Since the Union were eliminated from Major League Soccer playoff contention two weeks ago, interim manager Jim Curtin has spent even more time listening to the conversations in his locker room. He has taken a harder look at the way his players train.
"It matters to me: Who are the guys that are kind of tuned out and thinking about offseason vacations?" Curtin said. "It's a full-time job. There are no breaks."
Curtin's reasons for close evaluation are about more than just bringing the season to a prideful end at Columbus on Sunday. The Union face a winter filled with more questions than usual.
With two new teams entering the league, the MLS will hold an expansion draft in December. Each club is allowed to protect only 11 players. The Union have a pretty good idea which players they will protect, but the list is fluid.
"You play for your job every day with me," Curtin said. "You're judged every day."
Goalkeeper will be the most scrutinized decision. The Union have three, and someone must go. Zac MacMath, the starter the last three seasons, would be a prime target in the expansion draft if left unprotected, but the Union would rather get a return on him.
The Union acquired Algerian national Rais Mbolhi in July and locked him up long-term, but he has made just four starts with the team. Rookie Andre Blake, the No. 1 pick in the MLS draft, has hardly played. MacMath will start against Columbus as Mbolhi remains away from the team tending to a family matter.
There's also the matter of Amobi Okugo's expiring contract. The 23-year-old midfielder/defender has said he will explore free agency with an eye toward getting a chance in Europe.
But first, there is one more game to play.
Columbus has clinched a playoff spot, but is vying for the third seed. Curtin will field a lineup similar to the one that beat Sporting Kansas City last week. Forward Conor Casey is doubtful with tendinitis in his knee. Midfielder Vincent Nogueira and defender Carlos Valdes are day-to-day.
The Union will have their exit meetings immediately upon return, and by the middle of next week, most will have gone their separate ways. For the coaching and technical staffs, that's when the real work begins.
"We're really going to have to push to get things right in the offseason, because we're close," Curtin said. "But our fans are tired of close. We need to be in the playoffs."