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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Forecasting the Crystal Palace plan

There’s always a debate around this time of year as to how to handle midseason friendlies within the grind of an MLS season. Add competition on another front for the Philadelphia Union in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and it’s even more complex.

That’s the conundrum Jim Curtin faces this week as his team prepares to take on English Premier League side Crystal Palace Friday night at PPL. There are so many factors – the tactical, between the physical need to rest regulars and the mental need to get those on the fringes of the squad some action, plus the pride aspect of wanting to put on a decent show for the fans while not rolling over to opposition from a superior league – for Curtin to manage.

“I always think anytime you’re representing your league, you should put your best effort out there,” Curtin said Wednesday at PPL Park. “Too many times you see in these games, whether it’s against a club from Mexico or England, they won’t get our best punch so to speak because we’re in the heat of the season. It’s tough. There’s is the business side where they do make a lot of money off the games, so I get that part of it. … Say you’re juggling an Open Cup game with a league match and then they also throw in a friendly, it becomes this, ‘how much do you want to kill your team for a result against a team that’s in the preseason and doesn’t really have their legs?’ It’s a tough one to answer because you’re torn either way.”

Curtin said Tuesday that there would essentially be two shifts of players logging 45 minutes each, which makes sense to give the entire roster a nice run out. Curtin also hinted that a couple of guys might get around the 90-minute mark.

So here’s my two cents on what the Union should (not necessarily will) do, gleaning a little from what Curtin said Wednesday and the team’s current needs:

First half
Wenger-Nogueira-Le Toux

 Second half

For my money, there’s no need to see Conor Casey in the heat, nor magnet for injuries Danny Cruz. If there’s any doubt about Vincent Nogueira, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him sit either, with Fred stepping into his stead. Cristian Maidana’s injury would likely rule him out even if this was a competitive game; as a friendly, he’ll certainly sit. And Zach Pfeffer’s groin strain from U20 duty last week means he’ll miss an opportunity to log minutes in a Union shirt.

There’s also no need to see Zac MacMath, as the minutes would be far more valuable to Andre Blake and Brian Holt.

Because of a lack of options, there’s limited shuffling at the back. Ray Gaddis and Sheanon Williams should be limited to a half each, while Austin Berry is in dire need of minutes. I think Curtin may want to see if he’s 90-minutes fit, plus get the chance to audition him in game situations with both of his prospective defensive partners.

Up top, Curtin has a limited window to see Brian Brown given the loan nature of his deal, so the Jamaican should get a full run and see what he’s got with some solid players around him. Curtin expressed some doubt about him being fit for the full 90, so maybe he goes 60 instead of just 45 before Aaron Wheeler steps in.

As far as the second midfield unit, there’s plenty of competition. Pedro Ribeiro and Antoine Hoppenot are playing with Harrisburg Wednesday, so there’s a tight turnaround for them. (Richie Marquez and Jimmy McLaughlin will play with HCI Saturday and be unavailable for Crystal Palace.) That leaves the likes of Corben Bone, Leo Fernandes and maybe Cristhian Hernandez (remember him?) to fill out the ranks.

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