Bedoya addresses teammates on lackluster effort
CHESTER >> As the Philadelphia Union convened Monday for their customary day-after recap, Alejandro Bedoya felt compelled to speak up.
No one, from manager Jim Curtin on down the staff and roster, was under the impression that Sunday’s 2-0 flattening meted out by Orlando City was acceptable. But at a meeting that included more player input than usual, Bedoya moved that message from the subtext right into the open.
“It doesn’t take a genius to look at that game and say that was a lackluster effort at best,” Bedoya said Wednesday. “For us, it’s just staying optimistic. We know we have a great group of guys. We know we have a good team. When we’re playing well, when we’re on our game, we can compete with anybody in this league. It’s just about putting our heads down.
“I was able to give a talk to the team Monday and let them know we’re all in this together, this is the end of the season, guys are playing for their livelihoods really. We don’t know what’s going to happen next season. Some guys are going to retire, some guys are going to leave, get traded, go somewhere else. This is a great opportunity we have in front of us now with the playoffs and trying to win an MLS Cup here in Philly.”
Bedoya’s typical bluntness is the reset that the Union need, after a sixgame winless streak that somehow hasn’t prevented them from all but cinching a playoff spot. The only way the Union miss the postseason is a loss Sunday to the Red Bulls, a win by New England over Montreal and a change in goal differential of 12 between the teams. ESPN’s Soccer Power Index says there’s a 99.99 percent chance that won’t happen.
With the postseason aim essentially achieved, the Union’s strategy Sunday (4 p.m., TCN) shifts to granular objectives. The first is to arrest their skid and paper over the obvious cracks in the crumbling façade of the season with a result that reflects the sense of accomplishment the team should have. To do that, they’ll have to construct a more Union-like performance on the field.
“As a player, you know when it’s been a good performance and when it’s been us, the way the Union has played this season, and when it’s not,” Curtin said. “I think against Orlando, for a variety of different reasons, it wasn’t. … We didn’t have our best day.”
The return to winning ways must be approached pragmatically. The Union (11-13-9, 42 points) want to finish on a positive note, but they also face a playoff game next Wednesday or Thursday. With the Union locked into either the fifth or sixth seed, resting regulars on the fringe of health is on Curtin’s radar.
Several players missed Wednesday’s training session. Chris Pontius, who’s played every game this season, left Sunday’s game with hamstring tightness. Pontius suffered a serious hamstring injury last year, and his withdrawal from the game and limitation Wednesday was largely precautionary.
“He stayed in and got some maintenance, but I don’t foresee him being limited this week,” Curtin said.
CJ Sapong was diagnosed with a concussion and “is progressing quickly through the protocol,” per Curtin. Josh Yaro, who was progressing quickly with a concussion last week, hasn’t yet been cleared to practice. Sapong, in particular, could use a break after a run of poor form, and Curtin admitted a new face up top could provide the spark that’s needed.
Fabian Herbers, who has excelled on the wing, can start up top with Ilsinho returning. Charlie Davies could also make his first Union start, though Curtin didn’t sound too enthusiastic.
“Charlie has been a little bit sharper each day in training,” Curtin said. “Again, it’s tough for people to forget that he as recent as a month and a half ago was beating cancer. So the sharpness, the fitness, is starting to come back and the strength, you’re starting to see that, which is really positive. But in terms of just throwing him out there for 90 minutes, that’s why it has taken so long in that regard.”
Tranquillo Barnetta got an early practice exit, part of season-long maintenance on his balky knees. Then there’s the age-old Maurice Edu conundrum in the prolonged wait for a season debut.
“We’ll see how the week progresses, but Mo’s been really sharp in training,” Curtin said. “He’s improved a great deal in terms of the ground he’s covering. We’ll see what makes the most sense, but it is a possibility that he’s available for selection.”
Whoever Curtin turns to, the main challenge Sunday is to move on from last week’s disappointment, and a result will go a long way toward that.
“It’s the past, though, and that’s the one thing we did stress at the end of the meeting,” Curtin said. “It’s over. We have to look forward to the challenge that Red Bull will present which is the perfect team to play in terms for a tune-up and to get up to speed and the tempo of playoff game. We’ll use that to get guys prepared.”