Ahead of his club’s matchup with Minnesota United — their last showdown with a Western Conference opponent this regular season — Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin discussed what he expects from Adrian Heath’s group and how key guys like Auston Trusty and Andre Blake have helped Philly creep closer and closer to a postseason berth.
Curtin noted that the Union could still finish anywhere from third to seventh in the Eastern Conference table. But with a magic number of three, Philly just needs a win on Saturday (or a Montreal loss to Columbus) to lock up a spot in the playoffs. Curtin and the Union want more than that, though. They want a home game. “There's a lot of big games and big points that are out there, so it's important to get a home game in the playoffs,” he began. “It's critical. It's difficult to go on the road. The turnaround is fast, you don't even have time to celebrate. You play that game when everyone kicks off on a Sunday, and have to turn around and play on Wednesday right away again, to do that in your home stadium is crucial; it just makes it a lot easier.
“Working hard now to try and get our fans a home game here at Talen Energy Stadium. That's the number one singular focus of the group right now. It starts with Minnesota.”
Minnesota on the mind
There have been changes afoot for Minnesota United. They have acquired Darwin Quintero and Angelo Rodriguez to boost the attack while adding Fernando Bob to provide solidity in midfield. Although the Loons have but a single road win all season, Curtin does not see them as a pushover.
“They've added some pieces down the stretch here,” Curtin acknowledged. “Obviously, in the different transfer windows they've added some really good attacking pieces. [Heath]’s a coach that inspires his players to be brave and attack and get after you. It's a dangerous game for us. They have a front four that has the freedom to pop up anywhere on the field. They sit with a block of six and defend honestly. They have two good, strong centerbacks that are hard to get in behind because they are comfortable to sit and break on the counter with that dangerous, dynamic front four. We'll have our hands full.”
One player that will certainly test the Union defense is Darwin Quintero. Since arriving in Minnesota this season he has been lighting up the league, and has even managed to transition from a goalscorer to a creator since the arrival of Angelo up front.
“Anybody that hits double-digits in goals and assists in a season in our league is in rare company,” Curtin admitted, “It's a hard thing to do.”
“Unpredictable, number one in the league in terms of take-ons, and when he gets you in space he's going to try and dribble by you so you need multiple people around him. If you can make him play square, and negative, and backwards, that's a success.
“He's always a game changer. He's the equivalent of an NFL wide receiver that can make a play at any moment and make you change everything that you're doing individually. When he's confident, he's very dangerous. So we'll have to be up to the task of doing a good job on him and the rest of their attacking pieces as well.”
Dre and Auston doing work
Last, Curtin touched on how strong both Andre Blake and Auston Trusty have been in defense this season.
“I think we're spoiled a little bit because we get comfortable when Andre does what Andre just normally does, which is that big save at the end of a game,” the head coach explained. “He's been exceptional this year. Grown, I think, a lot in his leadership and his ability to talk in the locker room, and just be a really strong leader. I would say he's a guy who has had a really good season for us.”
On Trusty, Curtin made it simple: He’s played like a veteran.
“He's shown maturity, he's shown a willingness to work hard every day, he takes care of his body, it's not easy to play every minute of every game, especially for a young player. Physically he's obviously gifted but the kid works his butt off too — in the weight room, getting treatment, working after practice to work on his left-footed passes down the line or hitting diagonal balls. He wants to get better. Which, for young players, is a big part of it.”
“We're healthy,” Curtin stated. “We have a group that's fully fit. We were talking through it today and you look at the stable of players and not a lot of dropoff in the second option at each position. We have about 20 guys right now that are 90 minutes MLS fit, which is a lot to be honest. Ilsinho is fully healthy and ready to go now.”
The Brazilian magician and the rest of the Union take on Minnesota United at 7:30PM ET at Talen Energy Stadium this Saturday.