Photo by Tim Sullivan/Club and Country
Tim Sullivan: Jim Curtin has historically wanted to go with a press-and-possess style, but over the past two years it’s moved toward almost The Full Red Bull with little regard for holding onto the ball. What’s been behind that shift?
Joe Lister: One of the fun things with Jim Curtin is that each year he coaches the Union, he seems to add one more piece to the puzzle. I’m sure that Sporting Director Ernst Tanner’s time with the Red Bull system plays into this, but recently Curtin has gotten more analytical with his statistics. The team eventually realized that they simply didn’t care about certain stats that plenty of fans and teams worry about constantly. As long as Curtin’s teams are productive with the ball, it doesn’t really matter how long they have it. It just matters that they have enough possession to create a few good chances a game.
TS: Andre Blake remains one of the league’s elite keepers. How does Philly build their defense around that to take advantage of (probably) the best player on the team?
JL: Philly’s defensive line is really something else, and (probably, but I’m sure money plays into it a bit) why Blake didn’t with keeper of the year in 2021. Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes aren’t necessarily DPOY material, but the combination is deadly. Kai Wagner is one of the league’s best fullbacks, and Nathan Harriell, despite his youth and relative inexperience, is melding well with the defense. He’s making fewer mistakes each match. At the no. 6, Jose Martinez doesn’t have the loudest games (outside of with the referee, though this has calmed down recently), but he’s a good sweeper when needed.
TS: A lot of the attack so far has been built around Daniel Gazdag and Julián Carranza. What sort of players are they?
JL: Union fans love Julian Carranza. He wasn’t advertised as the main no. 9 that the Union would sign in the offseason, but he’s proved to be the most entertaining of the Union’s four strikers. He’s great defensively, and over the last few games he’s stepped up his offensive production. He’s playing with something to prove (he does after Miami shunned him), and he’s getting into the nitty-gritty, he presses, wins the ball, and puts himself and his teammates into good, good-scoring spaces.
Daniel Gazdag is a solid no. 10. Last season, he didn’t have as much time as he would have liked to click with the rest of the team and the system. This season, however, his production was immediate. He’s always involved in the final third, and he’s connected with Carranza and Mikael Uhre. Truth be told, the Union have yet to see a goal come out of the $7,000,000 they paid for Uhre, but if anything does, I’m confident that Gazdag has the assist on Uhre’s first goal.
TS: Philly is always loaded with talented young Americans. Who should Nashville fans be looking at when it comes to future USMNT players?
JL: Easy. Nathan Harriell. I see him every now and then on a USMNT fan account on Twitter, but he deserves more hype. He beat out a team veteran for a starting job this season after barely being in last year’s conversation. His ceiling is so high and he’s so much fun to watch. I’ll be disappointed if he isn’t on the 2026 roster.
At this point, I assume that Leon Flach is out of the USMNT conversation. He exploded onto the scene in 2021, but is fighting for a starting spot on his club team right now. Plenty of fans (rightly so) think that Jack McGlynn plays a better role as a starter, which leads into…
…should Curtin listen to the fans (which is a tossup), McGlynn will soon be in that conversation. Not for 2022, but he plays a very nice brand of soccer. He isn’t a shooting legend, but his passes are so impeccable. Curtin has praised McGlynn and said he does things no other player does. And he’s right. I’d love to see McGlynn start to get more minutes, he probably has the highest ceiling of the Union’s Big Four homegrowns.
TS: What are your predictions for the game?
JL: I wouldn’t be shocked if the Union drop their second in three here. The team just doesn’t look like they should. They aren’t always struggling to create chances, but they are most certainly struggling to finish them. That being said, I don’t think that NSC is running the score up on Philly. NSC 0 – 1 PHI. Daniel Gazdag in the 34′ for the game’s lone goal.
Many thanks to Joe for his insight. Head to Brotherly Game for all your Philly Union needs.