Sometimes the best response to a tough defeat is a quick turnaround, and the Union will test that theory on Tuesday when they travel to El Salvador to open their 2023 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League campaign against Primera Division leading Alianza F.C.
Jim Curtin suggested last week that he could rotate his squad for the club’s SCCL opener, and that could mean Damion Lowe, Nate Harriel, Jack McGlynn, Andres Perea, and Joaquin Torres could get their first starts of the season.
Curtin is likely to stick with Andre Blake in goal, but if the goalkeeper is rested, Holden Trent could see his first action as a professional.
Alianza is the only club in the Primera Division with a double-digit positive goal differential this season. Their 5-4-0 record has been driven by a stout defense that has only allowed two goals, and after opening the year with a pair of 3-0 wins the attack has produced only 5 goals in the last seven games.
Oscar Rodriguez and Marvin Monterroza knocked in two of those five last weekend during a shutout victory over CD FAS. However, Alianza lost Juan Carlos Portillo and Alexander Larin to first half injuries and their status for Tuesday’s contest is unclear.
The Union will see Alianza’s organized defense as a great test for their attacking depth. Cory Burke’s departure for New York Red Bulls and Paxten Aaronson’s big money move to Frankfurt have left a lot of high-end but unproven offensive talent behind Julian Carranza, Mikael Uhre, and Daniel Gazdag. Joaquin Torres can play in the forward line or in midfield and Chris Donovan was lively and effective in preseason up top, but Quinn Sullivan’s recent form for the US Men’s U-20 Youth National Team makes him the player to watch if he gets into the first eleven on Tuesday night.
In back, new arrival Damion Lowe could get his first minutes after what Jim Curtin has described as a very strong preseason. Lowe and Brandan Craig are excellent distributors in back, and both are looking to prove they can organize a back line at the same level as perennial Defender of the Year candidate Jack Elliott and current Defender of the Year Jakob Glesnes.
Tactically, one big question for Curtin will be whether this is the match that calls for the 5-back system he rolled out at times in preseason. With three central defenders, Curtin could send Matt Real or Kai Wagner galloping up the left wing and install Nate Harriel as a strong defensive option on the right.
Of all the lineup changes Curtin could make, adding Jack McGlynn to the midfield seems the surest thing. McGlynn started MLS Cup and is only held out of the starting lineup by the unmatched defensive work from Leon Flach and the ageless tactical intelligence of Ale Bedoya. McGlynn can partner with Flach, Jose Martinez, Jesus Bueno, or Richard Odada at the base of midfield or play on the side of a diamond and look for the ball in the channels before spreading it around the attacking half.
A consistent refrain from Curtin over the past few seasons has been his side’s commitment to winning every match in every competition they enter. The team’s intensity won’t wane in El Salvador on Tuesday, but the tactics will be laid out with both legs of this showdown in mind. Alianza has to come to Subaru Park on March 14 and the Union want to make the away side chase the game from the start when the Philly faithful are chanting and bouncing. Few teams can handle Philly’s direct, threatening counterattacks while simultaneously chasing goals, so the Union want to bring an advantage home, but can settle for a point and still leave in a good position.
The Union and Alianza FC kick off at 8:00 p.m. ET on March 7 live on FS1 and TUDN then meet for Leg 2 on March 14 at Subaru Park at 8:00 p.m. ET. Tickets are available for the second leg now.