With injuries, visa issues and U.S. national team duty, the Union have been severely shorthanded this week during the first of their two preseason camps in Clearwater, Fla.
So when the team took the field Wednesday for a scrimmage against Atlanta United, manager Jim Curtin had little choice but to start a bunch of reserves, including teenage Jack de Vries and Cole Turner. Atlanta, meanwhile, rolled out all of its big guns to prepare for its Concacaf Champions League opener in a little more than two weeks.
It certainly wasn't surprising that Atlanta won, but the 4-0 scoreline raised a few eyebrows — including for de Vries and Turner, who'd never played against opponents of that caliber before.
“I told them, and they agreed, that they’ve never really experienced anything quite like that,” Curtin said. “It’s important for them to see the speed of play. It’s important for Jack de Vries to get used to, when you receive a ball on the wing, you’re not going to have time to pick your head up and make decisions. You have to have an idea of what to do with the ball before it comes to you.”
The list of absences was pretty long. Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson are with the national team through Saturday, when the annual January camp ends with a game against Costa Rica in suburban Los Angeles (3:55 p.m., ESPNews, UniMás and TUDN). Jack Elliott had to leave to get his green card finalized (after seven years living in the United States, for the record), Matej Oravec had to leave to get his visa finalized, and Jamiro Monteiro is still away wrapping up his paperwork.
Then there are the injuries, and here Curtin made some news. Kai Wagner didn't play against Atlanta because of a minor knock suffered in training, and Andrew Wooten has a quad injury that's serious enough to rule him out for a few weeks.
“Hopefully if everything goes smoothly and the government obliges, we’ll have our almost-full team here on Monday,” Curtin said. That will be too late for Sunday’s scrimmage against the Chicago Fire (4 p.m.), but in time for next Wednesday’s scrimmage against the Montreal Impact (7 p.m.). As of now, neither game will be broadcast.
“We’d like to put [our young players] out there with more stability around them,” Curtin said, “but I’m still OK, in a preseason exercise, for them to go through with it and learn that way. Ideally, there’s only one or two of them out there, but we happened to have five or six, and in the second half even more.”
The good news is that new signing José Martínez made his debut against Atlanta, playing the second half.
"He has a real aggressiveness to his game — likes to tackle, likes to slide around, make blocks and defend, really enjoys the defensive part of the game," Curtin said. "I thought he did very well in the second 45 minutes, stabilizing the center part of the field."
There are also likely more defensive reinforcements on the way, in the form of 25-year-old Norwegian centerback Jakob Glesnes. His club, Norway’s Strømsgodset, announced Tuesday that he’s joining the Union pending an agreement on terms and a medical exam. The league’s website reported that the teams were close to a deal.
A Union spokesperson no-commented the news on Wednesday, and Curtin gave his own no-comment on Thursday — but he did admit to seeing the news.
“He’s not our player, so, sorry, I’m going to stay quiet,” Curtin said. “Nothing’s been finalized. I’ve seen the same reports you did.”