The best time to plant a tree

Photo credit: Paul Rudderow

If we can count Thursday as the weekend, this weekend showed a Union at sea. Disorganized, dispirited, and barely recognizable as the team that was getting the job done in CONCACAF Champions League just a few weeks ago. This isn’t exactly new ground for the Union, as anyone who remembers the mediocre league play that surrounded the Union’s deep US Open Cup runs a few years back can attest. In fact as bad as the performance was, especially on Sunday night, it was arguably better than what the team had on offer back in 2014 or 2015.

However that isn’t offered as an excuse for how the Union played this weekend, because they don’t deserve an excuse. Especially against Miami, this was a problem entirely of the team’s own creation. Specifically, the decisions of head coach Jim Curtin aided and abetted by the entire technical staff lead to the disappointing performance.

How so? To begin with there is the evergreen discussion of squad rotation. Three days is a tight turn around, and that’s all the Union had between their loss in Orlando and the draw in Miami. That’s a tight turnaround for any team and one that in most situations would call for significant changes to the “ideal” starting lineup on at least one, if not both of those nights. And yet ten of the eleven starters were the same on both of those nights. Which showed in Miami on Sunday night when the entire midfield and the front line was off the pace and out of touch. No energy for ambitious runs, no cohesion in the passes, and no synergy in the attack. We have seen this team put in better performances than this, we know they’re capable of better, so the only explanation must be that the schedule and sub-tropical weather got to them and they were tired.

Then, around the sixtieth minute the substitutes started. Sergio Santos came on for a flabbergasted Jamiro Monteiro, Quinn Sullivan for Alejandro Bedoya, Ilsinho for Olivier Mbaizo, and Jack McGlynn for Leon Flach. And literally the minute those changes were all finalized, the Union scored. And after the goal they looked hungry, competitive, and in the game in a way the starting lineup simply wasn’t.

Maybe the Union could have won Sunday night, had the changes happened earlier. Though it’s also possible that given enough time even Miami could have figured the young substitutes out, and left them just as stymied as the tired starters they replaced. But if that’s the case, that’s a different kind of failure on the Union’s part. If these young players aren’t good enough, if they’re not ready to make contributions and spell their “betters” during a dense schedule made only denser by CONCACAF Champions League Play, what are they for?

An old saying goes “the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, and the second best time is today”. And that is precisely where the Union are at the moment. Had these young players been cycling through lineups earlier in the season, building chemistry with their teammates and skills and confidence for themselves, they could have changed the Union’s lot this weekend. But that didn’t happen, so Jim Curtin and the rest of the technical staff must settle for the next best thing and start giving the young players those chances now, so that they can be developed into the players they need to be the next time the Union face schedule congestion.


  1. soccerdad720 says:

    GREAT points…agreed.

  2. I disagree with half of the premise, because I think Curtin has more to do with it then lack of young talent. Remember, McGlynn DID get 2 starts earlier in the year. And he looked fine. He didn’t set the world on fire, but he held the fort down for 60 minutes. And that’s all we needed, right?

    Sullivan had a good start in Chicago and then a good couple of sub appearances after, leading up into the Miami game. He looked good enough that I would have been ok with starting him in Miami.

    But Curtin didn’t. Curtin HAS given these kids some time, and they have looked competent to good. So any failure to take the next step and actually rest starters for 60 minutes is all on Curtin.

    • Eugene Walker says:

      There’s a diff between giving minutes (run outs) and adding to squad rotation. Our big 4 in defense are averaging 1400 minutes. The rest, about 60. Sullivan has 1 legit run (60 min) and a bunch of run outs. Runouts are not legit game time. BCraig still has not even a runout, nor game day roster. I worry about Glesnes, Elliot, Wagner, mBaizo legs come mid to late August. We get 1 injury and we are forced into a situation where we can be preparing now.

      • I mean unless you expect the kids to come in right away, giving kids minutes is the first step to making them meaningful rotation contributors, right? I am saying we have accomplished step 1. Step 2 is making them meaningful parts of the rotation, which I think at least Sullivan is ready for.

        And I agree about the defense. I just think Curtin loves his CBs and doesn’t want to rotate them. I think Findlay would do fine with a start here and there.

        And as per John below, giving Real a start at LB does not seem like a crazy idea either.

      • Tim Jones says:

        to be fair to Jim Curtin, when he tried the moves being advocated here early in the season at Chicago, his club laid an egg.
        He sees where the lids actually are in their development every day in practice. We fans only get to see the games.
        And remember as brutal-sounding as it is, the purpose of the young players is for some of them to be sold onward at a profit, as many of them as possible. Anything that harms that, or threatens to harm that, is anathema.

