Curtin count­ing on change to shake ‘the funk’

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matthew DeGe­orge mde­ge­orge @21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @sports­doc­tormd on Twit­ter

The Philadel­phia Union are in the 2016 MLS Cup Play­offs, bar­ring a rather size­able soccer mir­a­cle.

You could be for­given for not know­ing that, given the mood sur­round­ing the club in re­cent weeks, or the six-game win­less streak, or the guar­an­teed sub.500 record. Or, the way in which man­ager Jim Curtin has taken to de­scrib­ing Sun­day’s visit from the New York Red Bulls (4 p.m., TCN).

There’s not much to play for Sun­day, save for the avoid­ance of catas­tro­phe and a star­ring role in a “30 for 30” short film. (“What if I told you, that New Eng­land needed just 13 goals…”) The Red Bulls (15-9-9, 54 points) will win the East­ern Con­fer­ence. The Union (1113-9, 42 points) will end up ei­ther fifth or sixth, a triv­ial dis­tinc­tion that re­gard­less puts them on the road for a wild card game.

With a one-game play­off loom­ing Wed­nes­day or Thurs­day, the Union have big­ger fish to fry than se­cur­ing that elu­sive cel­e­bra­tory feel­ing Sun­day. And af­ter last week’s 2-0 col­lapse against Or­lando City that im­proved their play­off hopes but con­signed the play­off chase to an ut­terly joy­less con­clu­sion, the larger ob­jec­tives may per­ma­nently pre­vent any smiles be­ing cracked at the Union’s ac­com­plish­ments.

Curtin is ex­pect­ing the Red Bulls to field close to a first-choice squad, Jesse Marsch opt­ing to have his guys hum along into the con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals next week­end against the win­ner of a wild-card matchup. Curtin, though, is less likely to risk his play­ers on the precipice of full fit­ness with an eye to­ward the mid­week chal­lenge. (And if you can’t cob­ble to­gether a re­serve side ca­pa­ble of stay­ing within six goals of Red Bulls, what’s the point of go­ing to the play­offs?)

“There’s dis­cus­sions, the guys that are banged up,” Curtin said Wed­nes­day. “You have to do what’s best, ob­vi­ously, to get out of the funk that we’re in and find some­one in the group to spark the group. Maybe it’s a new face, a change or a tweak.”

Those dis­cus­sions sur­round some prom­i­nent names. CJ Sapong (con­cus­sion) hadn’t prac­ticed as of Wed­nes­day, nor had Josh Yaro (con­cus­sion). Lead­ing scorer Chris Pon­tius (ham­string tight­ness) didn’t train Wed­nes­day, while Tran­quillo Bar­netta (knee) was lim­ited pre­cau­tion­ar­ily. It’s pos­si­ble none of that group starts Sun­day.

Curtin is gen­er­ally averse to squad ro­ta­tion, but this might be a de­cent week to tin­ker for dis­cre­tion’s sake. Roland Al­berg is an easy switch for Bar­netta. Fabian Her­bers could start up top with Ilsinho on the wing, or Ilsinho and Her­bers could man the wings with Char­lie Davies as the for­ward. Then there’s the pos­si­bil­ity of in­tro­duc­ing Mau­rice Edu.

“I don’t know how teams tin­ker around at this stage,” said Ale­jan­dro Be­doya, deal­ing with a rib in­jury that could make him a can­di­date for a light­ened load. “… I don’t care what they do. For us, it’s im­por­tant to get back on the right foot and get back some mo­men­tum go­ing into the next round.”

It’s a bal­anc­ing act, par­tic­u­larly against an op­po­nent that last lost July 3. Curtin doesn’t want to con­tinue this pro­longed stum­ble into the post­sea­son. But he also doesn’t want to jeop­ar­dize the Union’s abil­ity to per­form once they get there.

“The tim­ing of this whole thing is strange,” Curtin said. “It’s a unique feel­ing, you know, be­cause it’s un­for­tu­nate that our play­ers didn’t get the feel­ing of coming off of our home field and get­ting the ap­plause they de­served for the sea­son. We un­der­stand why we didn’t be­cause we had a bad per­for­mance but, at the same time, it’s a strange one in that there’s no real cel­e­bra­tion.

“It’s go­ing to be a quick turn­around against Red Bull. … We just want a good per­for­mance, and I think that for con­fi­dence, that would go a long way to get a re­sult against the top team in the East, and I think that that can build a lit­tle bit of mo­men­tum mov­ing for­ward.”

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