With chilly temperatures hitting the region, Philadelphia Union opened its 2020 preseason camp indoors at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware. After a high-quality 90 minute training session that included 7v7 games and passing drills, here are the takeaways from the first day of camp.
Boys in Blue begin year in strong position
Coming off the best season in club history, including the team's first-ever postseason victory, the bar has been set high at the club. While it’s just the first day of training, head coach Jim Curtin said that the club is in its strongest position because the core group is together at the start of training camp.
"This is my sixth preseason and everything has evolved down to we are now in a facility that is 50 times better than where we usually tend to start preseason,” he explained. “Everything has advanced in MLS and in the Philadelphia Union. I would say the starting point for us is as high as its ever been but we aren’t naive because you look at every other MLS team and a lot of them improved this offseason. We are at a good spot of knowing what the core group of guys will look like for this season but that doesn’t mean that we are completely finished, I think we are still looking to upgrade a spot or two.”
Officially announced prior to the start of Monday morning’s training session, defensive midfielder Matej Oravec got his first touches with his new club. Wearing the No. 24 training top, the 21-year-old was excited for the upcoming season and the chance to play in the Union’s system.
"The first day that I visited they showed me the style and how [the Union] want to play and I think its similar style to what I played with my last team so I hope it will not be hard to adapt to this style,” the Slovakian Under-21 international said following training.
Curtin outlined the skills that drew the club to their newest signing. "He is a player that is a ball winner and can start your transitions quickly, good passer and a young up-and-coming player,” he said. “I thought he had a good first day because when you come into a new environment there is new faces and you’re adjusting but overall he has a very strong mentality.”
New year, blank slate
Every year at preseason camp, coaches across the league will say that everything accomplished the prior season is forgotten. It is no different at the Union, where Curtin insisted all eleven spots are open to the players that want them most. "Gone are the days of having just a strong starting XI,” he asserted. The international calendar, which includes numerous possibilities for national team call-ups and the Olympics, as well as the threat of injuries means Philly will need to carry their next man up mentality from last year forward.
"We’re not going to sneak up on anybody,” the head coach continued. “The rest of the league respects us a lot more so each and every player is going to have to fight for their minutes. There will be open, healthy competition because we have young teenagers eager to get into the first team. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, how much experience you have. It’s [about] what you do on the field each day, and that’s been the culture of this club and it will continue.”
Flexibility to be on display in preseason
The Union are already just 10 days out from their first preseason match. The slate leading into the 2020 MLS Regular Season features seven matches against league competition, including a postseason rematch against Atlanta United on January 29. Curtin and his staff will use the matches to reach opening day fitness and build chemistry, but also expect some tactical experimentation.
"We’ll play out of a 4-4-2 diamond in some games but we will experiment this preseason out of a 4-2-2-2," Curtin said. "We’ll look at some different things and we still have the ability with some of our personnel to go to a 4-2-3-1. We can experiment with three in the back, so we have some flexibility.”
The club showcased multiple shapes in 2019 , but Curtin hinted that new arrivals give him even more confidence to present new looks to the opposition.
"These additions and the players that we have now give us that [tactical] flexibility, guys are not just one-position guys. We have guys that can adjust and play multiple roles and multiple positions.”