As preseason scrimmages begin, how will the Union approach conditioning?

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Watching a Philadelphia Union preseason scrimmage has never been the same as watching a regular season game.

2019 was Ernst Tanner’s first year, and his primary task was to install his new playing style. We do not know whether he will adjust past conditioning patterns now that his transition year of observation has passed. What follows reflects Jim Curtin’s earlier patterns,

Most fundamental to any preseason is bringing as much of the squad as possible as close as possible to full match fitness for the season opener. This season’s opener is at FC Dallas on Feburary 29. Playing well and giving up fewer goals than your side has scored does remain important in preseason. But it does not carry the same weight as when the games begin to count in the table.

This year’s “game-conditions events” — whether described as scrimmages or preseason matches — occur on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The uniformity is ideal for creating a predictable rhythm among practices and games.

Curtin conditions each player in a single continuous designated block of time, straight through. (The experiment conducted with Bethlehem a few preseasons ago using two blocks of time per player, each of shorter duration, was neither repeated nor adopted more widely.) It is useful to think of pairs or trios of players occupying single positions.

Based on what we know from experience, here are some educated guesses as to how the club will approach the seven scheduled scrimmages.

(A note: at the moment, it appears that only the preseason matches against Miami and Dallas will be open to the public. No streaming information is available at the moment.)

First Clearwater camp

In the first match — this morning against Atlanta — because most players already began practicing while north in Delaware, I expect positional trios to split minutes equally, 30-30-30, and pairs will go 45-45, with the veterans tending to appear together and first.  Injuries and cards always create variation from these norms.

In the second match, on Saturday against Chicago, assuming the match lasts 90 minutes there will be more 45-45 pairs, fewer trios, and the third members of trios will not receive  time equal to the other two. Those receiving the longer times are “ahead” of those who do not unless an injury rehab is involved. Once or twice the second scrimmage has been three 40 or 45-minute periods, if the opponents and the referees have been willing. The variation is most likely to happen when both sides are at approximately the same stage of their respective preseasons. Chicago opens its preseason against Philadelphia.

The third match, next Wednesday against Montreal at 7 p.m., usually adds a few individuals returning after halftime for 10 or 15 minutes extra in 60-30 splits, to the second game’s conditioning pattern.

In 2019 during the first Clearwater camp, the artists formerly known as Bethlehem Steel and select Academy players played their own schedule against club U19 sides and NCAA teams. It seems reasonable to expect something similar this year for Union II, although neither schedule nor players are publicly known.

Second Clearwater camp

After the break weekend in Philadelphia, those who have returned south are the serious candidates for the first team. Last year after the break, Bethlehem remained north and played its own sequence of scrimmages and games, both locally and as far away as northern Virginia and Pittsburgh. We do not know whether that pattern will repeat.

The Union’s first game of Clearwater Two, against FC Cincinnati on Wednesday February 12, should repeat the conditioning pattern of the previous one against Montreal, mostly pairs at each position splitting time 45-45. Probably there will be fewer trios per position, along with a few 60-30 pairs.

Next, against expansion side Inter Miami at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday the 15th, most pairs’ minutes will probably split 60-30. Bench conditioning will likely begin to lag behind that of the starters, so in the past informal arrangements have sometimes been made with other sides for mutually beneficial conditioning scrimmages among bench players.

Unusually, the next-to-last match this year — facing off against FC Dallas on Wednesday the 19th — is against the season opener’s opponent. Were past patterns followed and each team to reveal its starters, a 75-15 conditioning split could be expected. The best guess here is that the conditioning imperative will probably outweigh information-shielding considerations, especially if video of the other’s prior preseason events is available to each team.

In the final match, against DC United one week before the opener, the starters will almost certainly go 90, with the game day 18 providing substitutes as though it were a regular game. Bench conditioning is sacrificed to the needs of the starters.

A wild guess

In the first six preseason games the relationships between the opponents and Philadelphia are embryonic and sparse. Atlanta’s coach Frank de Boer is beginning only his second MLS year.  Chicago’s Raphael Wicky is beginning his first, as is Montreal’s Thierry Henry. Cincinnati’s Ron Jans began last year, after both the Philly games had been played. Miami’s Diego Alonso is running an expansion side, and Dallas’s Luchi Gonzalez is entering his second season.

Only the opponent in the final game, DC’s Ben Olsen, has coached repeatedly against Jim Curtin. And while the rivalry between the two sides is intense and contentious, the relationship between the two men may recognize mutual benefit in spite of the hostility.  An informal, unannounced conditioning event between the benches of DC and Philly that final Saturday morning is not beyond imagining.

2020 Union First Team Florida Preseason "Game" Schedule

The Union themselves have not yet officially announced all these details, so they could change.
Jan 29Weds11:00 amIMG Academy (Bradenton)Atlanta
Feb 1Sat4:00 pmDiMaggio Sports Complex (Clearwater)Chicago
Feb 5Weds7:00 pmDiMaggio ComplexMontreal
Feb 12Weds4:00 pmIMG AcademyCincinnati
Feb 15Sat4:30 pmAl Lang Field (St. Petersburg)Miami
Feb 19Weds12:00 noonDiMaggio ComplexDallas
Feb 22Sat7:00 pmDiMaggio ComplexDC United



  1. Hah! What a laugh!!
    The Atlanta event information from earlier today makes absolute mincemeat of my expectations as detailed above. There may be no confirmation possible since the event is officially closed door, but it displays a conditioning pattern I have not seen before.
    There are some of my expected pairs, all were 45-45 splits save one unequal trio where the inequality makes me suspect an injury. Now, the information reported in the blog may not be complete. we have no idea what the restrictions are on closed door scrimmages. Union Communications may have been pushing the envelope as far as possible to do what they did.
    here’s what got reported on the “Match Blog.” a starting line-up, a second half starting line-up, and one second half substitution. the specifics follow below.
    GK: Blake & Bendik 45-45
    LB: Real 90
    LCB: Collin & Topey 45-45
    RCB: Turner 90
    RB: Mbaizo. 90
    DCM: Creavalle & El Brujo 45-45
    LCM: de Vreis 90
    RCM: Bedoya & Trialist 45-45
    ACM: Fontana. 90
    RW: Ilsinho, Rayyan, Borgelin 45-35?-10?
    S: Santos & Przybylko 45-45
    As I look at the data above I think I see that all five of the 90s are 22 years old or younger, and each has others currently ahead of them at the position. And except for Przybylko where injury caution is involved all the 45 minute people who started are older.
    It will be interesting to note how the Atlanta 90s are handled Saturday against Chicago.

  2. Follow on to my comment immediately above.
    WE have no idea whether these individuals even made the trip. Monteiro, Wooten, Ngalina, Oravec, Wagner, Elliott, Gaddis and Freese. McKenzie and Aaronson are away at national team camp in Southern California.

  3. Atlanta starting XI: Brad Guzan, Franco Escoba, Miles Robinson, Fernando Meza, Jake Mulraney, Brooks Lennon, Eric Remidi, Emerson Hyndman, Ezequiel Barco, Pity Martinez, Josef Martinez
    Essentially their top XI, so take nothing from the scoreline.

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