Press Conference / Union

Lineup uncertainty looms large ahead of Philly’s clash with Columbus

Photo: Earl Gardner

It’s a bit foggy in Chester, PA— and this isn’t a reference to the weather.

International duties and injury concerns have left Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin with a shortage of options ahead of Saturday’s contest with Columbus Crew SC.

Further complicating the situation is the status of recently acquired midfielder Jamiro Monteiro, who has yet to gain eligibility to play for the Union.

Generally, Curtin’s weekly press conferences provide a bit clarity for the collection of reporters assembled at Talen Energy Stadium. Today’s gathering answered some questions, but with the coach’s responses came additional queries.

So let’s start with the “man” of the hour.

Marco and the kid 

“Brenden Aaronson stepped up in a big spot, and it’s been fun to watch his growth and development for the past ten years,” said Curtin. “I think the crowning moment will be scoring a goal in front of 50,000 people. I’m sure when Brenden tells the story when he’s older it’ll be 100,000 people.”

The question of whether Aaronson had done enough to remain in the starting lineup didn’t need to be asked.

“Obviously Brenden has shown that he belongs on the field,” stated the coach. “Could that be on the tip of the diamond or the corner of the diamond? Could that be as the No. 10 again?”

The barrier to Aaronson lining up in the same position that he found such success in Atlanta playing is the club’s most notable signing in franchise history. Designated Player and Mexican international Marco Fabián wasn’t acquired to sit on the bench.

Curtin, though, offered a solution many had suggestion.

“We’re operating right now that [Marco] will be available for us.” Curtin continued, “He’s a guy that can play as that second forward. He’s done it for Eintracht Frankfurt”

Two things are addressed in the above quote:

  1. It’s phrased in a manner which seems to allow for, while unlikely, the possibility that Fabián could still face an additional suspension from MLS related to the red card he received against Sporting Kansas City.
  2. Playing Fabián off of forward Fafa Picault creatively addresses the hole in the Union’s lineup this weekend. Forward Cory Burke, who started the first three games, is away with the Jamaican national team. His potential replacements Sergio Santos and Kacper Przybylko are both out with injuries.

The possibility this happening or of Aaronson playing as the No. 8 opposite of Alejandro Bedoya likely depends on an even more complex situation.

The international man of mystery

“To be clear on [Monteiro]— he’s not 100% cleared yet, but we’re confident that it will be sorted out come kickoff,” Curtin revealed. “So that is another international spot.

This comes a week after saying the 25-year-old would play against Columbus “at the latest.”

The complication stems from that aforementioned international roster spot. Currently, the Union have all such slots occupied. This was meant to be alleviated by two players receiving green cards, one of whom was believed to be Burke.

“You have a situation where you can loan players down to [Bethlehem] Steel,” Curtin offered as an answer to the roster dilemma. “We could get caught in a scenario…where we might have to have one less player in the 18. Right now it’s all back-and-forth talking because we don’t officially no who is available from the international standpoint.”

If Philadelphia are able to ensure Monteiro’s availability, Curtin’s opinion of the player all but guarantees a starting spot.

“In my brain, I’m trying to find a comp so I can give something of a reference to people, but he’s unique.” The manager expounded, “I can’t come up with anybody without combining two or three different players. I think fans will really like his ability to cover ground and close the ball down— his technical ability and quick feet.”

Club before country

With all the moving parts, the team did secure stability along their back line. It was surprising not to see young center backs Auston Trusty and Mark Mckenzie among the players listed for the U.S. U-23 and U-20 national teams.

But it wasn’t because either player didn’t belong.

“Trusty was on the initial U-23 group,” said Curtin. “But with him playing the minutes that he was we kept him back. The U.S. national team was very understanding of that.”

The manager went on to mention the importance of friendlies vs. league play. It’ll be interesting to see what decision is made if Trusty is selected for the Olympic qualification tilts.

For McKenzie, it was unclear if U-20 coach Tab Ramos was as understanding having previously expressed frustration with teams failing to release players.

For Curtin, it’s a matter of self interest. “It’s no secret Tab has had [McKenzie] as the captain of his U-20 group.” Curtin continued, “He’s another guy we have back with us now as we’re pretty thin as a group.”

Curtin’s tidbits
  • On the Union’s version of  The Odd Couple— Haris Medunjanin and Aaroson: “I think you have to give a lot of credit to Haris, his roommate. He kept him calm during not just this week, but has put his arm around him in a way that no one publicly will ever see.”
  • If Curtin doesn’t go with Fabián as a second striker, there is always David Accam. “He’s been working hard in training. Obviously he wants to be on the field…He’s certainly in the discussion.”
  • On the threat posed by the Crew’s outside back Harrison Afful: “We’ve talked about their ability to attack down the right-hand side  with Afful who is a right back, but gets into attack as much as anybody. We’ll have to be smart about how we handle that not dissimilar to [Julian] Gressel and his ability to attack down the right for Atlanta United.”
  • On the man who coaches Afful, Caleb Porter: “He has a real way of how he wants to play, but he also can adjust to his players…He can adapt and adjust as well as any coach in this league.”
  • On the man who Porter starts in net, Zack Steffen: “To see a kid from our area sign for Manchester City, probably the best team in the world right now, is exceptional. I couldn’t be more happy for him. He’s a hungry, humble, quiet kid…I hope he doesn’t play against us.”


  1. Zizouisgod says:

    I heard that they’re going to solve the international roster spot problem by lending Fabinho to Sun Rocket FC.

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    The club before country complex is a ……complex one.
    While I understand if friendlies are the reason… qualifying is something altogether different- especially during a time of upheaval and fresh starts and the ripening of MLS Academy players to raise the level of the game domestically and by extension internationally as a means of showcasing ‘our’ talent.
    If I’m MM or AT and I can’t go represent my country I’m fairly annoyed. Especially if I’m MM currently sitting behind JE on the bench.

    • Nick Fishman says:

      Trusty makes sense. I’m curious about this for McKenzie, though. Jones was allowed to leave and has actually played this season. Collin can fill in as the emergency option.

      My guess is that with all of his injuries, the Union want McKenzie to settle back into a normal flow and try to win his job back.

      • With all racers awake, please, that I am just guessing with no hidden knowledge, … .
        McKenzie might be getting some game minutes Sunday night if he is not needed for some emergency Saturday night.
        It would Minutes on a pitch in a game, albeit not quite MLS intensity or pace.

  3. As a temporary solution to the international crunch, could the Union loan Burke to Steel for week? Obviously, Burke wouldn’t be playing – which then puts Steel in a little bit of a bind with an international slot of their own being used to “hide” a player from the main club. But for just the one weekend, it might be something they could work around. Of course, there could be roster rules that would make this not work; I would have no idea. That’s why I’m asking…

  4. Bedoya claims via social media that Fabian can’t play Sat.

    • That’s insane. It shouldn’t have even been a red card let alone a 2 game suspension. What is wrong with MLS.

      • I’m not sure there’s enough storage space – or time – available for somebody to write up a reply that provides a complete answer…

  5. Old Soccer Coach says:

    John Ling speaks truth.

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