Even before the July 9th date was known to Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin, he had tasked his staff to develop a plan to properly ramp up the side before returning to competition. The final answer was a three-week program that saw the intensity and duration level increase each week so that players would be prepared not only for the Florida weather but to properly be fit to avoid soft-tissue injuries that can occur when games start up after delays.
“Keeping guys healthy before we get down [to Orlando] will be critical,” Curtin told reporters last week. “No team is in midseason strength in the load they can handle so we will have to be smart and strategic in how we utilize players.”
While under normal circumstances the only directions after training would be to properly hydrate and do recovery, Curtin and his staff has continued to impress upon the Union roster the importance of following the league’s COVID-19 guidelines that include social distancing and wearing masks in public. That is especially important as states including Florida see positive cases rise
“We don’t have to have setbacks where you go back to group training or individual training,” Curtin said. “We’ve really preached to our players the safety part because it starts to feel normal in training but you really still have to be diligent and practice all the right social distancing and health protocols.”
Following the protocols, the time used away from the pitch with team meetings breaking down film has translated to a higher standard of play on the training field. Instead of it looking like a traditional preseason in January where the team is learning not only the system but ramping up fitness, the focus is primarily on July 9th against New York City FC.
“I can say that it feels like the group is ahead of where we were in preseason in terms of soccer and fitness and even sharpness,” Curtin said. “Part of it is that the players understand the principles of the style of play we want to be. Guys like Jose Martinez and Jamiro Monteiro are way ahead of where they were in the preseason. They came in a little late to preseason and now are flying and that is a positive step for the team going forward.”
Philadelphia Union kicks off the MLS is Back Tournament on Thursday, July 9 on ESPN and ESPN Deportes. Kick off from the ESPN Wide World of Sports is set for 9 a.m. ET. Be sure to stay tuned to PhiladelphiaUnion.com and the Union’s social channels as we follow the team every moment before and during the tournament.