With just two more days until the matches begin to count, Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin spoke with media and had quite a lot to say in his season opening press conference inside Subaru Park. Ahead of the clash with FC Dallas on Saturday, February 29th, here are some key takeaways from the presser.
Preseason was constructed for Saturday
Saturday’s match in the Lone Star State marks the first time the Union get to show they are ready to build on last season’s success in a heated, winner-takes-the-spoils environment. Last season, Philly’s first win didn’t come until the fourth match of the season, and that is something Curtin wants to change as the league’s 25th season kicks off.
“It’s hard to go on the road early on, no question about it,” Curtin said. “And our league, statistically, is one of the more difficult leagues to go on the road and take points and win. But the whole focus of preseason, the seven games we played against MLS competition, were with the singular focus of going to Dallas and getting a result.
“It’s critical to take points early on, we didn’t do that last year and you can still have a successful season like we did, but you know how small the margins are in the league and getting off to a good start is critical.”
Finding Your Voice
Going into a hostile environment for an opponent’s home makes communication key to finding a result. Curtin sees that as an opportunity for 21-year-old Mark McKenzie to grow as a leader.
“As a group everyone has to take a bigger [leadership] role both on and off the field,” Curtin said. “Mark is a guy that can step up and has the experience of playing in the playoffs, winning in the playoffs, going off to the national team and getting a cap at such a young age. He’s an example of a guy that can take bigger role but so can Jack Elliott in terms of communicating but Jakob [Glesnes] comes in and is a guy who has experience and played in the highest level and can talk more from the back.”
While Curtin wants growth from his defense, he made sure to stress the coaching’ staff’s belief in the overall group and how working together is the key to success.
“There is no one guy on this team and, yes, Alejandro Bedoya is our captain and leader, and he’s great at it, but it’s not like we have one voice in our locker room and I think everyone feels that they can open up and contribute whether you’re young or old,” Curtin emphasized. “We have to rely on each other and we believe in the cohesiveness of the group and that our 11 together can beat any group of superstars or whatever like you like to call them, but we are a true team in that sense. We miss a couple guys and have lost a couple guys with injury, but at the same time we have to believe in everything that we do and that group mindset and mentality.”
Midfield pairing set
Curtin spread the playing time out as much as he could between El Brujo, Matej Oravec, Warren Creavalle and Cole Turner in preseason. In the final match down in Florida, Creavalle got the start and impressed Curtin. The technical staff believes Creavalle has good understanding of what to do in the club’s system and that makes him the best choice for week one.
“Warren battled injury this preseason and we concluded by giving him the first half against D.C. United and he did great with those minutes. He was excellent and closed the ball down and was one of our best players on the field. The guys that have been through preseasons and the battles know when to peak at the right time when the season starts, and Warren falls into that list of players. There will be a bridge to our younger guys that are not only new to the league but are young and inexperienced. Getting used to a new style will take some time for our midfielders and we need guys like Bedoya and Warren to show them the ropes and lead them.”
When asked how the battle for the starting spot at No. 6 was shaping up ahead of the opener, Curtin said that the staff learned “a little bit about each guy” from their preseason matches and left it at that.
“The coaching staff is well on board with where that is right now,” the coach continued. “And it won’t be that we are perfect in week one, no team will. We have to choose the most stable group that gives us the best opportunity to go on the road against a good FC Dallas team with a similar philosophy to us.”
Fans can watch the season opener on Saturday, February 29th in a variety of ways in 2020. Union fans can watch the television broadcast on PHL17 with a pregame show set to begin at 5:30 p.m. New for in-market fans this season is the ability to stream matches for free on PhiladelphiaUnion.com. You can check to see if you can stream the matches here/a> along with our FAQs and fans outside of the Philadelphia market will be able to watch the Boys in Blue with a paid subscription to ESPN+.