As the first full week of Philadelphia Union’s preseason training wraps up, fans, players and Head Coach Jim Curtin have their sights set on April 7 as the Union travel to Costa Rica to face Deportivo Saprissa in the opening round of the Concacaf Champions League.
The Union’s offseason saw the European departures of homegrowns Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie but the club added to the group five homegrowns and center back Stuart Findley. With training underway, Curtin was asked if there were more additions to come.
“I think every team is still looking to add and looking to update but the timing has to be right, the fit has to be right,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “I can say with confidence that I really believe in and love the group that we have right now and I know that we can compete for trophies. At the same time we are always looking to upgrade and I’m sure there will be a piece or two that comes in and joins this group moving forward into 2021. The group that you see right now is not the final product that wants to still be playing in December and I think that is clear but at the same time the guys that are here are putting in really good work right now.”
A quick look over the Union’s current roster composition suggests that a few positions could get an upgrade over the course of 2021 as a congested schedule features not only Champions League and a 34-game MLS schedule plus the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup but players could be called in for the Olympics and other international competitions. One area that was asked about was the centerback position that saw rotation to keep fresh and shutdown opposing offenses.
“If two stand out and grab a hold of things and run with it then we can go with that but I do recognize the reality of playing Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday is that we are going to need all of them to do well,” Curtin said of the position. “Right now we have three that are in here and Brandan Craig is taking reps now as a centerback and he can also do the job. I don’t want to oversimplify our league but good goalkeeping and good center backs is a recipe for the playoffs and we have three really, really good centerbacks. There is going to be rotation no doubt about it and we will rely on all three of them to play and start games.”
Remaining on that end of the pitch, the goalkeeping spot is locked down by defending MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake but the international calendar could force the Union to make an addition as Matt Freese could miss time during the season with the U.S. U-23 squad as it looks to secure a spot in the Olympics.
“Having great players can hurt you during the course of the season,” Curtin said. “Matt is in the mix to be a part of the Olympics and pushing to have that No. 1 spot for a very good Olympic team. Andre is well known for Jamaica and it is a very busy calendar during the summer so again there are some solutions in place for that and we wonder if we have to add a fourth or do we explore other options.”
At the other end of the Union lineup the club had a few days this week where all three forwards were missing from training. Cory Burke returned on Thursday and Kacper Przybylko is slated to return Friday after the birth of his first child.
“Is three strikers enough the answer to that is if all three of them stay healthy for 34 games then absolutely three is plenty,” Curtin said. “Reality is they could miss one for an international break, you’ll have little injuries like we had with Sergio so we are talking about internal solutions to solve the problem. I think we’ll give more reps to Jack de Vries who can float underneath a striker and he had a really good partnership the other day with Kacper where Jack had the freedom to drift out left and do what he does really well which is isolate 1v1 and deliver crosses in. Ilsinho can obviously do it in a pinch but you can also alternate your formation to play with wingers. There are many ideas and then you could always bring in another type of striker than the three that we have so maybe a guy that runs in behind more with pace. We have some good solutions in house but we are always keeping an eye out.”
Philadelphia Union continues to train in market ahead of departing to Clearwater, Florida, that will feature closed-door scrimmages against Orlando City SC and Chicago Fire.