If isn’t broke, then why try fixing it?
That saying rings true almost every time Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin puts together his starting XI during a decent run of form.
In past years, it’s been a flaw of Curtin’s because eventually the run of form would end, usually faster than hoped, and the Union would be back to square one. But that’s changed during the franchise-long four-game winning streak, even if you think Curtin was too stubborn throughout the seven-day span last week in which the Union played three contests.
Curtin’s only changes from the Wednesday win over the Houston Dynamo to Saturday’s clash with the Colorado Rapids came at left back to give Fabinho, who played every minute before Saturday, a rest and to give Fabian Herbers a shot at a starting spot while resting veteran Chris Pontius.
After 45 minutes, the consistency and lack of changes was looked at in a negative light following a poor performance, but the same group rallied for a come-from-behind 2-1 win over the worst team in the Western Conference.
“It wasn’t our best first half,” Curtin said. “We weren’t happy with it at halftime. We talked about getting back to playing the way like to have pressure on the ball and that improved in the second half and led to chances.”
Now, with a two-game road trip ahead before the international break, the Union are looking for the same consistency to help navigate a pair of tricky contests with Real Salt Lake and New York City FC.
The similar themes that have handed the Union all their recent success will be in play at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night, with the biggest being the spacing in midfield and movement as a collective. One of the main reasons why the Union have allowed just 11 shots on goal during the winning streak is the play of Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya, who have shut down the opponent’s top playmaker, a trend that started one game before the first of four wins in LA against Giovani dos Santos.
The target on Saturday night for the Union will be offseason acquisition Albert Rusnak, who has shined in an otherwise dreary RSL front line.
“He would be the key guy, treating him like we have in recent weeks with Kljestan, Acosta, Alex,” Curtin said. “He’s similar in that regard of his final pass is very good. Their front six is still very dangerous. A really dangerous group, but it starts percentage wise, trying to make his touches in areas of the field where it’s difficult for him to hurt us. Difficult task for us, but I’d say it starts with him as the heart you want to take away from them.”
Keeping with the consistency theme, Curtin is expected to field much of the same XI for the trip to Utah, with Fabinho coming back into his left back role and Pontius back on the right. And with Roland Alberg still nursing an injury to his quad, Ilsinho should continue in the No. 10 role, a position that suits his talents more each week as Fafa Picault, C.J. Sapong and Pontius make runs off him in all directions of the field.
The biggest lineup decision of the season won’t come on Saturday, and it may not be forced upon Curtin next week, but second-year center back Joshua Yaro is rapidly progressing toward a return from shoulder surgery. Curtin said the Georgetown product could start receiving minutes in June at Bethlehem Steel. When Yaro returns, he’ll supplant either Oguchi Onyewu or Jack Elliott, and Richie Marquez could force his way back into the team as well after dealing with an illness a few weeks ago.
But until then, Curtin doesn’t have to worry much in the selection department. He’s found the right combination that’s earned his club results, and he’ll stick with them on Saturday, and probably in New York next week as well, but who can blame him, the Union have to ride the high for as long as it lasts.
“These next two games are critical,” Curtin said. “We’re going to have a tough test in Salt Lake. It’s really, really important to go there with confidence and try to get points, because it’s hard to get points on the road. At a minimum, we want to try and get four points out of these next two games. I know that’s hard, we’re going to shoot for six, but at a minimum, we want to get four.”