Press Conference / Union

MLS newcomers FC Cincinnati provide a tougher-than-expected test for the Union

Photo courtesy of USL

The general thinking is that MLS newcomers provide something of cannon fodder for the league’s incumbent teams.

For Philadelphia Union, that hasn’t been the case. They have never won their first road game against an expansion side, going 0-5-3 and getting outscored 13-3 in such games.

The Union’s trip to southern Ohio will prove equally as challenging.

“We go to a very difficult and new place in Cincinnati,” Philadelphia Union head coach told the pool of reporters gathered for his weekly press conference at Talen Energy Stadium. “It seems like the crowd they have there is something special.”

It’s no surprise an expansion side has robust support for its new team. It’s less surprising considering the raucous crowds in Cincinnati played a key role in bringing an MLS club to southern Ohio.

In 2017 as a USL side, 33,250 fans flocked to sell out Nippert Stadium for a U.S. Open Cup semifinal against New York Red Bulls. Even The Orange and Blue’s worst attendance the last two years was 15,244. In their MLS home debut against Portland Timbers, their venue again reached maximum capacity— and it’s likely that figure will again be reached this weekend.

Cincinnati ranks third in attendance behind only Atlanta United and Seattle Sounders. The Union’s combined attendance from their first two home games would fall 617 seats short of reaching the single-game total of Saturday’s opponent.

The fans aren’t the only bit of home-cooking Nippert Stadium provides. The field itself is its own problem for Curtin to solve.

“We let the players into the discussion to see the risk/reward with training on turf this week,” said Curtin, as Cincinnati are one of only a few teams who play on the less-than-stellar surface. “We’re discussing right now how many days, if any, do we chose to train on turf. The players all say “no” to that. They don’t like it, but we’ll make a decision on that.”

Curtin admits his side will have to overcome the challenge as visitors. “We have to be able to adjust and adapt to it.” Curtin continued, “Is it an advantage for them? Absolutely.”

FC Cincinnati’s play has been equally as daunting as its venue.

After getting shellacked by Seattle in their MLS debut, Cincy has drawn on the road against the defending MLS champions, embarrassed the other participant in last season’s championship, and secured their first ever win away from home.

“They go from defense to attack as quickly and as dangerously as any team in our league,” said Curtin. “We’ll have to be smart in our approach and don’t get lulled to sleep when in possession because they hit you very quickly.”

The home side in Saturday’s contest hasn’t allowed a goal in their last two games. That back line is led by one of MLS’ premier center backs, Kendall Waston.

“He’s great. He’s a killer.” Curtin continued to praise the player, “He’s as tough of a center back as there is to break down in our league. Set pieces become very dangerous.”

The coach will be bolstered by a plethora of players returning from injury and international duty. The biggest addition, however, will be Designated Player Marco Fabián’s return from a two game suspension.

Curtin believes the key to cracking Waston and the rest of Cincy’s back line could be a partnership with the Mexican international and the kid who’s excelled as his replacement, Brenden Aaronson. The manager believes both can play on the field together.

“You’re not going to win any physical duels with those two [Waston and his partner Nick Hagglund], so you have to be clever and smart,” explained Curtin. “To have those two No. 10 type of players on the field where they’re comfortable, turning in tight spots, and pulling those center backs out of position is something that we’ll work on all week.”

That partnership between Fabián and Aaronson might not only be crucial to overcoming the test in Cincinnati, but to the Union’s success this season.

Curtin’s tidbits:
  • For the third straight week, midfielder Jamiro Monteiro’s status remains in doubt: “We’re confident he will be available, but as of right now, he’s not.”
  • How is Monteiro handling the delay: “It’s as frustrating for the player as anyone. I think he adds a new, special dynamic to our midfield. He’s a unique player who brings a unique skill set.”
  • And will Monteiro be the starter when he’s available: “On talent, certainly…I would say yeah.”
  • On the national recognition forward David Accam, midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, and defender Jack Elliott received for the recent victory: “Individual recognition comes with team success.”
  • On the latter’s success this season: “Elliott has quietly had some really strong performances…Center backs are really doing a good job when you’re not bringing up their name.”
  • On the prospect of center back Mark McKenzie playing in the U-20 World Cup: “Nothing has been finalized yet, but there’s discussions going on every day.”
  • On his newly acquired star Marco Fabián’s availability and fitness this weekend: “It’s probably not realistic to think 90 minutes is going to come easily for him.
  • On the injury front: “[Forward Sergio] Santos is coming back a little bit ahead of schedule.”


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    “center backs are really doing a good job when you’re not bringing up their name.”
    maybe in the MLS you played in Jim—man this comment is naive.
    Do you watch the world’s game regularly? Do you tune in to academy matches in the rest of the world? I do. Lots.
    This comment is the exact mentality this operation terrifies me about from the youth to the first team…. and 2parsecs from accurate.
    The modern CB is one of the most technically, tactically and athletically gifted players on the field. Note the order of those words. It wasn’t random.
    Dumb thing to say.

  2. I’m happy to hear Curtin talking about Aaronson and Fabian on the pitch together. If that midfield diamond starts with Faian, Aaronson, bedoya and Montiero, I like our chances. Would be nice to put a dent in the Cinci hype train.

    • My prediction is that Fabian will be one of the “forwards” with Aaronson as the 10; Montiero will play the left if he’s available, and if he’s not it’ll be Creavalle. Medunjinun will be at the bottom of the diamond. The only way he’s not is if Jim uses the astroturf as an excuse.

      • Your prediction is far more likely than mine. Though I have a hard time seeing Jim bench Picault. But yeah, he’ll wheel Medunjanin out there for every 90-minute opportunity he gets until the Bosnian’s knees turn to powder.

      • Who says he’d bench Picault? While Accam makes the most sense given his performance last week, I think it’s pretty even odds as to whether it would be Accam or Picault up top with Fabian in this setup. (I think Burke is for sure an “odd man out” in this setup.)

      • Well, Jim picked Jay Simpson to start two seasons ago and he never got his job back after he punctured a lung and CJ started scoring. If a forward gets in a game and scores two, I don’t see how you can bench him.

        This match could be tactically interesting. Cincy has been a bit of a counter attacking team. I wonder how they’d fair if you tried to coax them forward by sitting back with Picault and Accam up front to get behind their centerbacks. I don’t predict that what the Union will do… I suspect we’ll go for it. But who knows?

    • Jim wont do it, but if the counterattacking is the biggest threat, there should be a beast at the bottom of the diamond.
      Would love to see Montiero there – like Pete said above. Give Haris a rest.

  3. I agree Burke should be odd man out. He spent way to much time on the ground “hurt”, but really just showing too much frustration/emotion. He has skills but not that tough mentally, I don’t think

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