Concacaf Champions Cup / Injury Update / Press Conference / Union

Notes and quotes from Jim Curtin’s pre-game press conference

At Friday’s pre-game press conference Head Coach Jim Curtin provided some updates for fans concerned about fixture congestion, squad rotation, and injuries, while also offering his take on the human side of what players go through at times. This is what we heard:

Curtin kicked off the press conference thanking the fans who turned out Tuesday, “first and foremost a big thank you to all the supporters that came out on a Tuesday night, a rainy night, a school night” to see the Union advance to the CONCACAF Champions Cup round of 16, where they will face top-three Liga MX team Pachuca just three days after facing a tough road test against Kansas City on Saturday.

Regarding the prospect of once again playing a Saturday – Tuesday combo for a second week in a row, Curtin said that going to Kansas City is always very, very difficult. ” Peter Vermes does an incredible job with his group being tough to play against… to have to go there in [KC’s] home opener is a real challenge. But we’ll put a group on the field that will go there to try to get a point or three, and we know the task will be tough we’ll have to be almost perfect on the day to get that done.” Don’t expect the Union to play a weakened side in either match however, for “we’re going to give a maximum effort on Saturday and then recover as quickly as possible for Tuesday.”

This task is of course made harder because of the Union’s extra-time match against Saprissa this past Tuesday. Curtin added that because Vermes is “a competitor right, so he’s probably excited that game went 120 minutes or not disappointed that it went 120 minutes. So that does make it harder on us for sure.” One thing that sounds likely is more substitutions and perhaps earlier than are usual for the Union. “If we went 90 minutes, I think the plan would have been a little different for this this weekend. Will there be some guys that maybe play 45 minutes, some guys that play 60, some guys that play 90 – absolutely. Who those are, I’m not going to reveal right now to give Peter a head start.” 

In terms of injuries and who may play in goal on Saturday, Curtin said that while Andre Blake is recovering nicely, he is still questionable. “He’s doing well – improving quickly. It’ll be close for the weekend and I think worst case hopefully he’s back by Tuesday.” Unless circumstances change, we will probably see Oliver Semmle in goal in Kansas City and we can probably expect Blake back between the posts for Tuesday’s home CONCACAF Round of 16 match against Pachuca.

Speaking of Semmle, Curtin spoke of his making the leap to MLS and being thrust into the role of starter so early in the season. “It’s trial by fire and he’s done a great job for us in a short amount of time. So hopefully that can continue. He’s a guy that we believe in – we know has a bright future.” Semmle is bound to feature this summer so perhaps these early games will boost his confidence going into the international break.

He also provided an update on Leon Flach, who is expected to rejoin the team in Philadelphia soon. Flach was spending some time with family while recovering. His recovery is progressing well and “he’s obviously working hard to maintain fitness. He’ll be back with the group here very shortly, and everything is on pace for [his return to play] before that crazy summer starts where we’ll be missing seven or eight guys with national team duty.” This is good news, as Flach will be integral to the team as those players depart for the summer International break.

Expect to see Jakob Glesnes rested Saturday, at least for part of the game, for he will be required to anchor a back line on Tuesday that is missing both Jack Elliott and Damion Lowe due to suspensions. When asked whether Glesnes still recovering from his season ending surgery last October had anything to do with the surfeit of goals the defense allowed over the last three games, Curtin demurred, saying, “I think some of the goals are strange, some of them are mistakes, the good thing is I think with all the goals they’re very, very fixable technical things that we can do better with. Jakob’s been an incredible defender for us. The life of a defender, in particular in the center back position, is such that there’s something on every goal that’s conceded that you can do differently to prevent it. So it is a thankless job.” Spoken directly from the mouth of a former center back.

Fans have wondered about the future of right back Olivier Mbaizo since rumors of a transfer request surfaced last summer, reportedly relating to Mbaizo’s desire to play closer to his family as they’d had repeated trouble getting visas to stay in the United States during his seven-year tenure with the Union. While the team is still working to bring his family to the United States from Cameroon – where an ongoing civil war has complicated immigration issues – the situation remains fluid.

Curtin regards Mbaizo as a top talent in the league and the team wants to do everything they can to make him happy, saying “we’re still actively working to help him as best we can to get everything sorted out and get him reunited with his family. It’s not easy, it’s kind of the things that maybe you guys [press and fans] don’t get to see – the day in and day out of these players. They are dads, they are normal people, and it’s hard when you’re away from loved ones. So we’re trying to aid in that.”

When asked whether a transfer overseas is likely if the visa situation cannot be resolved, Curtain brushed that aside, saying that Mbaizo has been linked with transfers overseas before – since he was appointed coach and that the Union are lucky to have him. If Mbaizo were to be sold, the head coach has faith in Nathan Harriel being able to fill any void – “selfishly as a coach I love to have two starting caliber guys at every position. It’s hard in this league to do that because of the cap and the roster size and the different things, but certainly at that position we are solid. And again, we’ll do what’s best for the club the player, the family, again because these guys are human beings first and foremost.”

Finally, Curtin was asked to comment on the signing of David Vasquez to Union II earlier in the week and whether Neil Pierre and C.J. Olney could follow. “Look Vasquez, Olney, Pierre were three guys that I thought really stood out in preseason and showed that they’re ready to take a step forward,” Curtin said. “Certainly guys that I’m very high on. I think the] will be training with the first team full time because I think getting the reps against Carranza, Bedoya, Glesnes, Blake – you know playing against these guys day in and day out is the way that development gets accelerated. Testing them against [the first team] is the best thing for them. So they’re close. We want them with the first team as quickly as possible, but also you know they play a role in that development too and I say it to you guys a lot – this game tells the truth and has a way of humbling you. So yes they’re on a great trajectory but they have to stay humble and stay hungry.”

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