A Tuesday-to-Saturday layoff is long enough that Union manager Jim Curtin will probably be able to run out most of his top lineup for Saturday’s home game against New York City FC (7:30 p.m., PHL17) if he wants to.
Whether he should is a different question.
It’s not just that the second leg of the Champions League series against Atlanta is three days later at Subaru Park. It’s that 10 outfield players (i.e., not goalkeepers) have started every game for the Union so far this season, and five have played every minute: Kai Wagner, Jack Elliott, Olivier Mbaizo and, most importantly, Jamiro Monteiro.
Jakob Glesnes and Alejandro Bedoya played every minute of the last two games that came in quick succession, and Kacper Przybylko played all but the last few of each.
There will be some enforced rotation Tuesday because of José Andrés Martínez’s suspension for yellow card accumulation. Since the suspension only applies in the Champions League, he’ll obviously play Saturday against New York.
But beyond that?
“A couple new faces will certainly get minutes” on Saturday, Curtin said. “We’re not going to rotate seven or eight guys, that is a recipe for disaster in our league and the data shows that. We’ll, in a smart way, get fresh legs out for the guys that have logged a lot of minutes.”
It would make a lot of sense if centerback Stuart Findlay is one of those faces, and makes his MLS debut, after playing 23 minutes in the second game of the Saprissa series.
New York’s main striker Héber is out injured recovering from a torn ACL suffered last September, and dynamic forward Valentín Castellanos has reportedly told the club he wants to leave after Brazilian giant Palmeiras made a $4 million offer for him. City manager Ronny Deila told the team’s radio broadcast crew on Friday that the brass don’t intend to sell, but Deila still might have a disgruntled player on his hands.
A start for Anthony Fontana would also help the Union, and yes, that’s been said in this space already. Watching him duel in midfield with New York’s Keaton Parks and U.S. national team veteran Alfredo Morales would be worth the price of admission. And if Fontana finds the net for the third time this year, it will help fulfill Curtin’s pledge that Saturday’s game is one from which “we have to take points.”
Curtin didn’t quite say that’s because of the home loss to Inter Miami last weekend. There’s a lot of soccer left to play this year, but starting the regular season with one tie and two losses won’t look great.
He was more emphatic in saying that the Atlanta series is “nowhere near over,” and that winning it is more important than the NYCFC game.
“When you have a chance to get to the final four on this continent, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the club,” Curtin said, then quickly corrected himself on the “once” part.
“Obviously, we want to be in this competition consistently,” he said. “But it’s a big opportunity, is probably a better way to put it. One that does take precedence over you know, game three of the regular season.”