During last week’s press conference Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin noted one of the biggest differences in this year’s team was its depth. While that word has been used by nearly every coach in every sport, the Union’s current form -- six results in their last seven matches – is a clear representation of the word “depth”.
“Three or four years ago with the roster as much as I had to dance around guys calling for ‘rotate the squad, rotate the squad’, if we did we certainly would not be able to compete with some of the other quality of the opponents that we were playing against,” Curtain said prior to the Vancouver match. “We were strong 12, 13 guys whereas now I think we can go 20 deep and say there is not much fall off for this roster.”
A team that is 20 players deep and still getting results might be a nice soundbite or clever talking point but for the Union that is literally how many players have started in the last seven – again, only one loss in there -- matches.
Let that sink in.
The credit for the current run of success begins with the players on the pitch. From designated players to the final player on the squad, each training session and match has crafted readiness so no matter which player is called upon, and regardless of the situation they step into, Jim Curtin knows they will be ready.
Suspension? Insert the next man up. Last second injury? A teammate has your back. On the pitch, you wouldn’t be able to notice which player was penciled in days or even hours ago, and it showed in Curtin’s postgame comments after the 1-1 draw against the Whitecaps.
“I could go through the names. Each and every guy, Matt Freese stepping up for a 20-year-old, looking very calm and composed back there in a hostile environment. The performance from Gaddis and Mbaizo, the center backs did a decent job other than the free kick. The midfield was solid and stable, and obviously Kacper [Przybylko] -- a big contribution for him. So every guy has stepped up in a big way, we’ve used our whole roster. It’s been some challenging situations for us on and off the field this year: suspensions, family things, injuries. But really I give full credit to the players and the strength of this roster that we have.”
Five players have made their MLS debuts during the streak and all have left positive impacts in their wake. Goalkeepers Carlos Miguel Coronel and Matt Freese were forced to slot in for the club’s all-time leader in every statistical keeper category and picked up points in each contest. Homegrown Brenden Aaronson went on the road to the defending MLS Cup champions and scored a goal in his debut. Jamiro Monteiro saw out a road shutout at Cincinnati and began the comeback against FC Dallas with a wicked shot. And, of course, Przybylko made the most of his first MLS start with the game-tying goal against Vancouver, finishing off a pass from Monteiro.
“Not everyone can play, and not everyone can play in all these big games because it’s very tough to always play 90 minutes,” Przybylko said postgame. “We need to try always to do the best pressing, so we also need people to get this chance on the bench to get some minutes.”
As the Union head into their first two-game week of 2019 with home contests against FC Cincinnati and New England Revolution, Jim Curtin will rely on his complete roster and this year it is packed full of players eager to put on a performance when called upon.