Takeaways: Finding ways to win

Ahead of Philadelphia Union’s semifinal clash with the Portland Timbers, Head Coach Jim Curtin gave his thoughts on the upcoming matchup that will take place on Wednesday, August 5th at 8 p.m. on FS1 and TUDN. Below are our takeaways from Jim’s presser.

The next Diego Chara?
With his ability to eat up the midfield, Union newcomer Jose Martinez has caught many eyes during the MLS is Back Tournament. Proving that his gritty and high work rate weren’t just saved for LAFC, Martinez is now drawing comparisons to Timbers’ veteran Diego Chara whose characteristics are quite similar.

“When you speak about Diego Chara, he just played his 300th game and he’s one of the most underappreciated and great players that our league has ever had,” Curtin. “I would say that after the quarantine and the break when Jose came back from Miami, he was a different player. I think he was more used to the style of play we want to play and his work rate increased because he had familiarity with his teammates but that’s when we started to talk about him. He’s not in the same league yet but for a player to watch on tape would be Diego Chara and I hope he sits and studies.”

“There are a lot of similarities in terms of their aggressiveness and right on the fine line of getting yellow cards but they are both really great passers and don’t get enough credit for that. Jose will have his hands full with Valeri and Blanco and some other players he’ll be going up against for the first time but to be mentioned next to Diego is an honor for Jose and shows the amount of growth he’s made in a short amount of time here. He needs to continue to do it for a couple seasons and then we can make those comparisons but the talent is there for Jose. This will probably be his biggest test now taking on a good Portland attack.”

Opportunistic Set Piece Defense
One of the hallmarks that Sporting Director Ernst Tanner wanted to see from the Union when he joined the club was fast, direct soccer and thus far the Union have showcased that style on numerous occasions during the MLS is Back Tournament. One of those situations of thinking direct to goal has been when teams are setting up for free kicks with the Union turning Inter Miami CF and Sporting Kansas City chances into their own goals.

“It speaks to the work that the players put into transition and getting out on the full sprint,” Curtin said. “A lot of our goals have gone over 60, 70, 80 and even 100 yards so that’s important but it’s no secret when other teams take a free kick that we see that as an opportunity to score. Center backs are up, outside backs aren’t where they normally are and it’s a little chaotic and its an opportunity and against Kansas City we were able to exploit it.”

Win anyway you can
The Boys in Blue feasted when Union forward Kacper Przybylko found the back of the net in 2019 but thus far the Friendly Striker has just one goal in five starts in Orlando. Curtin said that while the forward wasn’t happy to come off the pitch last time out against Sporting KC, he understood and wanted that frustration because it shows the passion that Przybylko has for the match.

While the goals haven’t come from just one player, Curtin says important that the team has figured out other ways to survive and advance in Florida.

“We’ve had 1-0 games where Andre has been big, we’ve had games where our midfield was dominant and led to quick transitions and goals,” Curtin said. “We’ve had days where Sergio gets two goals and carries us but collectively it’s a good thing that we are finding ways to win when everyone isn’t perfect. It’s a step forward that we can win in different ways but we all know that we are at our best when Kacper is at his best and I’m confident that will come back into form. He’s been a big scorer for us in many instances and we have to find ways to put him on the ball more and in better parts of the field. With his work rate and his abilities to make plays for will come through in a big game like Portland.”

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