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Union manager Jim Curtin feels the heat as struggles continue

Jim Curtin has tried his best to not let the Union's latest losing streak get to his head. But it seems to have happened lately, with the Union mired in a 2-5-2 start to the season.

Jim Curtin’s Philadelphia Union have lost all four of their road games this season, and four of their last five games overall.
Jim Curtin’s Philadelphia Union have lost all four of their road games this season, and four of their last five games overall.Read moreYong Kim/Staff Photographer

Jim Curtin has tried his best to not let the Union's latest losing streak get to his head.

But it seems to have happened lately, with the Union mired in a 2-5-2 start to the season. Wednesday's 1-0 loss at Columbus was their fourth defeat in five games, and they've lost all four of their road games.

"It's always on your mind," Curtin said Friday on a conference call from Montreal, where the Union will face the Impact on Saturday (3 p.m., PHL17). "There were certain things going into the offseason that we agreed to. Some we're hitting, some we're coming up short on."

The Union increased their payroll by the ninth-largest margin in all of MLS over the winter, due in part to signing Borek Dockal and David Accam. But Dockal has just one goal and one assist so far, and Accam has none of either.

"We knew in and around where we were going to spend this offseason, and what targets we would have," Curtin said. "I think we did a good job getting those targets, and now it hasn't gone the way we had hoped. … I believe in the group that we have, but it is pro sports. I recognize the pressure that comes with it."

There's also a problem the Union seem to face every year: Whenever they improve, the rest of MLS improves more. That's part of why the Union's payroll is MLS' 15th-biggest, trailing big-market and small-market teams alike.

"I think we're in some ways asked to punch above our weight," Curtin said of the Union's place in all that. "We haven't done that this year. That's the bottom line."

Curtin had long planned to change his starting lineup in Montreal, and said that could involve at least four players.

One might be Anthony Fontana, the 18-year-old midfield creator who hasn't played since March 31. He would step in for Dockal, whether as a starter or a substitute.

"We'll have a discussion with Borek and see where he's at physically, but Anthony will play a role one way or the other," Curtin said.

C.J. Sapong is likely to sit after injuring his left leg during Wednesday's game. Curtin said he might have rested Sapong no matter what, but also that Sapong would "try and tough it out."

"He's in a lot of pain," Curtin said. "We'll have to make the decision that makes the most sense. You certainly don't want to do anything that could make it a longer-term injury for him."

The next striker up is Cory Burke, who has shown promise in his first year in MLS. He has overtaken Jay Simpson, signed last year to be the team's top striker, on the depth chart.

Simpson's failure has become even more glaring in light of a $115,000 raise in his contract this year, bringing his salary to more than $623,000.

"There's a little bit of a pecking order," Curtin said. "Whether that's right or wrong in the court of public opinion, that can be fine, but we see them every day in training, and right now, Cory is a little bit ahead of Jay. So that's the decision we've made, and that's the one we're going to stick with."

Union at Montreal Impact

Saturday, 3 p.m. at Stade Saputo, Montreal


Union's record: 2-5-2, 8 points (9th in the East); 0-4-0 on the road
Impact's record:
 3-7-0, 9 points (8th in the East); 2-1-0 at home

Series history: Impact 7 wins, Union 3 wins, 6 ties
At Stade Saputo: Impact 6 wins, Union 1 win, 1 tie

Montreal players to watch

M Ignacio Piatti: A perennially overlooked MVP candidate, the Argentine creator has scored 17 goals in each of the last two seasons. He got a huge pay raise over the winter to more than $4 million, and has justified it with five goals and six assists this year.

M Samuel Piette: The Quebec native is a midfield destroyer with a robust engine. He has been given four yellow cards this year, but no red cards yet.

F Anthony Jackson-Hamel: He doesn't play every game, but when he does, he's a force. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound 24-year-old scored nine goals in 21 games last year, and has two goals in six games this year.