With the Round of 16 of the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League behind them, Philadelphia Union are turning their focus to the MLS opener against Columbus. Head Coach Jim Curtin met with the media today provide some team updates. Here are our Founder Brewing Co. Pressing Points.
Brujo continues to thrive
When Jose Martinez joined the Union last season, Sporting Director Ernst Tanner described him as a longer-term project meaning that he might need some work. Tanner, the master of underselling and over delivering on talent, managed expectations well with Brujo so as to not put too much pressure on him. Funny enough El Brujo likes the pressure according to Curtin. “He’s not afraid to make mistakes, he’s not afraid to leave his heart on the field and leave everything out there. He just continues to get better.”
Brujo’s ability to cover ground and do the job of two reminded Curtin of a familiar face to Union fans, former captain Maurice Edu. This was only amplified when talking about Jose’s passing ability out of the midfield. “They’re a heck of a lot better with the ball than people realize. His ability to make the pass or make the pass that leads to the pass to the goal. Whether it’s winning the ball or making the forward pass he’s involved in almost all of them.”
As the teams came out for the second half in the Champions League second match still tied 0-0 there was an air of uncertainty about who would draw first blood. Not long thereafter Anthony Fontana drew a penalty in the box and Jamiro Monteiro confidently lined up to take the shot for the team. Converting the penalty to put the Union up 2-0 on aggregate for their first-round battle firmly entrenched Monteiro as the Union’s penalty taker for the foreseeable future.
“We will have a designated penalty taker each time, unless the guy gets injured before the penalty kick. It was Jamiro’s time, he stepped up and went down the middle with it and executed in a big pressure moment.” To hammer home just who will be taking the kicks for the squad Curtin echoed with a chuckle “Until he misses he’s on them.”
The sprint to June
For the Union meaningful games are aplenty to start the year having just wrapped up the first round of the Champions League. Now quickly pivoting to begin their MLS play against the reigning the MLS Cup champions they face a tall task in a good Columbus Crew team that is also coming off of a first round Champions League win.
The Union will resume Champions League play on April 27th when they face off against Atlanta United in the Quarterfinals. With that the team will suit up for five games by May 4th for the beginning of what Curtin calls “the sprint to June.” The balancing act that the team faces between the Champions League and the MLS regular season is only amplified by the “unique Open Cup” as Curtin eloquently puts it. The first three MLS games this year will dictate who qualifies for the Open Cup, meaning that every time the Union step on the field for the next few weeks they are effectively playing an elimination game.
The Union will kick of their 2021 MLS campaign on the road against Columbus this Sunday April 18th at 5:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on FS1.