This time, he’s going to have to, and he knows it. There’s no way the Union can get through playing at the New York Red Bulls, San Jose Earthquakes, and Columbus Crew in a span of eight days without significant changes to the lineup along the way.
“We will bring a bigger than usual group to San Jose, for the continuity of training purposes, keeping the group going, keeping the group together,” Curtin said Wednesday after practice. “Will the entire group go 90-90-90 [minutes in each game]? No. That is one thing that’s been decided. We will rotate."
That doesn’t mean we’ll see a totally different set of starters in San Jose next Wednesday from the ones who take the field at Red Bull Arena on Sunday. The Union still need every point they can get to finish in at least second place, and earn the right to host at least two home games. As such, the stakes are too high to play a squad entirely made up of reserves in San Jose.
“We’re not in a position that we want to sacrifice anything with the points that are out there and how close it is,” Curtin said. “Obviously, we shoot for the one seed, but in our conference, one and two are critical. ... [That] is the real fight right now.”
The bellwether players are centerback Jack Elliott and midfielders Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya. Elliott and Medunjanin have played every minute of every league game this season, and Medunjanin also played all 120 minutes of the U.S. Open Cup loss in June. Bedoya has played every minute except for the recent home game against Atlanta he missed because of yellow card accumulation.
The Union will get a little lucky thanks to their opponents’ schedules. New York will face the Union on short rest, having played at Portland on Wednesday. San Jose visits Atlanta this Saturday, another long trip.
But Curtin and his players can’t rely on other teams to give them what they want. They have to take it for themselves. Curtin is keeping the team’s goal high: to get to the regular-season finale at home against New York City FC within three points of first place. If that happens, the Union will have a shot at stealing first that day.