Union manager Jim Curtin rightly praised his team this week for its ability to wear down opponents, and the game-changing late goals it has scored in recent contests. Now that task is about to get a bit harder.
This week brings a two-games-in-four-days road trip to Florida’s summer swelter, starting with a nationally-televised visit on Thursday to what will likely be a rather ornery Orlando City (7:30 p.m., ESPN and ESPN Deportes).
The Lions are in third place in the Eastern Conference (6-3-4, 22 points), a point behind the Union but with a better points-per-game average from having played one fewer game. Star forward Nani has been superb, with seven goals, three assists, and 20 chances created this season. But his team is in a three-game winless rut, and hasn’t claimed a victory since June 25.
From there, the Union will head south to Fort Lauderdale to face Inter Miami on Sunday (7:30 p.m., PHL17). Miami has been woeful under first-year manger Phil Neville, with just two wins and two ties in 11 games. But Curtin and his players don’t need to be reminded that one of those wins came at Subaru Park on April 24 in the Union’s home opener.
As bad as Miami has been, this stretch is one of the hardest the Union have left this season, perhaps ranking as high as No. 2 behind playing at New England and Club América over five days in August. (That swing is No. 1 by a long way.) On top of the heat, it’s thunderstorm season. But at least the Union have had some experience with that lately, having sat through a nearly two-hour stoppage during Saturday’s win over D.C. United.
The Union remain without their Jamaican trio of Andre Blake, Cory Burke, and Alvas Powell; and Jack de Vries is still in concussion protocol. Sergio Santos might also be short on sleep as his wife gave birth to their second child this week.
But Jamiro Monteiro will be back from his yellow card accumulation suspension, and that alone will elevate the Union’s quality. We should see a midfield quartet of Monteiro, José Andrés Martínez, Alejandro Bedoya, and Dániel Gazdag for the first time.
Matt Freese will also be back from his red card suspension, though he might not go right back into the lineup. Curtin declined Tuesday to name a starting goalkeeper, not wanting to tip his hand. But he also said he wanted to watch Wednesday’s practice before making a final decision.
Anthony Fontana could return from his concussion-imposed absence during the trip, which would give the Union some much-needed depth on the front line.
“Our plan as of [Tuesday] morning was to bring him to Florida with us,” Curtin said. “Whether he’s eligible for Orlando or possibly Miami, that’s to be determined.”
Curtin would of course like to take six points out of this road trip. But he wasn’t wrong to hint that if that doesn’t happen, there shouldn’t be too many alarms.
“It’s been a decent season, but nobody cares about July and what’s happening now,” Curtin said. “What matters most is towards the end of the year, and taking our next step forward and winning some playoff series.”