The flexing of roster depth has been one of the primary themes of the Philadelphia Union season.
With two days in between games, injuries piling up and Jose Martinez away on international duty, Jim Curtin admitted Tuesday the club will put some players in less comfortable spots for Wednesday’s trip to Audi Field to face D.C. United.
“We’ve gone through a lot of different scenarios in guys and options we can use,” Curtin said. “We settled on one now. I think we have a group that can go out on the field, yes they’ll be out of position, but they’ve all stepped up in the past.”
Pregame coverage for Wednesday's match begins at 7 p.m. ET on The Gambler and is presented by DraftKings.
The Union utilized a 4-2-3-1 formation in the last two games with Martinez away with Venezuela for CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.
“It’s a formation we’ve gone to in-game before,” Curtin said. “With the way D.C. plays, we’ve discussed if it’s best to play out of a 4-4-2 diamond, or a 4-2-3-1.”
The difference between Wednesday and Sunday’s win over the Montreal Impact is Warren Creavalle will not be available for selection. Creavalle was taken off at halftime of the 2-1 victory. He suffered an ankle injury early on in the contest.
“Warren had a very tough tackle with (Samuel) Piette early in the game. His ankle was injured on that play. To his credit, he toughed it out in the first half and gave everything, but couldn’t continue at halftime,” Curtin said.
With Creavalle and Martinez not in the matchday squad, Brenden Aaronson, Jamiro Monteiro, Anthony Fontana and Alejandro Bedoya are the expected midfield starters.
Bedoya and Monteiro will likely be in more defensive roles, and they may be more suited to start in a double pivot in the 4-2-3-1 than one of them dropping to the No. 6 role in the diamond and the other playing on the side of the four-pronged midfield.
In a match week with normal rest, the potential 4-2-3-1 setup would include Ilsinho, but the Union already went to that bag of tricks Sunday.
Ilsinho played 70 minutes for the first time since August 24, 2019 and picked up a nasty knock during one of his final on-field actions.
That should open up the starting role for Sergio Santos on one wing of the 4-2-3-1, or in the second striker role alongside Kacper Przybylko in the 4-4-2.
The trust to go with either formation lies in the versatility of Brenden Aaronson and Anthony Fontana. In recent games, Aaronson has played three or four different positions and Fontana can be aligned as either the No. 10 or on the side of a diamond midfield.
The solutions in midfield are fairly straightforward. It is just a matter of which member of the healthy quartet plays where and how much gas Ilsinho has in the tank in case he is needed for 10-15 minutes.
Defensively, the decisions are fairly easy as well with Ray Gaddis working his way back into training and Jakob Glesnes still in concussion protocol. Olivier Mbaizo should once again receive a start at right back.
That should give Jack Elliott the opportunity to gain chemistry with Mark McKenzie after his injury layoff. If Glesnes was healthy, or Aurelien Collin was trusted to play 45 minutes, Elliott could have shifted up to the defensive midfield role. He still may do that once Glesnes is declared fit.
Of course, some of the lineup gymnastics would be avoidable if the Union had Martinez available. The 26-year-old did not play a minute in Venezuela’s two matches and only made the bench for Tuesday’s loss to Paraguay.
After an expected full day of travel, Martinez will have to quarantine for 10 days, which puts his status for the October 24 showdown with Toronto FC in doubt.
“We’re extremely concerned. Venezuela, when they had their roster, they had 32 players. That’s a lot of numbers. We knew when he was called, it’s a great honor and everything and we support that for sure, but the reality of playing a game was going to be difficult because they have such a good squad and a deep squad, as every CONMEBOL team has,” Curtin said.
Although Venezuela was not directly affected by positive COVID-19 tests, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Seattle Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz, Curtin had some choice words for how the whole international break has been handled.
“If you were to give it a grade, I’d give it the same grade that I’d give them for how they handle racism: F,” Curtin said.