CHESTER, Pa– The Philadelphia Union enter Saturday’s clash with Orlando City as one of the hottest teams in Major League Soccer with five consecutive wins in all competitions.
But just because they’re rolling along in their chase of a playoff spot, the Union aren’t comfortable with where they’re at.
“It makes you get greedy to be honest,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “We have players that feel it and are thriving off of it. I continue to warn not to read too much of the headlines. We’ve accomplished something, but it’s still not our end goal, which is to be in the playoffs, but we’re not there yet.”
With confidence flowing through the squad, the Union could start the same 11 players from Wednesday’s 2-0 triumph over D.C. United, even though Saturday’s game at Orlando City Stadium will be their third in a week.
Curtin and his staff usually choose the starting lineup a day in advance, but with plenty of factors involved in the decision-making process for Saturday, the roles of the squad haven’t been determined yet.
“We usually have the lineup picked going into film,” Curtin said. “Still some things we’re trying to decide. They’re all telling me they want to go again because they feel good, they have a nice shutout streak going. They have been playing some really good attacking soccer. We have something special going, but in this league you can’t get comfortable because you get punished.”
Most of the decisions will be easy for Curtin, as 80 to 90 percent of his lineup should already be picked based off the in-form players in the squad.
However, there are three spots in which Curtin could make adjustments, which would in turn force changes in his game plan.
The easiest of those decisions will come at centerback, where Jack Elliott should keep his place although Mark McKenzie is back to full strength.
“It’s a good problem,” Curtin said. “Mark was having an exceptional season. He had a little bit of an injury and Jack stepped in and did a great job. I couldn’t be higher on Mark. I’m happy with him. He’s done good in training. We’ll find ways to keep his fitness at 90 minutes because we’re going to call upon both of them. Jack is tough to take off the field at this moment.”
As for the front four of the 4-2-3-1 formation, Curtin could opt to start C.J. Sapong on the wing again with Cory Burke up top and Fafa Picault on the opposite wing.
If one or more of those players can’t go 90 minutes and would be better suited as a substitute, Curtin has options, starting with Ilsinho, who could slide into a wing position in place of Picault or Sapong or start on the flank, with Sapong taking Burke’s spot up top.
The latter scenario is unlikely given the success Sapong’s achieved on the wing with Burke in the lone striker position. Given the nature of the depth chart, one of the two natural forwards will have to go 90 minutes against the Lions.
Curtin’s substitution policy has also been straightforward in the last two games, with Ilsinho being the attacking presence entering the game while Derrick Jones and Warren Creavalle serve as closers.
Jones, who spent the majority of the first half of the season with United Soccer League affiliate Bethlehem Steel, entered ahead of Creavalle in the last two matches, but don’t read too much into that.
“(D.C.’s Luciano) Acosta was really starting to drift high,” Curtin said of the second half of that match. “Derrick’s ability to run with the ball led us to lean toward Derrick in that moment. You could see there’s moments when he opens up his legs and guys don’t want to chase him at the stage of the game. Little bit of personnel, little bit of what the game needed at that time. That’s why we chose Derrick.”
Regardless of which players hit the field Saturday, the Union are aware of the threat last-place Orlando City poses in its home stadium.
“They have great fans, great support and they’re going to put everything into this game,” Curtin said. “They’ve had a little bit of misfortune, and if you watch their games, they’re actually playing decent soccer. Some balls are bouncing against them. We know what that feels like from the beginning of the year. You don’t want to be the team to give anyone momentum.”