The management of the Philadelphia Union roster has been tested time and again by a crowded 2021 season. The latest review comes against a backdrop of extreme scheduling opportunities and severe bottlenecks in the Eastern Conference.
The Union will face back-to-back games against teams from Ohio that are out of the playoff spots, starting with the Columbus Crew visiting Sunday (4 p.m., PHL17). A trip to FC Cincinnati, the last team in the East, looms during the international break. For a team that is fifth in the East and third in points per game, every point is amplified.
The Union (10-7-9, 39 points) will face Columbus without Jose Martinez, suspended for accumulating yellow cards. Olivier Mbaizo is missing due to mourning after the death of his father. Both players will remain absent for the international break with Venezuela and Cameroon, respectively.
This will force the rotation earlier than expected. For Mbaizo, it will probably be Alvas Powell who will start at the back before moving on to Jamaica. Nathan Harriel waits backstage in Cincinnati.
The image of the midfielder is less simple. Leon Flach is likely to move from left midfielder to No.6 role in place of Martinez on Sunday. This opens up new questions for manager Jim Curtin. Does he prefer Jack McGlynn left behind Jamiro Monteiro? Or Monteiro on the left behind Daniel Gazdag at n ° 10? Knowing that these two guys will be absent for the Cincinnati game, could a young local intervene? Or is Jesus Bueno ready for his first playing action?
With Bueno, the conversation is similar to Matheus Davo, the Brazilian striker who once played but is now behind in-form forwards Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos. The desire to try something new needs to be balanced with the risk of throwing a new face, especially one new to the league and country, into the fray.
“You want to see it live, but then you realize the scale of each game and the scale of the games – is he used to his teammates enough? Is he ready for the intensity of it? – you don’t 100% know, ”Curtin said of Davo on Friday via Zoom. “I think he will play a role in the home stretch. And it’s no secret: we need someone to get sexy that we don’t expect to get hot, whether it’s a local youngster stepping up and getting more minutes or an advocate who raises his level and does a job for us or someone who scores a big goal for us that we don’t expect. Someone is going to do it for us this year. It’s going to happen, and Davo might be in that category, and Jesus Beuno too.
The Crew (9-11-7, 34 points) have been a confusing team this season. The defending MLS Cup champions failed to capitalize on that momentum and are ninth in the East, five points from a playoff berth. But they are undefeated in their last three games, just like the Union. The Crew have just secured a midweek victory over Cruz Azul in the Camepones Cup, the latest of the MLS-Liga MX joint ventures. Gyasi Zardes is back to score goals, winning a call-up for the US national team, but the team has obvious flaws that are holding them back.
Considering the margins in the Eastern Conference – seven points separate places two to seven in the standings; nine points group 3 to 11 – the differences are therefore very slight. The Union have already done well in the last streak, winning seven of the possible nine. If they can win the next two games and extend that streak to 13 of 15 possible points, they would be in a good position for a home playoff game.
“We are expecting a very difficult task,” Curtin said. “And when we get together with Columbus, it’s always a one-game type of game. I expect Sunday to be no different.