PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Union’s shift to a 4-4-2 diamond formation could benefit a player who has been searching for more first-team time.
Homegrown midfielder Derrick Jones has been waiting in the wings behind Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin in central midfield, but now with more central players being used, the 21-year-old is poised to take the next step in his game.
“I think Derrick can no longer be looked at as a young player,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said during his weekly conference call on Wednesday. “He’s been a pro now for several years. He’s done a good job for us at the 6. He played at the 8 yesterday. It’s a little different and maybe demands a little more in terms of getting forward, something that fits his skill set.
“He had some decent moments yesterday (against Orlando City), but we’re going to continue pushing him and challenging him to get on the ball more, play forward faster and to find balls in between the lines. We know we have a really good player in Derrick and he’s doing a good job for us. Again, we want that to be great. That’s going to be the challenge to continue to push him. He’s certainly getting a lot of reps now with the top group in training and he’s doing well.”
Since joining the Union’s first team, Jones has played largely in a reserve role or in U.S. Open Cup contests. He’s racked up 1,087 minutes, with more than half of them coming during the 2017 Major League Soccer season.
With the Union utilizing the diamond, Jones can either line up in the No. 6 position or on one of the edges of the diamond, opposite Bedoya.
Regardless of where he lines up, Jones’ success could be key to the effectiveness of the diamond. He’s a young player with a good amount of talent that has waited patiently for his turn.
Union fans won’t have to wait too much longer to see club-record signing Marco Fabian on the field in a blue or white jersey.
Curtin said the Mexican international could’ve played in Tuesday’s closed-door scrimmage against Orlando City, but the coach opted to keep him out after a whirlwind tour of Philadelphia, which included a visit to the Philadelphia 76ers game Sunday afternoon.
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“I think he could’ve played yesterday against Orlando,” Curtin said. “We had a discussion about it. He was coming off pretty long travel and then also travel from Philly to Orlando after a whirlwind of a weekend and a lot going on. We decided it was best to not play minutes mutually. I thought it was important too for him to sit and watch us play and what we demand from certain positions.”
In terms of form, Fabian, who didn’t play much with Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt, appears to be impressive, according to Curtin.
“If this is him rusty, I’m happy because he’s special,” Curtin said. “You can tell that in five minutes.”
Starting with Saturday’s match against the Montreal Impact, Curtin will get a chance to further evaluate his best striker partnership and which players win the competition at left and right back.
At forward, the club has used seven players in its preseason rotation, but the players who stood out the most should receive increased minutes over the next two weeks.
“We have a pretty good idea, and some things are starting to take shape, but I’ve been stressing to them it’s a clean slate for everyone and a real open competition at the forward spot,” Curtin said. “We have seven strikers in camp right now for two of the forward spots, so it’s tricky managing the minutes and keeping them all happy, but at the same time, they’ve responded well to the new pressing and demanding a lot of them defensively, and that’s led to a lot of the attacking moments. Good competition, and you’ll see in these final three games here longer minutes for guys that are maybe taking the lead in that race.”
At left back, Matt Real, who Curtin noted had a strong game against Orlando, and Kai Wagner are competing for a starting spot, while Olivier Mbaizo and Ray Gaddis are fighting for the right back spot in the XI.
“I think Kai’s stepped in and done a really good job for us and been really steady, which is what you want out of an outside back,” Curtin said. “Right now, I think he’s played it very disciplined and safe. For a 21-year-old, he’s been impressive in that regard, but you can see he has the engine to do it end to end.
“Matthew Real had a really good game against Orlando. Fabinho picked up a little bit of a hamstring so we took him out as a precautionary, but he’s been sharp as well. Mbaizo’s taken a couple knocks and he’s been a little disjointed in terms of the amount of training and games he’s received. Ray Gaddis has played excellent and done a good job.”
The club’s current roster sits at 26 players, but there could be a 27th added soon. Trialist Yomi Scintu has been linked with a permanent move to the club. Curtin told reporters nothing is official on that front for the forward, who picked up an injury early in preseason.
“Yomi is in with us,” Curtin said. “He’s doing a rehab stint. Nothing is official in terms of paperwork on that. He came in on trial for a couple days and had an injury. Now he’s just rehabbing with the team. Nothing official or finalized in terms of contract for either Steel or Philadelphia Union at this time.”