To be clear, Jim Curtin would rather the Union still be in the U.S. Open Cup.
But if, during the Union’s long flight back from Portland on Monday, the manager or any players realized they wouldn’t have to play right away again in midweek, that might just be OK.
Had the Union beaten Orlando in the Open Cup’s round of 32 earlier this month, they’d have played their round of 16 game Wednesday. That would have put Curtin’s players on the field for eight games in May, the last of which comes Saturday on the road against the New England Revolution (7:30 p.m., PHL17).
The Open Cup game would have been the seventh game of the set, with no more than six days between any two contests — and the six-day span came at the start of the month.
Now, instead, the Union can be fully refreshed for their trip to Foxborough, Mass., this weekend. And they won’t just have a 6-1-6 record (24 points) that’s the best in the Eastern Conference and No. 3 in MLS as a whole. They might finally have Mikael Uhre back, after the team’s top striker missed the last five games with an aggravated hamstring injury.
“We’re optimistic that he’ll be able to play a role in the New England game — probably not as a starter, but certainly available, hopefully, off the bench,” Curtin said, noting that Uhre was a full participant in practice in the last few days.
Sergio Santos also got an injection during the week after leaving the Portland game earlier than expected with a minor injury. He will be needed this weekend, even though Gillette Stadium’s hard artificial turf does no favor to hamstrings, because Julián Carranza is suspended because of yellow card accumulation.
Curtin lamented this week that he’s only had all four of his strikers — Uhre, Carranza, Santos, and Cory Burke — healthy together for just one game so far this year, the 2-0 win over Charlotte FC on April 2 in Chester.
“It was nice,” Curtin said.
“Obviously, during a season everybody goes through different dips of form — maybe an injury here or there, or a national team call-up can happen — so you need to have depth there,” he continued. “But, certainly, as the season goes on, and the important end-of-the-year push into the playoffs, we want to have all four of them healthy and playing at their very maximum and making the decisions of the coaches very difficult.”
New England is somewhat surprisingly in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. That’s mainly because of a slow start to the regular season, a time when manager Bruce Arena’s team was in the Concacaf Champions League. But since an ugly 3-2 loss to Inter Miami on April 9 at home, New England has lost just two of its last eight games — one in league play and one in the U.S. Open Cup.
Carles Gil remains the Revolution’s biggest attacking threat, with 6 goals and 8 assists in 15 games this year across all competitions. Polish striker Adam Buksa has 11 goals in 13 games, and his seven goals in MLS play rank No. 3 in the league. He’s tied with six other seven-goal scorers including the Union’s Dániel Gazdag, who has tallied in three of his last five games.
But the top player to watch might be New England goalkeeper Matt Turner. After missing the year’s first 10 games with a hairline fracture in his right foot, he’s been back on the field this month but has given up six goals in his last three games.
After this game, Turner will head to Cincinnati to join the U.S. men’s national team for its much-anticipated June slate of games. He is No. 2 on the U.S. depth chart behind Downingtown’s Zack Steffen, who will miss the series because of a family matter. So this will be a big opportunity for Turner to prove his case.
Turner also is preparing to move to English power Arsenal in July, in a deal reportedly worth $7 million-plus. He’s one of two Americans joining the Gunners this summer, along with Media-born centerback Auston Trusty of the Colorado Rapids (and three years ago, the Union).