DSS: The Union are middle of the pack in the East up to this point. What are your takeaways, both good and bad, nearly midway through the season?
BT: What a difference a few weeks can make. Heading into their road trip to Montreal on May 12, it kind of felt like the season was already lost. The Union had been shut out in four of their five previous games and were closing in on a full calendar year without a win on the road. That all changed when Cory Burke ended the scoring drought and the Union survived his foolish red card later in the second half to give fans a glimmer of hope that maybe we were wrong about this team. It was only one game against a leaky defense, but the road losing streak was finally over.
When they returned home to beat Real Salt Lake 4-1, it was another case where we saw them score against a leaky defense and beat a team that’s been terrible on the road. I was sure that Red Bull away would be a loss and hoped for a draw, but CJ Sapong’s missed penalty kick in a scoreless draw overshadowed a game the Union pretty much dominated. Last Wednesday, they weren’t great in the first half. Ilsinho had an absolute beauty of a goal that changed everything. They went on to score two more times to beat Chicago Fire at home.
Just like that, they’ve picked up 10 points over four games and are back to .500. My takeaway from that is that they were probably a better team than they showed over the first nine games and are probably not as good as the team they’ve been in the last four. That said, I don’t have a good feeling about Atlanta.
DSS: Is Jim Curtin a dead man walking?
BT: He’s not. Even if Earnie Stewart does get the GM job with U.S. Soccer, I think he’ll finish out the year at the very least. It’s easy to criticize Jim for his tactical inflexibility at times, but his squad rotation and substitutions have both been mostly on point in recent weeks. The pattern they are in is also a familiar one though during his tenure: Start off slow, get fans up in arms screaming for your job, stumble into a win streak only to fade down the stretch. If that pattern holds true again this season, the Union miss the playoffs, and Earnie isn’t around to talk about goal differential or whatever meaningless stat the team improved on without making the playoffs, then I could see Jim moving on, perhaps to a job with U.S. Soccer.
DSS: Are you as disappointed in Haris Medunjanin’s retirement from the Bosnian national team as I am? How has the coolest player in MLS done during his second season in Philly?
BT: The timing felt right to me: A new coach, a new cycle and a new cast of younger players in need of playing time. I think it’s a shame he didn’t get to go out in Russia, but the benefit to the Union is that MLS is his only focus. It’s not that his attention was ever divided though. Haris has not missed a single game for the Union since joining the team ahead of the 2017 season and has only been subbed out once. He should get a break from the U.S. Open Cup, but beyond that, there aren’t any signs of Curtin making a switch as he and Alejandro Bedoya have created a strong partnership. This of course is a shame for Derrick Jones, whose path to first team minutes is currently blocked, but his time will come (he could be in worse places than learning from Haris).
Whether he hangs up the boots after this season or plays another season or two, Medunjanin will go down as one of the classiest to ever roam the midfield for the U. And yes, he’s pretty cool too.