With a return to play two days away, the Philadelphia Union were looking a little thin at the forward spot on Tuesday with Sergio Santos, Andrew Wooten and Michee Ngalina all out with what head coach Jim Curtin characterized as minor injuries.
“We’re a little bit thin in the attack right now but again we’ll call upon some guys to step up and play some significant minutes for us,” Curtin said in a video conference with media on Tuesday afternoon.
Curtin said he expects all three back in training on Wednesday. With Cory Burke still unavailable after finishing his loan stint with St. Polten in Austria, Curtin could turn to a 4-2-3-1 with Kacper Przybylko as the lone striker or insert homegrown Jack de Vries or super sub Ilsinho into the starting lineup for some attacking punch.
In addition to figuring out the attack, Curtin will have to decide who to start at central midfield and his center back pairing. Warren Creavalle started the season opener and Jose Martinez started and impressed in the 3-3 draw at LAFC.
“I have a healthy problem; I have two central defensive midfielders that are both playing at a very high level right now in Warren Creavalle and Jose Martinez,” Curtin said. “They’ve been pushing each other every day in training. I think you’ll see both of them in the game at some point together, you know, to, you know, close out what is a very good New York City team.”
Of note in Curtin’s answer is that he didn’t mention Matej Oravec, a key offseason signing who has yet to make his Union debut. The 22-year-old was expected to be higher on the depth chart, considering a transfer fee was paid to bring him into the squad and Sporting Director Ernst Tanner’s initials comments about Martinez being “a project.”
“When I look back to preseason to now I think he’s made some positive steps forward, you know the the long layoff now and quarantine you know obviously has different effects on everybody,” Curtin said when asked specifically about Oravec. “He’s put together some good days down here in Florida.”
The other key position battle is at center back where Curtin has Mark McKenzie, Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott. Curtin has said previously that he wouldn’t rule out playing three in the back to get all three on the field and has also noted that Glesnes spent some time away from the team in Norway so it could be that McKenzie and Elliott have the edge. Glesnes and McKenzie paired in the first two games of the season and Elliott came off the bench in both.
While the focus right now is on NYCFC on Thursday morning at 9 a.m., questions remain about what team the Union will be playing second. They are scheduled to play Nashville SC on July 14, but Nashville’s first game against Chicago Fire has been postponed and it’s still not clear what will be done with Group B now that FC Dallas isn’t in the competition. Nashville was moved to the West for the tournament so it’s possible they could be moved back to fill the spot in Group B or withdrawn from the tournament altogether because of positive tests.
“Like every situation now we have to be able to adapt and adjust,” Curtin said. “And again, make the most and stay positive. It would be an easy time for everybody to be negative and, you know, nitpick at different things but I think that, you know, our players have had a real clear focus and a real positive mindset with things. We’re excited to first game against New York.”
Aside from injury questions, the Union contingent is thus far healthy and COVID-19 free. Curtin said the team and technical staff have been tested daily over the five days they’ve been in Orlando and all tests have come back negative.