but neither side is making excuses. Though they’re not taking them lightly, the Union are aware that the onus is on Atlanta to come into Subaru Park and come away with a big victory. The Union know what is on the line. “This is a very big moment.” Said Union Keeper Andre Blake. “It is Champions League and we are very close to being in the semi’s. The final four. We have to enjoy the moment and keep going.”
It will require a strong defensive performance, which always helps when you have an experienced keeper like Blake backing you. Blake is no stranger to CONCACAF competition having competed in competitions like the Gold Cup before. “It feels different not doing it with Jamaica, but the good thing is it’s football and football is universal.” Said Blake. “We know this is a big moment. We continue to create history for the club and hopefully can go all the way.
The Union look to knock out Atlanta United from competition and move on to the semifinal round of the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions league. Kickoff is tomorrow evening at Subaru Park at 8pm ET with the match broadcast on FS1 and TUDN.