For the third straight game, the Philadelphia Union will have to rely on their forward depth.
On Wednesday, Union manager Jim Curtin revealed leading goal scorer Kacper Przybylko has not resumed training ahead of Thursday’s Eastern Conference semifinal against Atlanta United.
“It’s highly doubtful now at this stage that Kacper will be able to go,” Curtin said. “There’s just too much pain in the foot. He’s devastated to not be participating in training again today, but at this time of the year, everybody is banged up a little bit. Atlanta has some injuries as well. We’ll put a strong group on the field and look to get a win.”
In previous seasons, the Union may have been doomed in a big game without their top scorer, but they have three capable forwards ready for the challenge.
Wooten does not have a goal in 414 minutes, but his hold-up play has been valuable, especially with the towering Przybylko on the bench.
“I thought Andrew did a good job in the game holding the ball up, drawing fouls, moving the line and setting the tone in that first 60 minutes wearing down Red Bull a little bit,” Curtin said.
In either the 4-2-3-1, or 4-4-2, Wooten’s physicality is important to wear down Atlanta’s defense, which will be without center backs Michael Parkhurst and Miles Robinson.
No matter which way the Five Stripes defense aligns, Curtin has an approach ready, which likely involves Wooten as the target man to start.
“We have flexibility within our group,” Curtin said. “I think you saw in the Red Bull game, we changed tactically quite a bit through the 120 minutes and we’ll have that going into this game against Atlanta.”
Santos’ tactical flexibility, combined with his pace, could create a few opportunities for the Union, especially if he plays off Wooten.
“Sergio, I can tell you, it was not the plan for him to go 100 minutes (Sunday),” Curtin said. “That was extraordinary. We were thinking going into the game that 60 would be his limit. He just about doubled that and he did it by still sprinting at the end. Incredible performance from him and showed how much of a handful he can be.”
If the Union go to the 4-2-3-1, the Brazilian can shift out to the wing with Brenden Aaronson on the opposite side and Jamiro Monteiro at the No. 10.
If the 4-4-2 is utilized, Monteiro will reside on the left side of the diamond with Alejandro Bedoya on the other edge and Aaronson into the No. 10 role.
Picault will likely be one of the three substitutes called upon to keep the energy at a high level. Ilsinho and Marco Fabian are the two others.
On Sunday, Picault netted the equalizer and recorded an assist on Fabian’s game-winning strike.
“Fafa came into the game and impacted it in a big way,” Curtin said. “It’s not often you see a guy go up for a header, and first of all win it against Tim Parker, let alone win it in the fashion he did to score his goal. That was pretty special. He was possessed on the night.”
Sure, Przybylko’s knack for scoring in the box will be missed, but the Union proved in their most important contest of the season they could make up for his absence, and the mentality will be the same Thursday.
“We had guys step up in big ways in his absence,” Curtin said. “I think there was a little more from the group because guys would kill to be on the field with us. We can get an emotional boost from that.”