Following his club's 3-2 win in a scrimmage against New York Red Bulls, Union Head Coach Jim Curtin addressed the media to speak about transfer targets as the European transfer window closes, positional battles in the early stages of the 2019 preseason, and how the team is adapting to new tactical wrinkles.
The transfer market
"I would say that there is forward momentum for sure on a couple things," Curtin hinted. "Again, so much goes into signings. You have other clubs, league rules, agents, you have a lot of things that have to go correctly to get them over the line. Things can change quick, injuries can happen in other clubs or now different things come up so you are always on your toes and our guys do a great job of being one step ahead and hopefully we can maybe add a piece or two down the stretch of the transfer window.”
The Union head man then turned to the players at his disposal, and indicated that nobody had a starting spot locked up for 2019. "I said it to the guys yesterday," he said. "I don’t care ages of players, or experience of players. The best 11 are going to start for this team.
"I can tell you right now that Sapong has been as sharp as he has ever been in preseason, Santos has come in and really impressed and fit into the group really well. Fafa scored a good goal yesterday, David Accam created a goal yesterday with a great run, Cory Burke is scoring goals, Kacper his movement and finishing in front of goal is maybe the sharpest. You have a big stable of attackers there that I just went through and they all sense competition and it’s a good thing. We’ve tried different pairings in training and continue that until we find the best one for week one against Toronto which is most important. They are going to compete, someone is going to be upset, someone is going to be happy because they are on the field and that’s the way a pro sport is.
The overall message was that if you perform, you will play. And with changing tactics, that means those who adapt quickest will be on top of the heap when March 2nd rolls around.
"I’m not going to reveal who is in the lead at each spot but you can start to hear in my comments," the Head Coach said. "They all recognize it’s a new slate, new season and spots are up for grabs. I’ve made it clear that whoever is playing the best in training, is going to start against Toronto. That is clear to them and has led to some real life in camp and led to a really good performance against Red Bull. Nobody can take any days off because there is someone breathing down their neck and competing for the spot.”
Ernst Tanner has said the Union will play in a modified style in 2019, and Curtin is already looking for players to adopt and thrive in their new system. Against Red Bulls, the Union played with two strikers and a tight diamond midfield, but the head coach said to expect changes throughout the preseason. “I mentioned in the opening statement that there has been a higher output in terms of our running," Curtin said. "The amount of ground that we are covering in each training session, the load is higher, the high-speed runs are more. [The players] have actually come in fit and responded to it well."
And that response led to a win over Red Bulls, something Curtin thought was important for the players to experience as they implement tactical changes. "They recognize that if they work hard defensively as a team now it will result goals and us scoring goals quickly in transition which is what players love to do," he emphasized. "It’s only one game and I don’t want to get ahead of myself too excited but it was fun to watch. Our attacking pieces are going to be a handful for opposing backlines to deal with if we are all connected and our backline is stepping and moving together. We will be tough to break down. We did well in one game but we recognize that it was only the first game and the early feedback from the players was that they enjoyed the exercise yesterday which goes a long way in that belief and buy in."
Sergio Santos started the scrimmage on Wednesday and Carlos Miguel Coronel stepped in for Andre Blake after 30 minutes. Curtin said both players have already started integrating into the team well.
“Off the field, excellent," the coach said of Santos. "He’s a big kid and always has a smile on his face and joking around as a prankster. We have a great collection of Brazilians so he feels comfortable.
"Most importantly from a coaching standpoint, he’s very eager to learn. He asks questions when we do film sessions, he wants to know exactly how he can help defensively, recognizing defensive set up will lead to him getting more chances. What he does best is the attacking part, you can see how powerful and explosive he is as a player. He’s a hand full, I can tell you right now center backs won’t like to play against him in our league but it starts with his willingness to run and fight for every ball and stretch a defense in behind and he has very soft feet and can play through balls to his striking partner and hits a very heavy ball in and around the box. Has all the attributes of a very good scorer and obviously, that’s why he is here but he’s left a really good impression his first week and a half here.”
On Coronel, Curtin was impressed with both his work in net and with the ball at his feet. “[Carlos]’s best save was actually offsides on an in-close type 1v1 where they called offsides but he wasn’t aware of that and he had to make a save, that was his best one. I thought he did a really good job, he’s shown in training his feet. It’s no coincidence that a Brazilian is good with his feet, he can hit that diagonal to start an attack, so overall Carlos had a good first impression."
The Union are back in action on February 2nd when they take on the University of South Florida in their second preseason scrimmage.