    • Dave Greene says:

      McGlynn started 3 games and Union won all 3. He was very good against Columbus, the last time we played well. Sullivan started 1 game and we tied. This is all on Curtin and his lack of belief in these younger players.
      We are a grind and hope team with the young talent on the bench wasted. Sad but expect to see a mass exodus of players I would imagine.

  3. John P. O'Donnell says:

    Why Matt Real isn’t getting time is perplexing. A spot start at left back in Miami would make sense. I get holding the kids back a bit but Real is a veteran and should be able to give Wagner a rest.

    • SoccerDad says:

      I think Real has gotten more minutes this season on the left side of the diamond then he has at LB.

      • Tim Jones says:

        I checked Real’s Game Log on the Union website. It does not easily break down his 10 substitute appearances by position.
        He has 86 minutes in substitute roles and 61 minutes as a starter, if my adding up the numbers in my head turns out to have been accurate.
        so you are probably close to accurate in your impressions.

  4. Andy Muenz says:

    A big part of why they didn’t win Sunday was due to a poor play by Freese. The fact that their top keeper wasn’t playing had nothing to do with coaching decisions or anything else within the Union’s control, it was due to the idiocy of MLS taking a break for the first half of June when a few players had international duty rather than during the Gold Cup when a lot more MLS players are missing.

    • John P. O'Donnell says:

      That is crying over spilt milk. Last I checked everyone is dealing with the same schedule. How you manage through this is just part of the game and if you can’t do that it’s on Tanner and Curtin. No different than signing players for a run at CCL and MLS Cup in the midseason.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        How many teams are missing a player as important to them as Blake? And no, some teams aren’t missing anyone. It’s completely stupid scheduling on the leagues part and I was saying that in the beginning of June too.

      • John P. O'Donnell says:

        Did you watch the Seattle game where they started five teenagers? Did they beat D.C. United without Blake?

  5. Tim Jones says:

    The underlying concept that has helped me make sense of the 2021 Union season is that Ernst Tanner is taking advantage of the pandemic to bring in the players that will start the 2022 season all together, all familiar with each other, and all ready to make a serious run at more silverware.

    It takes two seasons or more before a homegrown is ready for serious sustained roles in the game-day 18.
    I am hoping that Sullivan can get up to 30 minutes a night spelling Bedoya.
    McGlynn needs a tactical game, not a pace game to do well.
    Aaronson has not yet made any significant impact.
    Turner and Harriel have dressed but not seen the pitch.
    Craig and de Vries have not dressed, for different reasons of course.

  6. Add this to the mix:
    Jim is the second lowest in MLS for the number of overall subs used this year
    Peter Vermes is the only coach to have used less subs
    Nothing new to see here, but stats are stats

  7. Evildunk99 says:

    This may not be a popular opinion, but I think we need to hold off on the young talent until after 9/15. The window to get those guys minutes came and passed, much to our frustration.

    Let’s TCOB on this stretch of home games + CCL. We have a great opportunity to climb the standings and make some noise in CCL. I would happily take a well oiled machine with Curtain’s preferred XI, over watching the young guns take steps in their careers (for the next 6 weeks). We desperately need some rhythm on offense.

    There will be some road games and potentially more scheduling conflicts in Sept – Oct, where I think it makes more sense to play the youth.

    • Jim O'Leary says:

      See I’m coming at it from the other side. The “ideal” lineup has plenty of minutes playing together. A game here or there isn’t changing that.

      So give them a break. Give energy levels time to recover, and reduce the chance of injuries right before the flight down to Mexico.

  8. Scoring in 2021 so far…..
    The Union were ranked # 1 in goals scored in 2020.
    Union are ranked # 10 in goals so far in 2021.

    Why the drop in scoring ?

    Reason # 1

    The Union did just not do enough to replace Aaronson. There is nobody on this roster that has his skill set. Aaronsons vision of the field and ability to create a play coupled with his quickness and creativity made him in my opinion the offensive MVP of the team last year.

    Reason # 2

    It took other teams 1 season to figure out how to shut Phillys diamond down. Miami Nashville and others have figured out if you bring in all your midfield in a tightly compacted position in the middle of the field you shut down Phillys attack. Philly has no flank speed. And their forwards sit in front of the goal and rarely go wide.

    Reason # 3

    Curtin does not make adjustments until its almost too late in the game, hence 1 – 1 ties on 1 – 0 losses.

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