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August 17, 2016

Union notebook: 'You only get one brain'

Soccer Union
0801716_union_kk Kevin Kinkead/for PhillyVoice

Union attacker Roland Alberg lines up a free kick during Wednesday's training session.

Five players did not take part in Union training on Wednesday morning.

Sidelined with plantar fasciitis, Brian Carroll did light work off to the side and is expected to rejoin teammates next week. Goalkeeper Matt Jones worked with trainers on his right MCL sprain. Cole Missimo was absent entirely as the rookie recovers from a low abdominal strain.

C.J. Sapong did individual fitness work as he goes through league-mandated concussion protocol. The Union center forward came out of last Saturday's 4-0 win after a rough collision with defender Jose Goncalves just before halftime. Head coach Jim Curtin says the point of contact was close to the same spot where Sapong suffered a facial fracture during last year's opener against Colorado.

Sapong passed the first part of the protocol and is expected to be available for the weekend.

"To be honest, we got talking at halftime, and you could see he had some pain," Curtin told the media at his midweek press conference. "The neck was bothering him, and the head also. I'm a guy that, first and foremost, you only get one brain. So I'd consider myself cautious with that. I think part of it is because I've had a lot of friends who have had to leave the game because of concussions. I think we were proactive in our assessment of him at halftime. We do have confidence in our depth, too. I thought Fabian (Herbers) came in and did a good job. But I don't think we mess around with head injuries."

Tough Turf

The fifth player to miss training was not injured.

Tranquillo Barnetta did some light regeneration work while giving his knees a break. The midfielder played 90 minutes on the Gillette Stadium turf last weekend.

"I've always had a little bit of (an issue), and the turf doesn't help obviously when we have to play up there," Barnetta told PhillyVoice. "So that's why there's a little bit of taking it easy for the first couple of days. But yeah, I hope to be back on Saturday."

Barnetta missed the first three games of the season with a knee tendinitis issue that popped up during spring training. He came off the bench in the next three games and has started 17 of the last 18, only missing one of those matches through suspension.

Finding a role for Alberg

Roland Alberg scored his 8th goal of the season in the weekend win.

Only Chris Pontius has bagged more goals than Alberg in 2016.

But is there a spot in the starting lineup for the Dutch attacker?

Alberg has started on the bench in each the past two weeks, first bumped by Fabian Herbers in the D.C. game and then kept out of the eleven with the addition of Alejandro Bedoya.

Earlier this year, Curtin told reporters that he didn't feel like Alberg was best suited to a wide role, so that means he's going to start at the #10 or sit on the bench.

Curtin elaborated on the topic in an exchange with PhillyVoice.

PhillyVoice: You've said in the past that you don't really see Roland as a wide player. Now that Alejandro Bedoya is here, that's pushing Tranquillo back into the 10, and Roland goes to the bench. What else can you do to get him on the field?

Jim Curtin: Roland, again, he falls into that category of a great soccer player, great in possession. Obviously, his goal rate speaks for itself this year. He's scored a lot of goals in a short amount of time. I'd say, over 90 minutes, gosh, he's probably tops in the league in terms of production. It's a little bit of an unfortunate situation, where he's the odd man out in a good group. But I think you need depth on all teams. You look across the league at a lot of top teams and they have some interchange and some strong players coming off the bench. You saw Roland come off the bench and impact the game. I saw you said he was mad after the game (laughs). All players should be mad when they're not in the starting lineup.

PhillyVoice: I guess it's just one person's observation.

Jim Curtin: If you actually watch it, the way the camera angle cuts, he did a double fisted celebration and couldn't have been happier. Then they cut to him and he's in the 'stone face' mode. So I think you maybe read too much into that one, but okay, I digress...

PhillyVoice: Maybe we got a bad broadcast (laughing).

Jim Curtin: The broadcast cut away, but there's another view that shows his full celebration. He was actually happy as can be, and it's a great goal that he scored. The kid works hard. He's moving past that adjustment period in the league and he's finding seams. Again, he's a weapon to come off the bench, sometimes as a starter. He has a talent for scoring goals, and that's the hardest thing to do, but he has a real knack for doing it.

PhillyVoice: Why don't you see him as a wide player then? Is it the defensive side, the two-way game, that doesn't fit?

Jim Curtin: I think we're deep wide, too. It's just crowded, you know? Before, when we had (Sebastien Le Toux) here, we had Pontius, Ilsinho, and Seba. To throw Roland out there, again, where does he fit in? His game is a little bit different. I think he's more of a central player. I think he's improved his work rate defensively a great deal. In our league, though, defensively, out on that island, we ask our wide guys to do a lot. And I don't think it plays to his skill set. Could he do it in a pinch? He probably could. He's smart enough to come inside. You bring up a fair point. He's so comfortable on the ball. Could he be a guy that almost plays inside and creates a weird look for the opposing team's outside back? Would you go into that midfield and chase him inside? Or do we stay outside? He could create problems. I've thought about it, but more from the defensive side and the shape of the team, it would be a big ask right now. But I think it might catch a team off guard if we're down a goal or something like that.