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It doesn’t have to be all or nothing

Photo: Earl Gardner

Technically, the Union have yet to officially lock in their place for the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs. That’s because it is mathematically possible that Nashville SC (currently the team highest in the standings yet outside the playoffs) wins five and draws two (or wins six) of their seven remaining games; without preventing New England, Montreal, or Orlando from also passing the Union. It’s not particularly likely that will happen, considering Nashville’s all-too-predictable inaugural season struggles served this year with a heaping side of global pandemic. But if that were to happen, and the Union were to fail to earn a single point in their six remaining games, the Union would miss the playoffs.

As such the Union have yet to earn a “-x” next to their names in any depiction of the standings, or even a “-y” indicating they’ve secured at least a spot in the COVID-induced pre-playoff playoffs that MLS is obstinately refusing to call the “Wild Card Round”.

But the absurdity of that possibility can’t be ignored. Short of a wild string of improbabilities, the Union can start thinking of the MLS Cup Playoffs as a “when” rather than an “if”. Which should impact how they approach the remainder of the season. This doesn’t mean the rest of the season doesn’t matter, with the truncated schedule and re-structured playoffs the home field advantage is more valuable then ever. Especially to a team as comfortable at home as the Union clearly are. So they’ll want to play well; they’ll want to keep ahead of the teams below them in the standings and maybe catch or pass the teams above. But that doesn’t mean every game must be played at a full-steam-ahead pace, with the ideal starting eleven and long shifts for key players.

Take tomorrow night’s visit to Audi Field for example. DC United are bad. So bad that they finally removed Ben Olsen, making Jim Curtin the second-longest-tenured coach in MLS. The Union should beat them, and honestly they shouldn’t need every starter to do it. Same can be said for the game against Chicago in two weeks. Even the home and away with New England shouldn’t be a scary proposition for any Union lineup. So why not give a few players the night off through the final stretch? Consider how much more effective Bedoya, Monteiro, or even Aaronson could be with well-rested legs heading into the playoffs.

But there’s more to it than just resting. Fatigue also increases the likelihood of injury. Kacper Przybyłko’s absence was keenly felt in the playoffs last season, so it could be prudent to make sure he makes it to them this season without injury, either by seeing what Andrew Wooten is really made of or by getting Cory Burke back into the squad as quickly as possible. Kai Wagner is just returning from injury, and Ray Gaddis hasn’t even returned yet. So let Real and Mbaizo have the playing time, if nothing else it will help find their place for 2021.

Of course the other side of the coin is that momentum is real, and that teams that play together more and win more tend to have better post-seasons. But instead of looking at each game as an individual victory, the Union and head coach Jim Curtin must look at their destination as victory. If they beat DC 6-0, and make tidy work of the rest of the schedule, but lose early in the playoffs, that’s not progress.

So aim for the middle path- get three points from the games they’re supposed to, but do it without over-extending themselves. Save energy for the games against Toronto and at Columbus, and the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs waiting just over the horizon.


  1. I somewhat disagree with this. If the Union win the Supporters Shield, securing a place in the Concacaf Champions League and their first trophy as a club, I consider the season a success regardless of what happens in the playoffs. And while winning the supporters shield is not a guarantee, the Union have a good shot at it, especially if they are able to beat Toronto at home.

    I’m not against the idea of resting a few players in weak matches, especially when it’s a position where we have available depth (like starting Wooten for Przybylko at striker), or giving Wagner the time off he needs to rehab his injuries. However, I think there’s a limit there. Not sure we can afford to really rotate out a midfielder with Martinez on international duty, as much as I would like to see the club do so. Yes, I’m worried about the fatigue level of Monteiro, Bedoya and Aaronson, but I’m not sure how we can afford to rest them right now without risking the supporters shield.

    If we lose to Toronto or if Martinez comes back, it becomes a slightly different conversation. But for now, lets play for the shield.

