Union manager Jim Curtin promised a "different approach" at both ends of the field in his last remarks before the team left Chester on Tuesday afternoon for Wednesday's first-round playoff game at New York City FC (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1, UniMás and Univision Deportes).
Curtin hinted at a bigger role for Ilsinho at right wing, though he wouldn't commit to how much time the Brazilian might see. C.J. Sapong's aerial threat out wide was muted in Sunday's thorough defeat by Yankee Stadium's narrow dimensions, and Curtin admitted that Ilsinho's wizardry in tight spaces is better-suited to the matchup.
"Ilsinho was really good when he came on," Curtin said. "You have to balance where his fitness is at, how quickly he can recover from the 45 minutes at a high intensity where he was on the ball a lot. We have a plan in place, how we're going to approach the game, but Ilsinho will certainly play a major role."
As Curtin alluded to, Ilsinho hasn't always been known for durability. How much fuel is in his tank after playing 45 minutes over the weekend?
"We're about to see," Curtin said."You have the potential of 120 minutes. You have the potential of a long game and PKs. … You have to be able to adjust on the fly offensively and defensively, but we will have ourselves set up to sub in an aggressive manner, in a way that puts us in the best opportunity to get a result against a team that played the best game they played in six months against us."
A defensive adjustment may be in order too. The combination of Yankee Stadium's dimensions and New York's pressure defense severely limited the Union's ability to pass out of the back. The Union would rather play that way; it's a point of emphasis all the way down to the academy. But sometimes, you just have to just clear the ball and be done with it.
"We'd be stubborn and maybe a bit naive to do the exact same thing against New York" as they did Sunday, Curtin said. "We do have to be disciplined, but we can't lose little balls, and that maybe leads to us not building up the same exact way — making it a little more of a roll-up-your-sleeve street fight than the pretty, 10-to-15 yard balls through midfield that you've seen us play the entire season."
New York will be the clear favorite on Wednesday, but with a notable caveat. They, like the Union, have never won a playoff round. Even though they finished second in the East in 2016 and 2017, they were bounced from the playoffs at the first hurdle in the conference semifinals. That will surely be on the home team's minds, and Curtin is well aware.
"Something's got to change, right?," he said. "We're the underdog, that is clear, but the group has shown during the course of the year we're not scared of anybody. We need to have a better performance than the one we did the other day, and the quick turnaround, I think, suits us. Our group is eager to get back out on the field, and we've done well in Wednesday night games. Now we have to raise our level one last time, dig deep, and there's no tomorrow."