Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin spoke with the media ahead of his side's season opener with Columbus Crew.
The Union heads into the new MLS season off the back of a heart-breaking penalty shootout defeat to LAFC in the MLS Cup Final last season. However, Curtin realises that they cannot get complacent as expectations continue to rise.
With no fresh injury concerns heading into Saturday's fixture, Curtin realises how difficult of a task Columbus will be. With a new manager in charge in Wilfried Nancy, the Crew, who in recent history have proven to be a difficult opponent for Philadelphia, will offer a new challenge with a change to their style of play.
Despite this, Curtin is prepared for a tough game and is keen to ensure that his players do not rest on their laurels.
Looking ahead to Saturday...
Wilfried Nancy is one of the top coaches in this league, and he's implementing a new system with some really highly talented players on his roster. We have a difficult task. We know the weather will be cold, and we know the crowd at Subaru Park will be loud and filled with energy. It'll be great to be back.
We also know that it's going to be a very tough match. I've been stressing to my players that you only get one home opener each year, so make the most of it.
On Columbus Crew...
Obviously, with as much change as there has been, a change of coach is drastic, and Wilfried is going to implement a new way of playing. You can see that just in the tape that we've seen. They're going to pass out of some tight spots, and they have real talent. As much as there's a lot of change, there are some things that are still the same.
It starts right up the middle with a great player like Darlington Nagbe, who, between the 18-yard boxes, for me, is one of the best players our country has ever had and our league has ever had. It starts with him, and it starts with [Lucas] Zelarayan and Cucho [Hernandez]. Really special talent. Right up the spine of the team they have some real weapons and are very, very dangerous.
I think the tactics will be different, the shape will be a little different, and the way that they play will be different.
We are fully healthy, and everybody is ready to go. Julian Carranza picked up a bruise in the Colorado game, which I'll just say was a very physical game for both teams. It's nothing more than a bruise though, so he'll be fine, and everybody's fully fit and ready to go.
The front three...
We know that we have talent. With Mikael Uhre getting a full pre-season now and having his first full year in the league, much like Daniel [Gazdag], I could see him break out. [Julian] Carranza's been incredible in pre-season, and Daniel Gazdag is coming off of an MVP-type year. That front three is going to score a lot of goals.
Managing new expectations...
We just had a film session in which I point blank said in front of all of the group- all of the players and technical staff- that everybody keeps picking us to win and to be in first place now, which is a dangerous thing. We have to kind of block out and not read our headlines and not get too high in this game because it has a way of humbling you.
There are plenty of examples in our league's history of teams that have gone to finals and have then had a difficult time the following season because they get complacent or they think that they're a little bit better than they are. It can happen very quickly, and you can be humbled fast.
I think that our group understands that, and I think that it's still important to remind them, but the expectations are high for us, and that's new. I think they've grown each year, but now, with the season that we had last year, they've kind of gone very high. It's going to be tough. I said it last week, it's going to be tough to replicate our goals against and our goals for, but we're going to try everything we can to do that. That would mean that we'd have another special season.
The new playoff format...
I'd start answering that with that the last two seasons have been the most exciting playoffs that we've had, and I think they've been fair, and they've told the truth about the 34, which is what you want out of your playoff system. Having said that, nine teams is a lot; there's no question about that. I think they had to be creative with a way of getting more games.
Best of three, the one positive about best of three, is and I played in best of three's back in the days before there was even HD TV, and it was on VHS's, but it does exist. We did play the best of three series, and it was the first team to five points, and I will say that the one interesting part by the end of those three-game series was that the teams hated each other's guts; that is one thing where you did have real rivalries. When you see a team three times in a week, it becomes a battle of fitness, and health, and who can still roll up their sleeves in the tough games.
Again, I think that it will make for some interesting soccer. It'll be different, it'll be unique, and it puts an emphasis on trying to get those home-field games because it's important. The last thing I'll say; we're still a young league, and we're trying to find what is the best format. I don't think we have that answer exactly hammered out yet. I think we made some strides in the recent years, but we're still trying to figure that out.