The Philadelphia Union went back to basics in the week they had between games.
It was a rare opportunity in the congested schedule to break down what went wrong over the last few matches and fix the issues for the closing stretch of the regular season.
The Union will try to implement those parts of the game plan on Saturday night against D.C. United.
Coverage on The Gambler starts with the Union Pregame Show presented by DraftKings at 7:30 p.m. ET with Jon Jansen and Joe Tansey. JP Dellacamera and Danny Higginbotham will be on the game call. Kevin Kinkead joins Jansen and Tansey for the Union Postgame Show after the final whistle. .
Union head coach Jim Curtin admitted on Friday that he saw glimpses of what his team should look like in the win over New York City FC, but the differences in approach from CF Montreal threw them off and that is what triggered the back to basics call in training this week.
“There’s not a need to add too much new because when we’re going good, even just last week we showed what makes us strong is our team defending. It’s okay if teams have the ball against us, like New York City did. We showed we can be organized and do the little things on the defensive side of the ball to prevent them from creating chances and keeping a clean sheet,” Curtin said.
“Conversely, when we go against a Montreal team that approaches the game a bit different and wants it to be slow, we still have to improve on creating chances in those games when teams are sitting a little deeper where they have a block to break down and just weren’t sharp enough,” Curtin said. “Listen, if a bounce or two goes our way in the first 15 minutes, where we had a few good looks and we score a goal, then maybe the floodgates open and we score a goal and it suits us and the way we play. That’s not going to be the case in every game we play.”
Against Montreal, the Union failed to place a shot on target until Quinn Sullivan’s 87th minute equalizer.
Philadelphia produced a good amount of pressure in the final third, but it was unable to create attempts on target due to too much unselfish play and a few bad decisions.
“We have to find little ways on the offensive side to break teams down,” Curtin said. “That’s not doing anything outside of our comfort zone. We’re not all of a sudden going to put 65 passes together and break a team down. We can shore up those decision-making opportunities in the final third. When to shoot versus when to pass, when to go on the dribble a little bit longer to get into a dangerous area, when to play a ball into the green zone and move and support it.”
Saturday presents the perfect opportunity for the Union to flex their attacking muscle since Cory Burke and Daniel Gazdag will be away for the next match on Friday versus the New England Revolution due to international call-ups.
Burke, Andre Blake and Alvas Powell will represent Jamaica, Gazdag is headed to Hungary’s World Cup qualifying camp, Jamiro Monteiro is off to play for Cape Verde, Olivier Mbaizo will leave to represent Cameroon and Jose Martinez will be in Venezuela’s camp.
The Union will have plenty of time to put together their lineup for next week after the D.C. match, but losing all of those players for a key home match puts more importance on Saturday’s trip to the nation’s capital.
A win would create eight points of separation between the Union and D.C. in the Eastern Conference standings. That is significant because the Black-and-Red occupy the final playoff position at the moment. Atlanta United and the Columbus Crew are on their heels beneath the red line.
The Union won both of their regular-season meetings with D.C. United in 2021 and they have a 10-game unbeaten run against the Black-and-Red in MLS play. The lone non-victory was a 2-2 draw on October 14, 2020.