  2. I think one of the biggest problems with the idea of resting people is the rotating injuries they’ve had. For example, look at the outside back situation. First Wagner got hurt. Then, just as he was getting better, Gaddis went down. That means they’ve only had one backup between two positions. Similarly with center back (realizing Collin is a last resort). With Martinez missing a bunch of games, they are shorthanded at midfield (and hopefully Creavalle won’t see a lot of time). So even if Curtin wanted to practice more squad rotation, many of the pieces just aren’t there.
    The New England games are not as much of a pushover as we might hope. Next Monday’s is on artificial turf. In 2 games on turf this season, the Union have scored 0 goals (and pitched 2 shutouts).
    The most positive thing with the rest of the schedule is that if somehow the Union win their last 6, they will win the Supporter’s Shield unless Toronto makes up a 4+ goal differential (4 + twice the number of goals the Union beat them by). However, given the actual schedule, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Union drop to 3rd or 4th.

  3. For me, it is full throttle.
    If winning is the metric, then win.
    No backing in to playoffs, no Missed Points Down the Stretch FC that forces them to play in Columbus or NYCFC.
    Bullshit. Full throttle. Currently… I basically work FT nights, am managing a full grad school course load, have four kids currently schooling from home, have a puppy that barks and wakes me up every day on 3 hours sleep in between shifts—have a precocious kiddo chasing some form of dream waking me up every other day at the break of dawn to get better at this silly game…. ain’t much rest here. Time to sleep when it is over and ded.
    I’m for resting Alejandro a bit but otherwsie …No excuses. Full throttle. No excuses. Win every game possible and gain as many points as possible.
    Adrian: into a beleagered Rocky’s eyes. soft light of the early morning firmament breaking through the window…. first softly…”win”….then firmly..”WIN.”
    Mickey Goldmill: in the corner, still in the corner after three straight days….and Bill Conti’s ‘Going the Distance’ growing as transitional music in the background….”What are we wating for! Take Us.”
    If winning matters, that is. Go and win.

  4. I agree with this, but it is the MF that scares me.
    Anyone know why we haven’t seen Oravec get any time yet? with Martinez away and Creavalle dropping a turdburger in the first half on Sunday, I felt sure we’d see him. Still nothing.
    To me Bedoya’s legs have looked heavy the past two games…

    • I completely agree with the question about Oravec. I would love to hear something – anything – about his status. I remain hopeful. However, if he’s not ready to fill in some minutes for one of the overworked midfielders, then why have him in the game day 18?

      • Because they have been barely able to field 20 players in shirts.
        Why else were both Joe Bendik and Matt Freese dressed Sunday night?
        On the off chance that you go ahead 6-0, you might get Oravec or Ngalina into the game.
        And now Turner and de Vries join that group since they are back.

  5. Curtin confirmed in his press conference today that De Vreis and Turner are back training with the first team and will be on teh bench.

    You have to expect one or both of them to get real minutes in the second half.

    Maybe longer if we are up big by like the 60th minute.

  6. I would reverse your question about Oravec, and suggest that because we have not seen at all in situations where using him would have seemed obvious, we can conclude that he is not judged ready for prime time.
    Same with Ngalina.
    Neither have been listed on any injury reports.
    Tanner was apparently not blowing smoke when he commented sometime earlier, in the context of Oravec getting some games with the appropriate Slovakian national team or national youth team, that they wanted to get him some games to work on his confidence. They did the same with Turner once Oravec was back by sending Turner down to Union II, and with Freese and with de Vries.

  7. If Glesnes is better, might be interesting resting Bedoya first half and having Jack start with Jamiro at holding mids. Have to think that Elliott and Montiero together would be pretty solid, but may have to flip the usual sides to account for foot speed – Elliott in front of Mckenzie and Montiero in front of Glesnes.
    If they need Bedoya, bring him in 2nd half. Otherwise let him rest the whole game.

    • I agree that this is the game to see elliot at DM. No striker is going to want to be rested against a team as poor as DC, but bedoya needs a rest when he can get one

    • I agree that this is the game to see elliot at DM. No striker is going to want to be rested against a team as poor as DC, but bedoya needs a rest when he can get one. so basically just change the midfield to see how it looks

  8. A detail.
    For what it is worth, on the club’s own website, Cory Burke’s status has changed from “Loaned Out” to “International.”
    No other information available.

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