The Philadelphia Union’s Eastern Conference final preparations look to have hit an unforeseen stumbling block.
With New York City FC coming to town on Sunday to battle it out for a place at MLS Cup, it’s safe to say this is the biggest game in the Union’s history to date.
But in his pre-match press conference on Friday, head coach Jim Curtin revealed the Union were unable to train on Thursday due to the league’s COVID-19 protocols. The 42-year-old declined to reveal which, if any, players had tested positive or been forced into isolation, but vowed to do the best he can with the tools at his disposal.
“I hope everyone can now respect the fact that I can’t speak on the health of certain individual players,” said Curtin. “We’re going to prepare as best we can with the hope that everybody’s available. The reality is that’s probably not likely, but we’re trying to do our best to follow the protocols and get everybody prepared as best we can for a really tough game.
“We live in unique times. I think we all have understood that. We’ve all had to find ways with our families to adjust to adapt to make the best out of situations so that’s what we’ll do.”
To reach this stage, the Union have already beaten the New York Red Bulls 1-0 and Nashville SC on penalties after a 1-1 draw. In Round one against RBNY, Curtin was without key starts Jamiro Monteiro and Olivier Mbaizo and although they coped well, could only advance thanks to a last-minute goal from Jakob Glesnes.
If they were to go out to NYCFC with a depleted squad, it would be a cruel end to what has been another strong season for Philadelphia, who finished second in the Eastern Conference and went all the way to the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
“You do feel bad for certain players who put so much into the season,” Curtin said. “Whether or not they’ll be part of things in the 90 minutes is still to be determined. So that part is difficult, no question about it. But again, I said it to the group: ‘this is why you get paid money to play a sport, this is what the literal definition of what it means to be a professional is, always being ready.’”
In fact, Curtin is absolutely certain his players are “brave” enough to face up to any challenge in front of them.
“Our players have worked tirelessly to get to this point,” he added. “I know they’ll be brave even in the adversity that we’re facing.
“We’ve stepped up in big moments all year long. Be it international absences, the challenges of Concacaf, players losing loved ones. Adversity on and off the field, this group always finds a way to step up. We will make our fans proud.”