Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin spoke to the media ahead of Saturday’s showdown with Atlanta United FC. Here are a few key takeaways as the Union prepare for the team currently sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Right on the Mark
Homegrown center back Mark McKenzie left Wednesday night’s match against Chicago with a right knee injury, but he was back in training today.
"When the play happened in the game, I instantly feared the worst just because there's not a ton of contact,” Curtin said. “I thought there might have been a serious injury to the knee. He had an MRI yesterday and showed no structural damage at all. So basically, what he could tolerate today, and he got through the warm-up, felt fine, so he'll be good to go on the weekend, which is very good for us.”
Alongside fellow homegrown defender Auston Trusty, McKenzie has been a rock for a Union side that has defended well for most of the first third of the season.
“I think you just have honest conversations with them,” Curtin said when asked about handling the workload for his key midfield trio — Ale Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin and Borek Dockal.
“They're guys who have been thru these stretches, whether it be in big competitions in Europe, whether it be in leagues at the highest level, they know their bodies well, we have the data that comes back physically that gets analyzed by us so we see where they're at and how they're responding."
“If they're in the game, and it's only 60 minutes they can give, then it's 60 minutes. And we have good cover and good reserves to go in and change the game. But we can't go in and pace ourselves. We're not a good enough team — no team is good enough in MLS — to go in with the mindset of ‘Oh, I'm going to ease myself through 90 minutes,’ because the league is too competitive and you get punished.”
Priorities and the U.S. Open Cup
“There will be an opportunity for some young guys to step up against Richmond [on Tuesday night],” Curtin assured those assembled.
“We know Richmond pretty well with the Steel having played them twice, our whole squad will be called upon. I think one thing you've seen this year is that we're giving more guys opportunities.”
Building on that, the Union coach used the U.S. Open Cup match to drive home a point about how the club’s young players approach the game. “They work hard and train hard each and every day. That's what it is to be a professional,” Curtin said. “It's easy to be a professional when you're in the eleven, in the 18 and things are going well for you, but now when your number is called upon, whether it's in an open cup game, whether it's in the last minutes of an Atlanta game to close it out, there are different responsibilities that go with it. And the true pros are ready when called upon. I think you'll see an opportunity for a lot of guys in this Open Cup game against Richmond.”