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With playoffs out of reach, don’t expect a ‘play your kids’ approach

Head coach Jim Curtin isn’t changing his roster selection process with season winding down

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Sporting KC Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With a frustrating season winding down and the playoffs nearly completely out of reach, don’t expect Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin to throw caution to the wind and give minutes to his younger players.

“It’s not going to be a situation where we just throw the young guys out there because they’ll fail if you just do that so it’s not really setting them up in a good spot,” Curtin said during Wednesday’s press conference. “If the moment is right and they put the work in in practice and show that they belong yeah... But it won’t just be to throw all six or seven guys out there and say good luck. I don’t think that that’s a good idea for the development of young players.”

While the Union have been beating the academy drum for years, especially in times where the first team isn’t performing well, Curtin doesn’t really have many “kids” available to him for selection beyond 19-year-old Auston Trusty and 20-year-old Derrick Jones (homegrown Anthony Fontana won’t be added to the first team roster until 2018).

Trusty has played regularly in Bethlehem but is still waiting to make his MLS debut while Jones hasn’t seen first team minutes since July. Rookie midfielder Adam Najem (age 22) last played as a late sub in August and has five appearances and one start on the year while defender Jack Elliott (age 22) has made 24 appearances and Marcus Epps (age 22) has 13 games and four starts under his belt.

“If there’s a window and a dip in form from certain guys yeah we’ll find a way to get them in but right now we’ll still pick the team each week based on how they perform in training,” Curtin said.

Another path to first team minutes continues to be Bethlehem Steel.

“If you’re able to leave a mark and leave an impact on a Bethlehem Steel game then it’s a maybe you are ready for the first team,” Curtin said. “It still doesn’t guarantee that you’re ready for first team minutes but it at least puts you in the discussion.”

While Curtin noted that Epps’ play at Bethlehem has helped the rookie attacker earn minutes he said he isn’t satisfied with the performances there.

“Right now how many guys do we have dominating those Bethlehem Steel games? It’s not enough,” he said.

One USL contract player who has made an impact this season is Cory Burke.

“I think you could say that he could comfortably play in an MLS game right now,” Curtin said. “He’s a guy that has the pace to change a game and has shown some real good flashes this year for Bethlehem and is a guy we’ll monitor.”

The 25-year-old Burke, like other USL contract players in 18-year-old left back Matthew Real, 24-year-old forward Santi Moar and 21-year-old forward Seku Conneh would have to be signed to a first team contract to suit up in an MLS match.

The Union currently have one open roster spot with 20-year-old Eric Ayuk on loan to Sweden through November.