Analysis / For Pete's Sake

Three questions for the Union before two games in four days

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

The games come thick and fast this week for Philadelphia Union in Florida.

Jim Curtin’s men take on the team closest to them in the table, Oscar Pareja’s Orlando City, on Thursday evening at Exploria Stadium, before traveling down I-95 to take cellar-dweller Inter Miami in Fort Lauderdale.

(Fans of either of those teams, if that description of how you drive from Orlando to Miami is inaccurate, feel free to keep it to yourself. I cannot emphasize how much I do not care if you have a secret, better way to get there.)

It’ll be a big challenge for a Union team that hasn’t played its best soccer — and is missing key pieces right now, due to the Gold Cup and injuries.

But it’s also an opportunity to pick up critical road points as the season reaches its halfway mark.

Here are three big questions I’ll be keeping my eye on for these two matches.

Who starts in midfield?

With Jamiro Monteiro returning from suspension, Curtin faces a good problem to have: five starting-caliber midfielders for four spots on the pitch.

The last time Monteiro, Daniel Gazdag, Alejandro Bedoya, Leon Flach, and Jose Martinez were all available — two matches ago, against New York Red Bulls — the manager squeezed all five onto the pitch, playing Gazdag as a striker alongside Kacper Przybylko.

But with that experiment mostly ineffective — and striker Sergio Santos scoring in each of the last two games — it would be surprising to see that lineup again.

So who sits?

Expect to see different combinations in each match. Bedoya will likely sit at least one. Although the club captain rarely leaves the lineup, Bedoya is 34, and he can’t reasonably be expected to start every match the rest of the way. (He’s missed one of fourteen so far this season.) I would guess he’ll rotate with Flach. The 20-year-old has been so much more than expected in his first MLS campaign, but he’s less essential to the Union’s success than either of Gazdag, Monteiro, or Martinez.

And — for my money — nothing is more important for the Union’s big-picture hopes this season than getting Gazdag integrated into the team.

Youth or experience at goalkeeper?

The last time we saw Matt Freese, the U.S. youth international was being sent off for a moment of madness, arm-tackling a Red Bulls attacker in front of goal after an ill-advised decision to try to play a weak backpass.

Now, having served his one-match suspension, Curtin must choose whether Freese will return to the lineup, or whether Joe Bendik will get another start in place of the internationally occupied Andre Blake.

There’s a strong argument to give Freese another shot. Freese is young, has more upside, and is probably the more talented player right now. If he was going to get these starts with Blake out — as it seems from his start in the Red Bulls game — it seems harsh to let one bad mistake cost Freese crucial developmental time.

But it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bendik in there tomorrow, either. Curtin does not like to change his defense, especially after wins, and especially for veteran players he trusts. (Whether Bendik is in that category is an open question.) If he thinks that Bendik gives the squad the best chance to win right now — if Freese is not in the right state of mind to contribute — then we’ll see the veteran in net again.

More late-game magic?

The defining characteristic of this season’s Union hasn’t been dominant play, sparkling attack, or even suffocating defense.

It’s been timely scoring.

In recent weeks, goals scored in the 70th minute or later have earned the Union six points — the difference between second in the East and tied for seventh. That doesn’t even count an 88th minute goal against New England that erased what would have been a Revs winner — a three point swing at the top of the conference table.

Ideally, the Union wouldn’t be in a position to need those comeback goals. In particular, Sunday opponent Inter Miami is a mess, sitting on just eight points through eleven games. An early goal could bury them, just as it would put the Union in a good position against Orlando City. And relying on late goals puts more pressure on the club’s bench, thinned out by injuries and international call-ups.

But if Philly finds itself in the hole again, will it be able to scrounge up another clutch goal or two?

There are no shortage of potential candidates to put one home, and the team’s late-game self-belief is at an all-time high.

13 Comments

  1. But, wait, you really don’t want to take 95……
    ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Florida Turnpike for me. Fortunately, Peter didn’t say Union fans can’t make those comments :-).

      • Good close reading, Andy. I’ll always take advice from Union fans.
        .
        I had a run-in with Orlando fans this time last year on Twitter because they did not like my choices for the MLS is Back Best XI — my list included a few players who were not from Orlando. One guy called me a “gasbag.” Only Union fans are allowed to call me that!

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Gas bag is a hilarious insult. HA!

  2. Chris Gibbons says:

    From BuzzFeed:

    “Stop telling me directions. I’ll just use GPS. No really, just give me the end address. Stop. STOP. STOP TELLING ME DIRECTIONS. I’M NOT LISTENING TO YOU. JUST GIVE ME THE ADDRESS AND I’LL USE GPS.”

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    My thought is that Freese should play. If you don’t start him, he loses confidence for some time in the future when you really need him.
    .
    Wouldn’t be surprised if Martinez sits out the Miami game. Specifically after picking up a yellow against Orlando and thus facing suspension.

  4. I just wrote this on another page, but Bedoya sits for me. You have to start Freese IMO. First because you can’t leave him with a red card from his last game. Second because that was the best Bendik has looked in three years, and I have little faith it’s repeatable.
    .
    As for directions, I’d ask for the fastest way OUT of Florida…

  5. Orlando City is too important to not put your best team on the field.
    For me Flach starts on the bench. You can make a case for some equivalency defensively between Martinez and Flach, but Martinez is still much better going forward and linking play. If you get up two goals pull Ale and put in Flach. If Ale plays the whole game, then I would rest him vs Miami.
    Agree that getting Gazdag integrated is #1 priority.

  6. Unionjacq says:

    Is it also worth considering giving some rest to Wagner, Elliott & Glesnes with Real and Findley on the bench needing some minutes?

    • Yes, it’s definitely a thought — although Curtin is generally not one to change up his back four if he can help it. But I wouldn’t mind seeing Real and Findlay each get a game. Miami is so bad, seems as good a time as any to give those guys a shout.

  7. Jamaica drew USA in the gold cup! which means I will be rooting for usmnt to knock our boys back to philly

  8. Return to a 4-2-3-1 against Orlando?

  9. Old Soccer Coach says:

    I would expect squad rotation in Miami, not Orlando.
    .
    They took Ilsinho and Fontana according to what Curtin said on Pressing points. And according to what is in Game Notes under Press Box under Club, those two are listed as Questionable for the Orlando match.
    .
    I would never recommend making the first test of a recovering groin injury on a wet field, never, so Ilsinho gets 20 minutes only iff he’s feeling tip-top and the field is dry.
    .
    Taking Fontana says that there will be doctors down there able to evaluate his concussion progress..
    .
    Apropos of nothing on July 31 Jack de Vries will have been in concussion protocol for 4 full months should he remain there. Do any of the medical types who read this stuff have any insight into what might be going on?
    .

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