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Santos injury raises questions about depth at forward

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Santos has picked up injuries in each of his three preseasons with the Philadelphia Union

Morgan Tencza

Sergio Santos missing time in preseason because of an injury is not new — he’s missed time in each of his two previous preseasons — but news Wednesday that he’ll miss a couple weeks with a ligament tear in his big toe raises questions about the striking corps heading into Champions League play in less than a month.

“He’ll miss a couple of weeks, unfortunately, which is going to hurt, but at the same time, he’s disappointed but he’s also attacking his rehab quickly and now the hope is that he bounces back a little bit quicker,” head coach Jim Curtin said in his weekly presser on Wednesday.

With Santos out, Kacper Pryzbylko and Cory Burke will lead the line in the team’s first preseason friendly against Orlando City on Monday. They had three goals between them (Burke two) in a 45-minute intrasquad match in Chester on Wednesday.

Curtin has other options at the forward spot if he wants to pair Jack de Vries with Przybylko or Burke or use Ilsinho or even Anthony Fontana up top. He could also switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Getting through the early season fixture congestion — to say nothing of a full season — might be a tough ask for the three strikers. Though there’s still time to do business acquiring a fourth striker before the season starts, comments from Curtin and Sporting Director Ernst Tanner seem to point to that more likely occurring in the summer transfer window.

It’s a reasonable expectation for Przybylko, Santos and Burke to all score double digits in goals if they do stay healthy.

But adding a Champions League campaign to a schedule that has already been condensed by the late start presents a new set of challenges for the Union.

“Congested seasons have actually suited us well as a club,” Curtin said Wednesday. “Number one because we stay healthy, our sports performance does a great job with our guys physically, and number two we’re young.”

One addition to the squad still awaiting to join the group is center back Stuart Findlay.

“The visas aren’t coming as quickly as they used to, getting guys here is not as easy,” Curtin said. “There’s a lot more things and, you know, challenges that come up so we’re working to get him here as quickly as possible.”

While Aurelien Collin is still listed on the roster on the club’s website, there’s been no word if he’ll be signing on for another season. That leaves rookie Brandan Craig, second-year homegrown Cole Turner and Matej Oravec as depth at the position for now.

Jack Elliott started one match as the left center back with Mark McKenzie sitting last season.

“We have the two center backs that are here that are obviously very experienced with each other and have complement each other very well,” Curtin said of Elliott and Jakob Glesnes. “They’ve won us a lot of games and a lot of points here in MLS already, so I’m good with where that relationship is at.”