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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Union presser notes: Injuries, Ayuk and that new losing feeling

After the loss in D.C. last week, manager Jim Curtin said the belief
from Fabian Herbers and company remains high. (DFM/Mikey Reeves)
Jim Curtin covered a lot of ground in an uncharacteristically voluminous press conference Wednesday. Most of my story in Thursday’s Delco Times will fixate on a conversation with Alejandro Bedoya and the cognitive dissonance surrounding his midfield positioning. That crowds out news and notes, so here’s what else filled Curtin’s 28-minute press address.

- The mood this week, as the Union’s winless streak grows to four games in 2017, 12 overall and 11 in the MLS regular season, seems to bear some hallmarks of past disappointments. But the character of this squad, Curtin and others take pains to point out, is different than last year. Curtin:
“2017 is different than 2016. It’s always tough with carryover. Obviously we know how last year ended. We’re four games in this year; we’ve lost two games in a row. That doesn’t taste good to anybody. We’re not happy with that. But it’s a different group. There’s different players involved. A lot of them don’t even know the feeling from last year. So it’s tough to really pinpoint and say, does it feel exactly the same? It doesn’t, but there is a sense of urgency, though. We are in a bad spot. …

“It’s still, when you talk with all the players individually … there’s a real belief in the group that yes we’ve come on the wrong end of some results, but it’s not as if we’ve been outclassed in games, where we say, ‘man that team is a lot better than us.’ So again, there’s still a feeling of belief that if we continue to execute on the field, some of these breaks will go our way.”
- Jack Elliott got first-team reps with Oguchi Onyewu Wednesday. That pairing finished the D.C. United game and could start Saturday against Portland. Elliott has clearly supplanted Ken Tribbett, and all that remains is whether Richie Marquez graduates concussion protocols in time. Curtin expects Marquez to be cleared, but the coach doesn’t have a long track record of playing guys who don’t train by mid-week. It’s unlikely he’ll rush Marquez back off one or two days of training.

- John McCarthy (concussion) suffered a setback from an injury sustained two weeks ago. The goalie worked out Sunday but suffered symptoms and has been delayed. He didn’t train Wednesday, meaning Jake McGuire is going to be the backup Saturday.

- As speculated last week, Fafa Picault was healthy but found himself the odd man out for the Union’s trip to D.C. Curtin went with three reserve defensive options and three attacking players, Picault landing fourth on the latter list behind Roland Alberg, Fabian Herbers and Jay Simpson. That bench composition would seem to posit that it’s a question of Picault or Warren Creavalle most weeks.
- Eric Ayuk Tuesday was loaned out to Swedish club Jonkopings Sodra in the Allsvenskan, the nation’s top division. It’s easy to forget that Ayuk just turned 20 in February and that he played 28 games in 2015 before just one match last year, most of his minutes logged at Bethlehem Steel. He’s spent plenty of time with Cameroon’s Under-20 team in recent months and reportedly been in camp with the senior team. Ayuk is under contract with the Union through 2018. Here’s what Curtin had to say:
“Any young player needs to be getting minutes. Eric was a young guy who did a great job for us a couple of seasons back. But as we grew and evolved as a club and in his position, it just got very crowded and very tough to get him minutes. He’s still a guy we very much believe in, has a lot of bright years of soccer ahead of him. He’s still incredibly young, a guy who all our players really liked having in the locker room, being around, a tremendous kid in that regard. It was just important to get him some minutes in high-level games overseas right now after coming off a really good competition with his national team doing a good job there and there was interest in him and we decided this is what’s best for Eric right now. Always a tough decision, but at the same time, one I think he’ll become a better player because of.”
With this season-long loan, Ayuk will play one game for the Union over two seasons. It’s doubtful he’s in their long-term plans at this point. This move accentuates the reality that Ayuk’s most distinct value to the Union is as a young, talented and potentially full international transfer chip, plus it gives the Union a foothold in Sweden, which has been a fruitful recruitment area for several MLS clubs.

- As for the open roster/international spot, Curtin was coy, saying, “Nothing is in the immediate future right now, but it does give us some flexibility in that regard.”

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