Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

Reserves to get playing time in U.S. Open Cup

- By Matthew DeGeorge mdegeorge@delcotimes.com

Jim Curtin has for weeks lamented his inability to get the Union’s reserves, who have been training at a level worthy of minutes, into games. That challenge is always framed as getting those players the minutes they’ve earned.

Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup is the day he plans to rectify that.

The Philadelph­ia Union will take on Orlando City Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN+) in the fourth round of the Open Cup, making its return after a two-year COVID hiatus. Via a combinatio­n of necessity and merit, the squad will look very different than the one that has propelled the Union to the top of the Eastern Conference.

“I usually don’t say this but there will be a lot of them on the field to start the game,” Curtin said in a call Monday. “The reason is because they’ve earned those minutes.”

Curtin had used the same lineup four straight weeks before Saturday’s 2-2 draw in Los Angeles. The starting XI that night had just one change, Cory Burke stepping in for Mikael Uhre.

That trend changes Tuesday. Curtin ran down the list of young

players he expects to take on this “big opportunit­y:” Matt Real, Matt Freese, Jack McGlynn, Paxten Aaronson, Quinn Sullivan, Olivier Mbaizo. Stuart Findlay will get a look at center back to spell the two stalwarts who have played every minute in 2022. While he’s limited to the three healthy forward options, rotation will happen elsewhere.

The statement Curtin is making with such wholesale changes is of faith in his depth. The Union take the Open Cup seriously, making three finals under Curtin. He’s going to deploy the young talent not to rest his veterans (OK, not just to rest his veterans) but because he believes the youngsters can do the job.

Curtin will be down at least two starters. Jose Martinez left the LAFC game with a flareup of a knee issue. The team is getting imaging done, but Curtin said the smart path is to rest him Tuesday. Uhre (quad tightness) didn’t make the trip to LA or Orlando. He’s resting for Red Bulls.

Both the Union and Orlando City approach the game at difficult junctures. The Union played late Saturday at LAFC, the Western Conference leader, then entertain New York Red Bulls this weekend in a matchup of 1 vs. 2 in the East. Orlando City was drubbed in Montreal, 4-1, Saturday; they return to Canada to visit Toronto FC this weekend.

Orlando City entered the competitio­n in the third round, topping Tampa Bay Rowdies, 2-1. With coach Oscar Pareja, who won the Open Cup in 2016 with FC Dallas, Curtin knows the Lions won’t hold back.

“They’re dynamic, they’re really dangerous and Oscar is going to go for it,” Curtin said. “But he’s also coming back from Canada and has another trip to Canada on the end of this, so we’re in the same boat rest-wise.”

The Union’s enthusiasm in this competitio­n is also undimmed. The Cup competitio­n is, in a way, the easy path to a trophy, requiring just five wins. Curtin built his early coaching credential­s on runs to the final in 2014 and 2015. Even though the club’s trophy cabinet is no longer barren thanks to the 2020 Supporters’ Shield, the Open Cup is still a priority, given the limited menu of available trophies and the competitio­n’s storied history.

“We still want to go after it just like we always have,” he said. “Obviously our schedule this year maybe makes it a little bit trickier, especially in this round with flying from Los Angeles and the short rest ahead of a big Red Bull game.”

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