The Union haven’t just been good in going undefeated so far at Major League Soccer’s summer tournament. They’ve also been quite lucky, especially when it comes to their schedule of games.
They had five days from their first game to the second, then six from the second to the third thanks to rescheduling after Nashville and FC Dallas were forced out. And in every knockout-round game, they have had or could have more rest days than their opponent: five versus New England’s four in the round of 16, then five versus Kansas City’s four in the quarterfinals.
If the Union beat Sporting on Thursday night, they’ll have six days before their Aug. 5 semifinal compared with four for their opponent, New York City FC or the Portland Timbers.
And on top of all that, if the Union reach the Aug. 11 final, the other semifinalist will have last played on Aug. 6.
That’s an exceptional amount of rest for a tournament styled after a World Cup. For example, the U.S. women never had more than five days between games last summer in France, and usually had four. When Union centerback Mark McKenzie played for the U.S. men at last spring’s under-20 World Cup, he never had more than four days between games.
For someone like Kacper Przybylko, who played every minute but seven in the four games so far, getting as much rest as possible is crucial.
“It’s very important I take every day I can take for rest,” he said.
The striker added that preparing for the tournament format was on players’ minds as soon as it was announced, even when players could only train individually at home.
“You can really see that everyone had discipline during the time when we had individual practice,” he said. “Being now on the pitch with the guys, you can really see that everyone is in shape.”
McKenzie’s past experience with quick turnarounds is such that the 21-year-old spoke like a seasoned veteran when asked about the subject.
“Maximizing recovery boots and pool sessions and ice baths and whatnot, I think those are all extremely important as we move on into this tougher part of the tournament,” he said. “Fatigue sets in and homesickness sets in. But the excuses, we try to kick [them] out the window because we’re here for a job.”
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Manager Jim Curtin said Tuesday afternoon that everyone on the team has a clean bill of health except Warren Creavalle, who “picked up a minor hamstring tweak” at the end of Saturday’s win over New England. Creavalle is day to day.
That prompted a question about who backs up starter José Andrés Martínez in defensive midfield — and specifically, whether Matej Oravec is any closer to finally making his Union debut. It seems he is not.
Curtin said Oravec and academy product Cole Turner “are getting better in training, but obviously I’m not quite ready for us to use [them] so far in this competition.” That Oravec was grouped in with Turner was a sign on its own, since the Slovakian was one of the team’s higher-profile offseason signings.
“As of right now, they’re still fighting to get into the team,” Curtin added.
If Creavalle can’t go Thursday and Martínez needs replacing, the plan would likely be to move Jack Elliott into midfield and send Jakob Glesnes to the back line. Elliott played the position in college at West Virginia and has done so a few times for the Union when needed.