CHESTER, Pa. — On the surface, the Philadelphia Union’s 3-0 friendly victory over Liga MX’s Pumas UNAM was a meaningless game placed in an odd spot during the September international break.
But if you dig through the performance, you may find hints for Jim Curtin’s lineup decisions for a stretch of three games in a week that begins Sept. 22 at Red Bull Arena.
“With the stretch coming where we go Red Bull, San Jose and Columbus in a busy week, we’re going to use our entire roster, so it was important a lot of guys got pushed 90 minutes so they’ll be ready for that action when they’re called upon,” Curtin said Saturday night.
Some members of Saturday’s lineup could be utilized during that stretch, with the midweek road trip to Avaya Stadium the likeliest match to feature fringe first-team players.
Perhaps the most intriguing lineup option Curtin now has at his disposal is Fafà Picault playing at the No. 10 in the 4-2-3-1 system the club has relied on recently.
“[Picault]’s so fast out of that spot, and if you do play direct out of that spot to the striker, he can make those runs off of them in the holes between the center backs and outside backs,” Curtin said. “He did that a couple times tonight. He found good spots and passed the ball well. He did a great job tonight. It’s something we’ve decided to look at during this game, and I thought it was certainly interesting enough to do it again, that’s for sure.”
Picault’s pace out of the middle of the 4-2-3-1 could be beneficial with Sergio Santos and Michee Ngalina flanking him and Andrew Wooten up top as the center forward.
“Sergio was possessed tonight,” Curtin said. “I thought he was incredible. Fafà, we tried him at the 10 spot because we thought we could press with his ability to close the ball down and turn people over and run in there and cause some problems.”
Starting that foursome in a midweek match would be the best-case scenario to give Kacper Przybyłko, Ilsinho, Jamiro Monteiro and Brenden Aaronson rest before a trip to Mapfre Stadium concludes the three-game excursion.
Defensively, the Union could rely on their fullback depth in R.J. Allen and Matthew Real, who also played center back in the second half next to Aurélien Collin due to the Union’s roster restrictions for Saturday’s game.
“R.J. was intelligent and I thought Matthew Real was excellent in every spot we asked him to play,” Curtin said.
Anthony Fontana, who has taken the most of every first-team opportunity, also shined and scored a stunning free-kick goal in the first half.
“If you go through the midfield, the guys controlled the tempo there,” Curtain said. “Fontana was a bright spot.”
Given how much the Union have relied on their depth in 2019, it is conceivable most of Saturday’s first XI could start a game during the road trip. The San Jose contest makes the most sense so the regulars do not have to experience midweek travel to the West Coast.
In theory, Philadelphia could start Joe Bendik in goal, Real and Allen on the defensive flanks with Collin and Auston Trusty in the middle. In midfield, Fontana could sit in one of the defensive-minded positions, with a front four of Santos, Ngalina, Wooten and Picault. The position next to Fontana would have to be filled by a regular starter since Warren Creavalle is dealing with an injury.
Some of Curtain’s first-choice players would have to make the trip and sit on the bench in San Jose, but that is a far easier task than playing 90 minutes three times in a week.
Curtin has a wide range of options at his disposal, which is yet another sign of how deep his squad is compared to previous seasons.