With one of the deeper rosters in MLS with budding young talent and tactical versatility, Jim Curtin's selection of a starting XI for the Philadelphia Union is never easy. It may be even more difficult at the MLS is Back Tournament.
With the Union's first two regular season matches feeling like they occurred forever ago, and with a gap of more than four months between competitive games, the break is too vast for Curtin to act like anyone has earned a starting nod based on recent form.
“It’s a clean slate for everyone," Curtin told reporters during a conference call on Wednesday. "It’s a complete restart."
Curtin says he's pleasantly surprised with his team's current fitness level as they work through weekly phases to gradually ramp up toward 90-minute fitness. This week they're working at 45 minutes, next week's goal is 60 before, hopefully, being fully match fit in three weeks.
“The team tends to pick itself during the week of training, in that regard it’ll be no different," Curtin said. "The guys who perform well in training will be selected."
A few players have caught the manager's eye in training already.
“There are certain guys who have come in with new life," Curtin said. "I’ll single out Jose Martinez, he’s been sharper than he was in preseason by a longshot. Jack de Vries is making a real case to get his first minutes in Orlando. Things change as months go by. But I must say every player has been really sharp.”
Martinez, 25, joined the Union this winter from Venezuelan side Zulia FC and made his debut against LAFC in the final game before the league was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. De Vries, 18, signed a Homegrown Player contract ahead of the 2020 season and could get his first MLS minutes as a forward or attacking midfielder.
"The sky is the limit," Curtin said of de Vries. "I don’t want to be over-hyping him because his head will get big, I’m talking about him too much at this press conference.”