Philadelphia Union chase CCC berth in Leagues Cup closer vs. Monterrey

Union preview - LC Third-Place Game

Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin isn’t shying away from the disappointment of his team’s 4-1 home loss to Lionel Messi and Inter Miami CF in Tuesday’s Leagues Cup semifinal. But that doesn’t mean he’s holding onto the elimination blues.

The Union must quickly turn the page to become laser-focused on hosting Saturday’s Third-Place Game vs. Liga MX powerhouse Monterrey (6 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) – especially since a 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup (CCC) berth is on the line.

“Now it's about a response, getting back to doing the simple things perfect, doing the things that make us a strong team in this building,” said Curtin in his Matchday-1 presser. “And again, 47 teams entered this competition. There's still three Champions [Cup] berths on the line, and we want to push and try and get that final Champions [Cup] berth tomorrow."

Health check

One thing that would help Philly earn that berth? Getting healthy – particularly in the attack, where they sorely missed the contributions of Julián Carranza, their top goalscorer for 2023, against Miami. Unfortunately for the Union, Curtin says Carranza is still nursing a hamstring injury and, despite making the bench in the semifinal as a potential emergency penalty-kick taker, will not feature on Saturday.

Tai Baribo, however, might. Curtin says the Union’s new forward signing from the Austrian Bundesliga’s Wolfsberger AC will make the bench against Monterrey. Also bolstering the Union's overall roster strength will be increased availability for midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who returned from injury to play his first Leagues Cup minutes (and score a goal) off the bench against Miami.

“It was great to have [Bedoya] back,” said Curtin. “He's our captain. He's our leader. If you go through any team in our league and you take their captain out for the time that he's missed, there's a big drop-off in your group.

“He starts so many of our attacks. He kind of is the guy that plays the pass that leads to the pass to the goal. He's been a soldier for our club and our leader and our captain."

Prepared for anyone

In terms of opposition, Curtin expects a heavily rotated squad from Monterrey, who have already earned a CCC bid via their performance in the 2022-23 Liga MX aggregate table (most points) and await a congested Liga MX schedule following Leagues Cup. But the Union are still prepared for a tough battle against one of the deepest teams on the continent.

“We respect [Monterrey] a great deal. Again, very well coached, a dangerous team, incredible talent from their starting group and their reserves. Some of the young players I really, really like. Yes, they might have some guys with the number on their back in the hundreds and two-hundreds. That is a reality,” said Curtin, referencing Liga MX’s rules where youth players must where three-digit numbers. "But those kids can all still really play, and I think it shows that the future for Monterrey is very good as well.”

Regardless of the lineup Monterrey opt to field, one truth remains clear: A spot in CCC means another chance at a trophy, and that's what Curtin and his side want above all else.

“At the end of the day, our main goal for our fans and for our players is to win trophies. So it is disappointing, and Miami hurt," said Curtin, whose side also lost last year’s MLS Cup on PKs. "But we are a team now that punches above our weight, I'll just say, and competes each and every year for hardware."

Added Curtin, mindful of Philadelphia's 2021 and 2023 CCC semifinal runs: "The Champions [Cup] is really important for our club. It shows that you're among the elite teams in your region and I think we've, over the years, shown that we can play with anybody on the continent in the biggest moments.”