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Jim Curtin has the Union go ‘back to basics’ to fix the team’s sputtering attack

“We have to improve the amount of chances we’re creating in a game,” Curtin said ahead of Saturday's visit to D.C. United, and he didn't just mean shots.

Kacper Przybylko on the ball during the Union's 1-1 tie with Montreal at Subaru Park last Saturday.
Kacper Przybylko on the ball during the Union's 1-1 tie with Montreal at Subaru Park last Saturday.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

It’s not just Union fans complaining via email and Twitter who’ve noticed that the team hasn’t scored enough lately.

Manager Jim Curtin has noticed, too, and he was candid about it as he previewed Saturday’s visit to always-pesky D.C. United (8 p.m., PHL17).

“We have to improve the amount of chances we’re creating in a game,” Curtin said. “It’s not a situation where we’re going to just completely change all of our attacking and the way we attack, but we do have to find little ways to create a little bit more.”

That was a reference to more than just the fact that the Union have scored more than once in a game only twice in their last 11 contests, and not at all in their last four. The team is creating shots, but not shots on target. Last Saturday’s 1-1 tie against Montreal was a glaring example: just one of the team’s 13 shots was on frame.

“I like where we are defensively as a team, and we’ve had to maybe sacrifice a little bit of the going forward and bombing forward to keep the clean sheets and to keep the low goals-against that we’ve kept,” Curtin said. “It is a give-take.”

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Curtin said he “went back to basics” in practice this week, taking advantage of the team’s first week without a midweek game since late July.

“Talked about the importance of our team defending, which we’ve been very good at this season in terms of our goals against, toward the very top of the league,” Curtin said. “But then also improving some of our attacking movements, creating more chances, being a little bit more dangerous, being a little bit more brave, taking risks getting forward.”

Curtin’s right about the stingy defense: Only three teams in the league have conceded fewer goals than the Union’s 20. But the stakes for Saturday’s game include knowing that as many as seven players will leave for national-team duty after it, which will take them out of next Friday’s game against first-place New England. (It was rescheduled into the FIFA window because it was originally set for Sept. 15, the night that the Union host Club América in the Champions League semifinals.)

The Union might also be without Sergio Santos on Saturday, as he’s dealing with a minor hamstring injury.

“I don’t need the offense to be clicking perfectly right now — we need to win games right now,” Curtin said. That may read oddly, but his point is his trust in his team’s ability to win low-scoring contests.

Then again, the Union have won just four of their last 14 games, with six ties and four losses in the rest.

“That offense has to be clicking, though, when we have a Champions League game where we have to score,” Curtin said. “Then, as we get into September and October and then the playoffs, that’s where we want to be really flying on all cylinders.”

It would help Saturday if Anthony Fontana can play for the first time since June 20, which Curtin said is a possibility. It would also help if Matheus Davó debuts one of these days. That could happen Saturday, but it seems more likely to happen against New England when Cory Burke is gone with Jamaica for World Cup qualifying.

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“Matheus Davó gets better each training, which is natural,” Curtin said. “I think you’re certainly going to see him get his debut at some point over the next couple games here, but he has to be patient with it, because there’s other guys, too, playing well in his position. … You’re always looking for somebody to inject a little bit of life into the group and to push guys in training, and I think that’s happening right now, in a positive way.”

Young forward Jack de Vries is also “cleared to go,” Curtin said, after missing the whole season so far with concussion symptoms. But as soon as Curtin said that, he realized he gave a double entendre. It remains likely that de Vries will “go” to Italy’s Venezia on loan before he goes on to the field for the Union. The European transfer window closes on Tuesday.

“I can’t speak on the rumors that you’ve seen, but the rumors are there for a reason,” Curtin said. “I think there’s just some final details [left] to sort things out, and we’ll see if anything gets finalized.”