With only five games remaining, there are a multitude of opportunities for younger players on the roster to get meaningful minutes. Bethlehem Steel FC currently sits just a point out from the playoffs, and is tied for the most remaining games to play, meaning every game becomes more and more important by the end of the season. Head Coach Jim Curtin said in his press conference these games of rising importance allows players to show they can make an impact in meaningful games. With Steel's primary objective is to graduate players to the first-team, playing in these types of games helps get players ready for the increased competition in MLS.
"Jack Elliott is a first-year guy, Marcus Epps is a first-year guy, and it's no coincidence they were affecting Steel games before they got their call," Curtin said. "You have to be able to change those games first because it's a big step up. It's a pathway. They have to earn those opportunities, and there are examples of guys doing that. It's important that our first-team to have success, and (Steel) is designed to push players up to the first-team. But you're going to learn about those guys in those big games down at Bethlehem as well."
Prepping for Chicago
The Union welcome Chicago Fire to Talen Energy Stadium for the first time in more than a year, and Curtin mentioned a lot of the moves Chicago made during the offseason, signing Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic. However, he says trading for Dax McCarty was their best move, which is what makes them so tough to play against. He said heading into Saturday's match, McCarty will be the X-factor for the Fire.
"Everyone will always talk about their attack, but I think the key acquisition in the offseason was Dax," Curtin said. "Dax is the guy who is kind of the glue guy. Having Schweinsteiger doesn't hurt. But I think Dax is a really good player in our league, two-way player, his passing doesn't get enough credit. He's been their most important guy, you saw what happened when they missed him with the National Team. They've turned it around. It's a sign you can turn things around very quickly in MLS. It's not an impossible feat to go from last place one year and quickly turn it around the following season."
Playing with Pride
Curtin and the rest of the team know this season has not played out the way any one planned it would. So as these final games play out, Curtin says there are still lots of things to play for, mainly for pride and positions for next season. Nothing is guaranteed in soccer, and these five games could make the difference for positions early in next season.
"Have five games left, we're playing for pride, for positions for next season," Curtin said. "There's still a lot on the line in that regard. Pride plays a big role, as men, as professional athletes. You have to look yourself in the mirror and realize this year wasn't good enough. I think we know that. But now, you're playing for positions in the team next year. Are you a guy who's willing to continue to fight for the badge? We have had guys who have had good seasons within the group, and we need them to continue that. Any positive momentum you can take has to be with wins. I think that will really build equity back in the fanbase, confidence in the group, because we've lacked that over the course of the year. How you finish is still very important, and pride is a big portion of that."