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Union Critical Ahead of More Clashes — 2-27 Champions Cup Review

Photo Courtesy of the Philadelphia Union

After hearing directly from Head Coach Jim Curtin and Captain Jakob Glesnes on Tuesday night, the Philadelphia Union are certainly looking to improve upon their team performances despite moving on to the next round of the CONCACAF Champions Cup.

In the post-match press conference, Curtin talked about the club’s past success and its foundation of strong defending, but after only three games, his side have allowed 7 goals.

Given the busy schedule that includes two matches per week for the first four weeks of the season, they don’t have much time to address these concerns. I asked Curtin about how he plans to approach this challenge, and how his staff balance player recovery while also trying to enhance the team's performances in training. With rotation being an important aspect of any team in Curtin's position, he responded by saying, "We need to have at least 14-15 guys playing at an MLS starting level to have that rotation. We'll try to keep the guys as sharp, and as fit as possible." In terms of the training side of things, he noted, "We don't get the minutes on the training field when we're in this rhythm of play, recover, play, recover... We're always working, but 8 guys will go out tomorrow, as an example, instead of having the whole group, and you lose a little bit of the sharpness and the cohesiveness of what you would get from training every day."

Luckily, these guys have been in this situation before, having gone far in the Champions Cup in seasons prior. There is a lot of experience across the defensive back line, so as they review their performances, I’d look for them to make adjustments, both individually and collectively. 

Photo Courtesy of the Philadelphia Union

In my one-on-one with Jakob Glesnes, it was what you'd expect to hear from a veteran leader in his position. He took a lot of responsibility over the defensive faults while describing the penalty kick that was given for Saprissa’s opening goal, as well as the hand ball that resulted in the well-struck free kick from Mariano Torres in the 62nd minute to give the Costa Rican side the lead in the match. Glesnes showed his self-awareness as he was openly critical of his own performance. He understands that he’ll need to return to the kind of form that earned him consecutive MLS All-Star selections over the last two seasons. The Union have now conceded first in each of their three games and this trend has been recognized by Glesnes. He went on to say, “We have to find the key, because now, it’s starting to get common. It’s happening over and over again. We also know that we are so much better than we are.”

I suspect that the midfield organization ahead of the back line may be a point of further emphasis, as Curtin also mentioned how important it is to defend as a team throughout the pitch. In my experience, I have found that much of what makes a team successful from a defensive standpoint is the level of organization and work load taken on by the midfield group.

Looking back on the two matches against Deportivo Saprissa, Curtin talked about the tough Costa Rican opponent and how difficult it was to play at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa in the first leg, but he was also quick to mention how they had made it more difficult on themselves than it probably should've been.

There should be optimism going forward though. Despite everyone acknowledging the work that this team needs to do, through the first three games, they still remain unbeaten, they advanced to the next round of the Champions Cup, and they are consistently scoring goals. They know where they have to improve and I think they’ll make the necessary adjustments. As another popular tournament within the U.S. approaches, by way of March Madness, Curtin also referenced that kind of “survive and advance” mentality when it comes to their Champions Cup play, so it looks like they'll be mentally refreshed as they make their way into the Round of 16.

Their focus now shifts to Liga MX side C.F. Pachuca, who the Union will host this coming Tuesday (3/5) after they return from an away match against Sporting Kansas City this weekend (3/2).

On the other side of last night's fixture, Deportivo Saprissa look to build upon the momentum from their spirited performance last night, as they take aim at the Liga FPD Clausura title. They currently sit fourth in the table, 9 points back from league leaders C.S. Herediano, with plenty of time to contend, but they have to start winning more games. Recently, C.S. Herediano have also advanced to the Champions Cup Round of 16, and will face Suriname's S.V. Robinhood on Tuesday.

If the Philadelphia Union can improve upon their performances and handle this tough test ahead, they will be on course to meet C.S. Herediano in the Quarterfinals. C.F. Pachuca are currently 2nd in the Liga MX table and they have been waiting for this upcoming showdown, so this next stage proves to be a bigger challenge than the last.

Mark Kelkenberg (@KelkenSport on Twitter)

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