The Philadelphia Union kicked off the 2023 season with a 4-1 thrashing of Columbus. With the opener out of the way, the Union now enters a stretch of 5 games in a 14-day period. How will Jim Curtin handle the lineup rotations? Also, what uncertainty has risen for the Union’s trip to El Salvador for the CONCACAF Champions League?
We have been saying it all off-season and the first real test is here. The Union will have to play 5 games in a 2-week period starting this Saturday in Miami. This includes 3 MLS games and both legs of the Round of 16 in the CCL.
Unfortunately, a big question arises as the Union prepares to travel to El Salvador for the first leg. On top of that uncertainty, how will Jim Curtin manage his lineups so early in the season?
Rough Conditions for Leg 1
The Union drew Alianza FC out of El Salvador in the round of 16 of the CCL. For the first leg, the Union will travel to Estadio Cuscatlan, where the conditions will be less than ideal.
The grass looks to be overgrown, slippery and has tons of dead spots. The team is going to El Salvador immediately after the Miami game on Saturday. Hopefully, players have enough time to get a feel for the conditions before the game starts.
The less-than-ideal playing conditions could change quite a bit. First, it could have the Union switch to the mindset of returning home with a 0-0 scoreline or a 1-0 win. Consequently, this would likely have Jim Curtin roll out a very defensive lineup. We saw a light experiment with 5 players on the backline in the preseason.
No matter what, the Union needs to be prepared for the worst in terms of field conditions. At least it isn’t artificial turf. We all have seen how awful the Union plays on turf.
How Many Roster Changes Will We See?
With the busy schedule so early in the season, does Curtin rotate the lineup? Honestly, we don’t know. We will get a better idea once the lineup for Saturday rolls around. If he does decide to go with lineup changes, where does he prioritize?
Does he rest players for the MLS game to prioritize CCL? Or does he go full for MLS and stay defensive in the CCL? The only thing we can do now is guess.
Now, let’s not forget. This is Jim Curtin we are talking about. We could very well see the same starting 11 for both games. As well as the 3rd game next Saturday back at home.
It would be pretty shocking if that was the case, however. The Union didn’t fill a lot of depth during the winter for them to sit on the bench. If there are no starting 11 changes, do not be surprised to see a number of subs. Especially at halftime and even more likely if the Union builds a lead.
During his press conference this week, Curtin really talked up the bench pieces added. Especially centerback Damion Lowe. It would be likely we see Lowe start at least 1 or 2 of the 5 games coming up. Also, we all saw what Joaquin Torres did in his first minutes with the team.
It is Early, but Jim Should Proceed With Caution
Jim Curtin has been criticized in the past for not using his bench. However, he now has the pieces to plug in to keep guys fresh. It may be very early in the season but that is more reason to proceed cautiously.
Legs may be fresh now, but too much work too soon, and the team will be dealing with nagging injuries all year long.
This stretch will set the mindset for the Union season in terms of priorities. Last year the Union practically threw the US Open Cup away to focus on their MLS run. What will it be this season?
Will the Union sacrifice a few points in MLS to make a run at continental glory? We will find out when the lineups for Saturday and Tuesday are released.