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

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Start a Revolution: The quest for "freshness" in New England

I did learn a lot from the Seattle game last year. I thought we were a fresh team going into it, but we did play a lineup that kind of was repeated and played again in the final. So, I won’t have any regrets this year. I’ll play a fresh team, completely fresh team, in the final.
- Jim Curtin, Sept. 16

We’ll find the right balance of lineup to give guys the proper rest and proper confidence going into a final. I’ll tell you there will be no regrets in terms of whether we are fresh or not in terms of the final. We will be fresh for sure.
- Jim Curtin, Sept. 20

Often without much provocation the last two weeks, Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin has been forthcoming with his vision for how the final days of September should play out. With the playoffs falling out of view, all of the squad’s efforts have been geared to one solitary date: The Sept. 30 U.S. Open Cup final against Sporting Kansas City.

Curtin is a manager that you can often take at his word. Judging by the above quotes, he’ll dial up massive changes for Saturday’s trip to New England, a game in which the Union’s hope of a result would be remote, regardless.

Here’s what the Union did last season, playing New York Red Bulls at PPL Park Saturday before entertaining Seattle at home Tuesday in the cup final.

Union lineups vs. New York Red Bulls Sept. 13, 2014 in MLS play (left)
and vs. Seattle in the Open Cup final Sept. 16, 2014 (right). (Via MLSsoccer.com)
That’s 6.5/7 changes, depending on how you look at it, with Ray Gaddis and Maurice Edu each changing positions but playing in both games. That’s a fairly fresh team, you’d think. But the result against Seattle, with the Sounders looking far stronger in extra time, may indicate that more rest is required. The term “fresh” is inherently ambiguous, and for some players, getting a half or 90 minutes is preferable to a weekend off in terms of their sharpness, though the three subs limit how many can follow that tack.


This week has a couple of added complications: First, there’s travel, thought Foxoborough isn’t an onerous trip. And there’s the turf. If there’s a coin flip on a guy’s fitness or need to get him minutes, the turf almost certainly would force erring on the side of caution. Another mitigating factors is the Union’s opponent: SKC lost to Houston Wednesday night, 1-0, a game when both Benny Feilhaber and Matt Besler picked up yellow cards, precipitating one-game bans for this weekend. Does knowing that two changes are enforced upon opposite number Peter Vermes alter Curtin’s thinking?

If we take Curtin literally, what would it take for the Union to field “a completely fresh team” in the final? (It’s at this point that I'll alert those who are easily frightened to avert their eyes.)

Bench: McCarthy, Gaddis, Bird, Casey, Wenger, Le Toux. 

It’s not pretty, but it’s a fresh squad. Let’s break it down:

Guys that won’t play: Cristian Maidana, Vincent Nogueira, Tranquillo Barnetta, CJ Sapong

No need in the world to push them.

Guys that probably won’t play: Sebastien Le Toux, Richie Marquez, Michael Lahoud

Logic would say not to push these guys, despite Marquez's youth and Le Toux's ceaseless motor. The only question is in defense, where there’s not a second back four. Due to lack of fullback options, maybe Fabinho and Gaddis take a half each to lessen the load. (This presumes that Lahoud is preferred to Carroll in central midfield, as it appeared last week.)

The ‘if he was healthy this wouldn’t even be a discussion’ guy: Maurice Edu

Curtin likely saw enough of him last week and will build his fitness in training on grass. But the door’s still ajar.

The ‘discretion is the better part of valor’ guy: John McCarthy

You can go both ways on this, whether it’s McCarthy or Andre Blake. If Blake stands on his head and is fantastic, then it introduces doubt about McCarthy being the guy. If McCarthy plays behind a makeshift defense and gives up five goals to a team vying for the Supporters’ Shield, then bye-bye confidence. Of the starters, McCarthy is the most likely to play, but that’s just because of common sense fitness.

Now for the guys actually playing: The attack is easy to sketch with the playmakers sitting. Eric Ayuk comes in, no problem. Fred provides depth depending on who plays holding midfielder, where a double-pivot of Carroll (or Lahoud) and Eric Bird could free Zach Pfeffer to get higher, though Bird splitting time with Carroll would make more fitness sense. Andrew Wenger’s knee strain opens the door for Antoine Hoppenot. Up top, a 60-30 division between Fernando Aristeguieta and Conor Casey makes sense, though the Venezuelan is nursing a groin injury.

The defense gets prickly. Ethan White and Steven Vitoria make sense in central defense, but who plays outside back? Warren Creavalle is one, but the other would require someone out of position or a starter, and the most logical out-of-place guy, Jimmy McLaughlin, is listed out with a concussion, a tough break for him when minutes are actually attainable. Is it possible that Marquez starts with Vitoria and White as a fullback for a half, then a deputy enters? We’ll have to wait until Saturday to see.

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