The Philadelphia Union will take to the field on Wednesday against the Columbus Crew without Andre Blake in net for the first time this season.
Blake, who is off with Jamaica preparing for the Copa America Centenario, will be replaced by Matt Jones. The decision-making process came down to goalkeeper coach Oka Nikolov, who provided manager Jim Curtin with enough intelligence to make the call.
“Oka Nikolov is who I lean on for that,” Curtin said. “He has the nuances down and he sees them every day, the little things that maybe I can’t pick up. Experience and amount of professional games weigh into it. I leaned on Oka for the decision and the choice is Matt Jones.”
Jones came to the Union on loan from Belenenses in Portugal during the offseason and he has mainly been used as the backup to Blake this season.
“He really fit the criteria of what we were looking for,” Curtin said. “Over 100 plus games in a top league in Portugal at a very high level. He’s a guy who won a lot of those games too. He had a wife that lived in the area and they were looking to come back to the states. It was a good fit.”
“He’s a pro. He has a good head on his shoulders,” Curtin said. “He’s intelligent and he came in with the mindset understanding that Andre is the No. 1, but he’s going to push every day to make my decision difficult every week and he’s done that to his credit.”
Jones’ only start of the 2016 season came at the USL level with Bethlehem Steel FC on May 15 in a 2-1 win over FC Montreal. John McCarthy has been the regular starter for the Steel this season.
“Getting minutes at the USL level is a necessity for goalkeepers especially,” Curtin said. “The intensity isn’t always that way in training so to get live action is critical.”
Wednesday’s start appears to have Jones in line to start the Union’s U.S. Open Cup match on June 15 against either the Harrisburg City Islanders or Chattanooga FC. Given the two-week break in between matches, the Union should have most of their first-teamers fresh for their cup opener.
Before the Union can focus on their preparations for the US Open Cup, they need to earn three points at home against the Crew.
Curtin stated the team is on track to achieve its two main goals heading into the Copa America break.
“We set a goal for ourselves at the beginning of the year to go into the Copa America break in first place,” Curtin said. “We find ourselves with the possibility of achieving that. The other goal we set is to concede one goal per game. Thirty-four goals against is what we’re shooting for. We have the opportunity tomorrow with a shutout to maintain that pace.”
Curtin also provided reporters with an update on center back Joshua Yaro, who suffered a shoulder injury in the 2-2 draw with Orlando City in Week 13.
“He’s getting an MRI as we speak,” Curtin said. “He wasn’t in training today. I thought it was best to get a real definitive answer. He has some discomfort. I’m hoping that it’s something he’s able to play with the rest of the year and we can do whatever needs to be done at end of the season.”