Ahead of the Union's 2019 season opener at home against Toronto FC on Saturday, Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner and Head Coach Jim Curtin spoke to the assembled media about how they feel the club is prepared going into the coming season.
The big questions surrounding the Union involve competition for places and implementation of the new playing style, and both men said they felt the club was in a good place as March 2 approaches.
"We really put a lot of work into it," Tanner began. "We have a lot of good results, and we have some games that were not that good. But that's normal, we were trying a lot [of different things] in preseason."
Jim Curtin added that the successes and failures of last season continued to be strong motivators within his group, even though major tactical changes were taking place on the pitch. "Ernst and I sat in the locker room after the defeat to New York City FC," he said. "The feeling wasn't a happy one. We weren't happy with the season, happy to be there. The players weren't happy with how it ended. And I think that's a sign of forward movement.
"Yes, making the playoffs is a good achievement, our best point total was a good achievement, but we want more. As do our fans, as do our players, as does our coaching and technical staff."
"Ray Gaddis, to his credit, has stepped up and done a great job for us in preseason and been a real catalyst on the right side getting forward and defending," Curtin said when asked about competition for places.
The head coach added that while Olivier Mbaizo's ceiling remained sky-high, small preseason injuries had prevented him from collecting all the minutes he needed.
On the left, Curtin was very positive about all of his options. "Kai Wagner has stepped in and done a great job getting forward," he enthused. "You saw as he gets more and more comfortable with the team, his ability to win duels, to get forward, to cross balls into the box is at a really, really high level.
"Matthew [Real] is a big talent, there's no question about that," Curtin continued. "[He] has been working hard in training and getting better each and every day, each and every season. He's a guy who I'm comfortable still putting into MLS right now. I think he could still thrive."
On the club's biggest offseason acquisition, the feedback was unanimous: He's been a hit with the players.
"There are two sides to Marco," Curtin explained. "There's the off the field side where he is a great person, first and foremost. He fits in great with the team, he's able to communicate in several languages, in Spanish and English and German with all our different coaches and all our different staff. And he's embraced the city and embodied Philadelphia in a short period of time.
"And it's no coincidence when I see a 17-18-year-old go up and talk to him, he gives them as much time as he does Alejandro Bedoya. He's humble, he's hungry, and I think the fans are really going to embrace him, and on the field, his talent really speaks for itself. He's a guy you can give the ball under pressure."
A difficult opponent
When Giovinco's not on a team, it certainly makes it easier for a coach to prepare," Curtin said of the departed leading scorer on Toronto FC, Saturday's opponent "[Victor] Vazquez was an underrated piece for them. Let's not forget how strong of a roster they have, how good of a coach they have."
Even though Toronto was dropped from CONCACAF Champions League, they remain stuffed with talent, and Curtin knows he can't let his side take them lightly.
The new-look Union take the pitch at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 2 at Talen Energy Stadium.