For the first time in four months, the Philadelphia Union are in final preparations for an MLS match.
The Union actually played in the most recent official MLS match, the wild 3-3 draw against LAFC to wrap up Week 2. Since that week, the players, like the rest of the league, have transitioned from at-home workouts, to individual sessions and slowly to full team training ahead of the MLS is Back Tournament, preparing to face NYCFC on Thursday (9 am ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN).
The players are ready.
“I’m looking forward to the game, I was missing the competition," forward Kacper Przybylko told media on a video conference call Tuesday. "We’ve done a great job in Orlando with the training, though the humidity is very tough. We’re going to be very prepared for the game.
"It’s going to be an exciting game, first and foremost," added defender Mark McKenzie. "It’s going to be competitive, we’ve had this energy pent up for so long. Initially it might not be as smooth as we want it to be, but that comes with the territory of being the first game back."
Excitement aside, head coach Jim Curtin has a fresh round of big questions around his starting XI as they return to play. The long-time Union boss has boasted since preseason how deep this year's roster is, both in quality and quantity. That will be tested at the tournament with a few players carrying minor injuries while competition for places elsewhere stays hot.
On the injury front, Curtin admitted he's unsure if forwards Sergio Santos and Andrew Wooten will be available for their opening match. That could potentially pave the way for Homegrown attacker Jack de Vries to make his MLS debut alongside Przybylko or Curtin shifting away from the 4-4-2 diamond. Curtin spoke highly of de Vries on multiple occasions since the league's suspension.
As for natural competition in a deep squad, center back and defensive midfield are two areas of strength.
“I have a healthy problem with two defensive midfielders playing at a very high level right now in Warren Creavalle and Jose Martinez," Curtin said. "They’ve been pushing each other really hard in training, I’m sure you’ll see them both in the game at some point together to try and shut down a very good New York City attack. Both guys are battling hard.”
Creavalle started the club's first match of 2020 while Martinez played the second. Another winter signing, Matej Oravec, is behind that pair on the depth chart at the moment.
"I’ve mentioned to all the guys: We have 19 field players available right now, we’re going to have to use the full squad," Curtin said. "Everybody is going to be called upon.”
Aiming to make it out of Group A and be in Orlando for longer than just the group stage, Philly will need that full roster to make a deep run at the MLS is Back Tournament.
"I truly believe with our starting XI, we can compete with anyone in this league," Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. "But with the heat and humidity, and five subs rule, it’ll test the depth of our team. We’ll see what everyone can bring to the table. This format will allow guys who maybe don’t as much to take a big role and show was they got. I believe in every single one of our players.”