A few days ago, Union manager Jim Curtin went on the radio and stuck his neck out in a way he doesn’t often.
“The pressure for once is actually on us now,” he said last Friday on the Fox Sports The Gambler, in a discussion about Sunday’s playoff game against the rival New York Red Bulls (3 p.m., Fox Sports 1 and Fox Deportes. “We’re the favorite.”
It didn’t cause a stir the way Eagles coach Doug Pederson did this past Monday when he went on WIP and promised the Eagles would beat the Cowboys. In fact, Curtin didn’t even cause much of a stir among soccer fans, since most of them had put MLS out of mind to focus on the U.S. national team’s game Friday night.
But with the spotlight now back on the playoffs, Curtin’s remarks are resonating a little more. And unlike Pederson, Curtin isn’t backing down.
“The 3-seed is higher than the 6-seed,” Curtin said Wednesday, referring to his team’s seed and New York’s, respectively. “It’s as simple as numbers. We have the home game, [and] I would say in pro sports, the the home team is the favorite.”
Fans are forgiven, though, if their hearts disagree with their wallets. After all, the Union have reached the postseason just four times in their 10-year history, and have lost all four playoff games they’ve ever played in. New York, meanwhile, has reached the postseason in all but three of its 24 years of existence. This year’s playoffs will be the team’s 10th straight.
And while the Red Bulls have never won the MLS Cup (as fans league-wide relish noting), they’ve won 10 playoff games in this decade, and reached the Eastern Conference final three times.
The Union don’t have anywhere near that kind of experience. It’s just one factor, alongside home-field advantage, individual talents and team chemistry, but it matters.
“I think it’s a fair comment,” Curtin said when the subject came up. “Red Bull has been winning in this league for quite some time. They have guys that have played in a lot of big playoff games, and most importantly have won playoff games. ... When you go through our roster, we don’t have a lot of those guys.”
Instead, Curtin continued, his team has “guys that have experienced big games [and] have played in big games in a lot of ways as an underdog. And that’s why I think this time it is a little bit different.”
Curtin said he expects Kacper Przybylko to be fully healed from a foot injury by Sunday, and in the starting lineup. Przybylko suffered the injury during pregame warmups before the regular season finale against New York City FC, and had to miss the game.
“There’s certainly a plan in place, and that fully involves him starting on Sunday,” Curtin said. “Everything has gone according to plan so far — there’s been no setbacks, there’s been no surprises. ... He’ll be ready to go for the weekend.”