October 14, 2016
It's been 35 days since the last Union home game and 49 days since the last Union win.
Add the untimely nature of this past weekend's international break, and you can understand why the postseason push has somewhat petered out.
That hopefully changes on Sunday, when the Union return to Talen Energy Stadium for the biggest regular season game in more than three years. A win virtually guarantees a playoff berth for the first time since 2011 and snaps the longest active postseason drought in Major League Soccer.
Head coach Jim Curtin spoke with reporters via conference call this week and touched on a number of topics ahead of the game against Orlando City.
Among those was the health of center back Josh Yaro, who suffered a concussion in New York, his second in 15 days. Yaro was cleared by doctors and returned to training on Thursday afternoon. If he can't go on Sunday, expect fellow rookie Ken Tribbett to play alongside Richie Marquez.
Curtin: "Feels like a while ago now, but just to reflect on the Red Bull game, there were articles written that that was one of the better games of the season in terms of end to end action. Again, I thought we had some good moments in the game and some things we need to clean up in the run of play and on restarts, but it's a game where I think we're a better team now having gone through it. It was a high-tempo, high-pace game that had a playoff feel to it. We've had two weeks to prepare (for Orlando). We've had a good week and a half of training and we're looking to finish the season strong. The real emphasis is just to get back to basics and do the things that have made us a successful team this year, and also just executing our roles, just playing within ourselves and not getting out of our comfort zone. We've been a very strong team at home. We set the goal at 10 wins in Talen Energy Stadium and we've set ourselves up to reach that goal in these final two games. We know it'll be a tough task, but the guys are confident, they're playing well, and it's good to see. Each day on the training field, we're confident it'll translate to this Sunday."
What's the current mood of the team? Any nerves?
Curtin: "No, the guys are confident. Again, we didn't get as many points as we'd like out of the last five, but there still have been decent performances from individuals. Training sessions have been sharp. The group is loose and excited for the opportunity. We know what the challenge is. We put ourselves in a position now with two home games left where we control our own destiny. We still want all six points, and we recognize that maybe with a little help we can still host a playoff game. Overall, though, it's just about putting together a good performance. We know we had three difficult road games in Toronto, in Portland, and in Red Bull Arena that were tough. Could we have won those games? Absolutely. But, we got one point in Toronto and I do think we learned a lot in those three games, with those three atmospheres. We're a better team having gone through it and now that we're back in our home building I think the guys are itching to go. They're confident and they're ready to show our fans that we're a very good team. We hope to do that on Sunday."
What do you expect from Orlando? This is a team that is out of the playoffs. They have a new coach. Maybe some young guys play and maybe some veterans are fighting for their jobs.
Curtin: "It's a tricky one. You have a team that obviously has some dangerous attacking pieces. How Jason handles it, I don't know. You try to read into the quotes this week and there's a mix of maybe giving some younger guys an opportunity. It is a dangerous one of, maybe guys are fighting for positions in the team, not just for the rest of this year but for the future. They want to impress a new coach. We really made an emphasis this week that, whether they go the route of playing young guys, which can be dangerous because they're eager, or whether they go the route of guys who have been good pieces for them, it doesn't really matter. We have to be good ourselves. We control how we perform on the field, and it becomes about us. It becomes about the Philadelphia Union winning a game at home. Who they put out on the field, we can't control. We've put ourselves in a good position all season, and now, regardless of how they approach the game, we have to be executing and doing the right job in front of our fans."
What is the injury progress of Alejandro Bedoya?
Curtin: "Alejandro has been a full participant this past week. The guys had a day or two to recover on Saturday and Sunday. His body responded well to it. He has a little pain when he plays any ball that is a bit of a longer ball. His body has to, you know, twist in a certain way. He's handled it. It's nothing that will prevent him from playing, especially in a big game. He's a trooper. He'll be out there for us and we're obviously a much better team when he is on the field and fully healthy, which he will be."
Do you see any similarities with this Orlando team to where you were two years ago? It's a struggling team with a mid-season coaching change, do you take anything out of that?
Curtin: "They've had some decent performances. Even their game, last week at home against Montreal, they played well. They created enough chances. The ball just wouldn't go in for them. Jason is an experienced coach and he's won in this league. He's a winner and he's in the early stages of piecing together his roster and his team and how he wants them to play. Could he experiment with a formation change and the formation that made him successful in Salt Lake, which was the diamond midfield? I think you could see something like that, that 4-4-2. So we're prepared for that. We're prepared for their 4-2-3-1. We've covered our bases. He's a great coach and his players are going to play incredibly hard for him and they'll be motivated. It'll be a difficult task. With Cyle Larin, Kaka, Kevin Molino, that's where most of their goals come from. So they have no problem getting goals and creating chances. We'll have to be sharp defensively and do a good job breaking down their backline. There are some similarities there. I think that's fair."
At the risk of bringing up bad memories, you go back to 2014 when you had those couple of late home games. There was the 1-1 late draw with Chicago, then the 3-2 loss to Columbus when you gave up three goals in six minutes. Is there anything to take from those games? Can anything from that be applied to this stretch run?
Curtin: "It's always tough to compare years. Personnel changes. This is a different group with a different mentality and a different belief when we play at home. Those old memories are tough ones. There were mistakes and lessons learned, for sure. Down the stretch now, in these - games of consequence would be a good way to word it – I think we're just different overall. I think we can possess the ball better. I think we can dictate the tempo of the game. We have an ability to score that we haven't had. Again, it's in our hands. We control our own destiny. At that point in 2014 we were chasing things. We were kind of the team that's in the situation that maybe Columbus or New England are in right now. That game was a disappointing loss and I think you learn from every loss, the Columbus one specifically. But this group is different. We need to show that. We can talk about it all week long, but the only way to do it is on the field. This group has been good with that all year, and on Sunday I'm confident that we'll have a good response and try to control and dictate the tempo of the game."
Has Ilsinho's outlook changed since receiving a cortisone shot?
Curtin: "Yea, so he's looked very sharp in training. It took a little while for the shot to kick in, and get him to the point where he didn't have any discomfort. He's really happy with how it's gone, and I think he's happy that he got the shot. He feels a lot better and it shows in his training. He's able to open up now and run full speed. Obviously, his talent speaks for itself. He's a starter for the Philadelphia Union when he's fully healthy and fit. He's working on the fitness side now. He missed some time obviously after getting the shot. Again, he's a guy who is a great option to have, to change the game coming off the bench. It's just a matter of him getting to the fitness level that we need to make him a starter. He's not quite there yet as of (Thursday), but he's really pushed and worked hard. One way or another I believe he will influence the game on Sunday."
With all that's at stake, do you worry about the guys getting too tense, knowing that they can clinch, and if they don't, that it's going down to the final game?
Curtin: "One of the good things about having some young players on the field is that they're fearless. There's no frame of reference for this situation. I think they'll just go out and play like they have in all of the other games. In terms of the experienced guys, we have plenty of experienced guys out there that have played in these moments. The Barnettas, the Bedoyas, a Brian Carroll, C.J. Sapong – they've played in big moments and big games. They know how to manage it. Chris Pontius as well. I'm not worried about them getting tense. We don't even really use the term "must win" with the guys. It's just about doing your job, executing, and getting back to the basic things that made us a good team."