The Philadelphia Union have to put the Concacaf Champions League on the backburner for the next few months.
The Union get back into Major League Soccer play on Saturday at 1 p.m. against the Chicago Fire at Soldier Field. The Pregame Show presented by DraftKings Sportsbook begins at 12:30 p.m. with Sean Brace and Joe Tansey. Postgame coverage with Brace, Tansey and Kevin Kinkead occurs right after the final whistle. Dave Leno and Danny Higginbotham will be on the match call.
Philadelphia resumes MLS play in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, but that is not a cause for concern yet. All of the other MLS teams participating in the CCL struggled early on in league play as well.
The Columbus Crew and Toronto FC sit directly above the Union and the Portland Timbers are second-from-last in the Western Conference. Atlanta United is the only team of the five sitting in a playoff position entering Saturday.
“It’s been a balance. It’s no secret, and over the years it’s shown, that this competition is great to be a part of, but it does take its toll on the clubs that are involved," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "It’s a real challenge to juggle both competitions. We have a bit of a pause now and a chance to regroup. The games will come fast and we have to try and get on a roll."
The Union likely will not rotate much of their squad for Saturday's game due to Jose Martinez's red-card suspension and a quad strain picked up by Stuart Findlay.
Martinez was handed an additional two-game suspension on Friday night for his chop to the head of New York City FC's Valentin Castellanos.
“Jose is remorseful," Curtin said. "He made a mistake. He apologized to the team. He’s apologized publicly and to Castellanos, as he should. It was a moment where I think he lost track of things and blacked out there for a second. These things don’t just happen as one-off situations. It was a build-up where we’ve talked about several times in these press conferences where he plays on that edge and there’s a balance, In that instance, he went entirely too far. I think Jose is remorseful. Ernst (Tanner) and I have spoken with him about eliminating that part of his game while still being an aggressive, physical ball-winner. I think it’s obvious and we’re certainly prepared for not just a one-game suspension. We have to have a plan in place to play without him for a few games."
“There’s no excuse for it and it hurt us in the game and hurts us now moving forward. In his absence, his teammates will have to pick up the slack like they always do and respond to a little adversity inside our group. It’s an opportunity for others to step up, just like Leon Flach did in his absence against Atlanta," Curtin said.
Findlay is listed as out for Saturday along with Ilsinho and Jack De Vries.
“Unfortunately Stuart picked up a very minor, it’s not even a Grade 1, quad strain," Curtin said. "We wanted to be cautious with it. As he’s coming back and trying to gain fitness and get up to speed with the group, you’re going to have moments where it’s almost like your preseason. We don’t want any damage or any further setbacks. He’ll likely miss a couple more training sessions and join the group very soon and hopefully be available for next week."
If Curtin needs a center back to spell Jack Elliott or Jakob Glesnes, Aurelien Collin could slip into the lineup and play 90 minutes. Collin is typically the fourth center back on the depth chart. He has played 530 minutes for the Union in three seasons.
“Aurelien Collin has been playing very well in training," Curtin said. "He’s a guy that we trust and can put out there. The partnership between Jack and Jakob is a good one. I think they did a great job in the game, but the minutes are adding up with Olivier Mbaizo too. We at least got Kai (Wagner) a little bit of a break. That back line is playing very well. We have to find ways to start to get some rotation, but we’ll see how both of them are feeling."
“I think (Collin) could get through a 90-minute game at this point. He’s a guy who takes care of his body and is a true professional. He’s built it up through training. I’d love to have the opportunity to get him 90 minutes in a controlled environment, but we don’t have that luxury now with how busy the schedule is. We’re basically playing games, the starters are recovering, the reserves are pushing as hard as they can in training, but let’s be honest, they’re not getting the match fitness. Some of the younger guys are with Union II, but for the experienced guys that are in this unique rhythm of so many games and not logging many minutes, Aurelien would fall into that bucket. If we need him, I trust him, He’s a winner and he’s been great in training. He’s such a big part of this team and the success that we’ve had."
The younger players that have not made the bench recently have been getting minutes in friendlies with Philadelphia Union II. The feeder club does not play in the USL Championship anymore and it is waiting on official word on where it will play in the future.
“We’ve been able to get a lot of out guys high quality games and minutes as the USL teams are getting ready to start their season," Curtin said. "For example, they’ll play Loudoun United this weekend and we have a scheduled scrimmage coming up with NYCFC where first-team guys will get minutes. While it is unique, we are able to get those guys 90 minutes and they’ve played a pretty strong schedule so far. There is some interchange in our roster. We’re picking guys out. What we didn’t have last year is the ability to give guys 90 minutes and keep them fit and going and rotate. For example, you saw Cole Turner get 90 minutes there and then he comes with the first team. Others will be coming in and out. Overall, we’re making the most of the situation and getting them as many minutes as we can until the finalization of what’s coming for hopefully a MLS league in the future."
Some of those players may be needed in the upcoming stretch. The Union have five games from May 8-30 and three in the next week.