The Union are undefeated in their six matches, and a lot of that success has come without superstar Marco Fabian. Jim Curtin gave an update on Fabian's status at his midweek press conference and spoke about how Brenden Aaronson can continue to improve in the Mexican playmaker's absence.
Fabian sought to return against Toronto FC, but his ankle didn't respond well the following week. "He was on the side training today," Curtin said. "He'll fully be in tomorrow so that's a real positive development; it's certainly a nice piece coming off your bench to change a game at the end."
Brenden Aaronson nearly changed last weekend's match multiple times, and Curtin pointed to the young player's finishing -- something Aaronson himself believes he needs to improve -- as the next step in the young playmaker's development. "We’ll work with [Aaronson] all week on areas where we can get him on the ball," the head coach agreed. "And then also setting his feet quicker to get shots off or play the final ball a little faster.”
The next test for the Union will require Aaronson to be near the top of his game. Portland Timbers are at the tail end of a long road spell but they just added striker Brian Fernandez from LigaMX. Fernandez scored against Houston in his first MLS match and he picked up 18 goals and 5 assists for Necaxa last year. With Fernandez, Diego Valeri, and Sebastian Blanco in front of Diego Chara, Portland has a lot of ways they can hurt you now.
Curtin looks at Fernandez as someone that can open space for Valeri and Blanco, helping to take their games to the next level.
"[Luciano] Acosta gets [Wayne] Rooney and it makes Acosta’s game go high. When Valeri gets this addition, it helps him a lot. Blanco aligning in as well," the Union's head man said.
"We anticipate all their DPs being on the field together and we’ll have to be very organized defensively. Make them play under pressure and have two or three players running at them at all times and something we had success with in Toronto and Seattle."
That kind of firepower could scare a team, but Curtin doesn't believe his side will show any fear.
Respect? Yes. But not fear.
"It’s the type of game fans should want to come out and watch," Curtin said. "We have a really fun team to watch this year, we go after it and play the right way by creating chances. If you like defending, we do that pretty well too.
"It’s going to be the team that is most decisive in the redzone in the boxes that will come away with the victory. This will be a game that will decided by a small margin for sure."
The Union fell 3-0 to Portland on the road last season, but that match took place in the buildup to the US Open Cup final and Curtin heavily rotated his squad. Even so, it took a penalty for the Timbers to break through so Philadelphia will go out on Saturday night with a strong belief in their ability to hang with a team that, having played every game this year on the road, is far better than their record suggests.
The Union and Timbers face off at 7:30 p.m. on Dollar Dog Night, this Saturday, May 25 at Talen Energy Stadium.