The Philadelphia Union will be heading to Orlando later this summer for the new MLS tournament. It may be something different, but overall it’s providing the team a new opportunity to claim a first trophy in club history.
The Eastern Conference club will learn its fate for the group stage of the tournament on Thursday following the draw. For now, the club has continued training in Wilmington, Del. due to the stay-at-home orders in Chester, Pa. and has gotten the thumbs up from the league to resume full training sessions.
Union head coach Jim Curtin is excited to have soccer back in some shape, albeit two hours away from their home stadium of Subaru Park.
“It’s a unique tournament, but I think when you have the likes of Disney and ESPN involved it’s going to be a strong effort at something special,” Curtin said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “For us, we just want to be able to get over the hump and bring a trophy home to our supporters, something we’ve had chances to do in the past.”
“I think it helps motivate players and coaches too when you have over $1 million prize money and a Concacaf Champions League berth at stake. It motivates teams to bring their best effort and try to get into a competition for next season that some haven’t been able to represent MLS in yet.”
The Union will be one of 26 teams in the tournament, which will get to take part in at least three group stage games which will count in regular season standings. The top two teams from each group along with the four best third-place finishers will move on to the knockout stage, which will include a Round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals.
June 24th has been labeled as the date for when clubs can start arriving in Orlando, two weeks before the opening matches on July 8th. It will give teams ample opportunities to prepare for the tournament, which the Union are fully prepared health-wise to try and win.
“Overall our training sessions here have been good, I am proud of the players for doing their hard work during the quarantine period and now keeping that intensity up during group sessions,” Curtin said. “Now with full sessions returning, we just have to keep working on our game and being the best group of ourselves for the tournament.”
“For some MLS teams you may see some rust early in the competition, but knowing this is a World Cup style format, it’s key to get a win in that opening match. We will do our best to perform for our fans and try to make them proud albeit in a stadium that isn’t ours.”
Curtin monitoring Cory Burke loan spell in Austria
Loanee Cory Burke has returned to play with Austrian Bundesliga side SKN St. Poelten, remaining one step ahead of his Union teammates.
Burke has played three matches in the Bundesliga so far this month, scoring a hat trick in a 5-0 win over WSG Swarovski Tirol. The Jamaican Men’s National Team forward is set to remain with St. Poelten for the remainder of the season before moving back to the Union in July.
Curtin admitted he’s been monitoring Burke’s performances and is eager to have him back at the club this summer.
“I rewatched his games so far and overall he’s showing exactly what he brings to MLS,” Curtin said. “His work ethic has been good, he’s making dangerous runs into the box, and showing physicality with defenders.”
“We are eager to get him back here with the club, but there is no exact date on when he will return. The good thing though is he’s been earning first-team minutes in Austria which is a step higher than a lot of guys right now in MLS. There are still Visa issues that will have to be worked out, especially with what is going on in the country, but we are excited to have him back in our striking corps.”
St. Poelten is 1-1-1 in their three matches back to action in the Austrian Bundesliga relegation tournament.
Gaddis, Collin among players back in full training
The Philadelphia Union were missing players earlier this summer, but now have everybody back and ready to go with the MLS tournament approaching.
Defenders Ray Gaddis and Aurelien Collin, who were both away with personal issues, are back in training with the clubs they return to full training. Gaddis started both of the club’s regular season games earlier this season, playing 90 minutes in each.
Collin did not appear in either of the club’s opening two matches, but could be a key figure in the upcoming tournament. With five substitutions being allowed in the Orlando competition, Curtin hinted at the possibility of bringing on fresh defenders against some of the league’s top offensive sides.
“Ray and Aurelien are back with us and ready to go as we continue our preparations for the tournament,” Curtin said. “It will be interesting to see how teams use their five substitutions especially with players returning to full fitness and with probably every team shaking off some rust.”
“Against some of the talented attacking teams like Atlanta, you could see teams bring on fresh defenders to deal with several attacking changes by the opposition. Coaches around the league will have plenty to consider going forward with these new rules coming into play.”
Offseason acquisitions Matej Oravec, Jose Martinez, and Jakob Glesnes are also back with the club fully as they continue preparations. All three players have dealt with plenty of new experiences in the United States, but could all be called on when the club makes its way to Orlando.