Jim Curtin Previews Minnesota United
The Philadelphia Union open their MLS season at home to Minnesota United on Saturday. When the two met last season, it was the Western Conference side that came out on top as they capitalised on Union mistakes. However, Jim Curtin is confident that his side can come away from their season opener with all three points.
Minnesota reached the Western Conference semi-finals last season. It showed that they were taking a step forward, and with all of their new signings having a season under their belt, Curtin is expecting a very tough fixture.
"We know that they compete for everything and that they're representative of their coach in the fact that they fight for every inch. They're organised defensively, and when they get out and break in transition, they have some talented weapons that can hurt you.
"They have players that they signed from last season that now have a year under their belt with experience. It's a difficult league, and you've seen a lot of times with second-year players where it starts to pop for them. We're very aware of how good their attack is and the experience that they have on the field."
In the lead up to the game, there has been one positive that will excite the Union and their fans.
New signing Mikael Uhre is expected to travel to Philadelphia in the coming days, and having signed last month, he has not been able to come into America. That led to him missing all of pre-season. However, Jim Curtin provided an important update on the club's marquee signing.
"Mikael is in a positive development. He picked up his passport and is now able to fly, and if everything goes smoothly, he will be in Philadelphia tomorrow. It probably won't be in time for training, and in terms of eligibility, that comes down to paperwork.
"I'm not sure if we would be able to get it in through the deadline, and I don't think that it makes much sense to force him off of a plane to play. However, the positive is that he will be here tomorrow in Philadelphia."
The Union will be down another forward on Saturday, as Sergio Santos has to deal with some issues of his own.
"Sergio is in the process of being back in Chile right now trying to get his green card as well. It's not perfect or ideal timing, but that's where that one is at."
That will add to the pressure of Julian Carranza. The 21-year-old Argentinian joined on loan from Inter Miami and will be expected to lead the line for the foreseeable future.
It will be a lot of pressure for a young forward that has found opportunities in the MLS to be limited. Despite the pressure, Curtin has faith that he can deliver whether his teammates set him up for success or not. He spoke highly when asked about the Argentinian.
"He wants to have a big season, and he's shown me on the field that he's very capable. If you talk about the qualities of the top strikers in our league with the movement, willingness to run in the hard areas, the ability to hold the ball up for us, to let the lines move, to play one-touch combinations in the green zone, and finishing around the goal.
"He checks all of the boxes. We're really excited for this season with Julian, and there's no pressure for him to do more than he usually does. He's a guy that if we're all doing our jobs, giving him service, and putting him in good spots. I have no doubts that the goals will come."
Carranza will not be the only player with a burden of pressure heading into the new MLS season. Daniel Gazdag will be expected to step up following a solid first year with the Union, where he continued to get better as the season went on.
However, his role in the team is set to increase with the departure of Jamiro Monteiro. Curtin is more than confident that the Hungarian international will step up to the task.
"Daniel's a guy that we're going to rely upon to be on the ball a lot. A lot of our system is catered to putting our number ten on the ball over and over again. He had a strong pre-season, and we're hoping that it can transfer over into the regular season.
"You see his special qualities to set his teammates up with assists, to create and make goals himself, he's very dangerous in the penalty area, and a special player. It's up to us to put him on the ball more."