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Depth Test No. 1: 5 matches in 2 week stretch begins tonight in Miami



Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Union

Following an electrifying home opener goal-fest that ended in a 4-1 win for Philadelphia Union, they now face their first depth test of the 2023 season and it starts in Miami.

Philadelphia will learn just how deep their squad is this month with 6 total games, 5 of which are jammed in a two-week stretch. The Union’s success in 2022 brings more games than ever before to their 2023 slate. With those additional matches come additional chances for squad rotation. 

In previous years, Union head coach Jim Curtin did not have the luxury that he has this year: the most bench weapons he’s ever had during his tenure in Chester. In recent years, the squad’s depth was mainly built on the backs of younger homegrown players. In 2023, Curtin has more seasoned pros to pick from should he need to. And so far this year, Curtin has expressed a lot of trust in those options. 

Tonight in Miami could be the first attempt Curtin makes at rotating the squad. But just how and when he does, whether in Miami tonight or Tuesday in El Salvador is to be determined. Here are a few notes to consider as Philadelphia begin their first test with their congested March schedule.

Expect Damion Lowe to play tonight against his former team

Lowe could have his first opportunity at minutes tonight alongside his fellow countryman behind him in goal, Andre Blake. Lowe is presumably fully healthy and match-fit. The 6’3” center back started 28 games and amassed 2,385 regular season minutes with Inter Miami last year – including a round one playoff start which ended in a 3-0 NYCFC victory last October. Which of the two regular starting center backs will Curtin decide to spell for Lowe remains unknown. 

However, if and when Lowe does make an appearance, it will be particularly interesting to see how well he meshes with whichever center back partner is listed on the team sheet. An advantage Lowe has over say last year’s back up center back Stuart Findlay, is quickness. Will we finally see Curtin switch to a three-center back formation during this stretch? It’s a formation he has mentioned several times in the past with an interest of trying it. Why not now?

With the most depth on the roster ever and with a full slate of games (50+ this season), why not try some different formations to see if they could be useful once more later in the year? 

Keep the top three together for now, or experiment early?

There are countless benefits to returning the exact same starting XI from a wildly successfully, albeit empty-handed, 2022 run. Cohesion, chemistry, increased trust… The upsides are endless. But perhaps the most important upside is the bond between the Union’s top three offensive weapons in Mikael Uhre, Julian Carranza and Daniel Gazdag. The way the trio of quick, attack minded players run off each other and build on each other’s skills is one of the main reasons the Union have become so fun to watch.. They are explosive. 

The difficult question on Curtin’s mind will be when he should consider tweaking that group in order to maximize their energy during this early season grind of 4 matches in 11 days with travel sprinkled between. We know he has options – the most options Curtin has ever had on his bench. Joaquin Torres threw his hat in the ring for more minutes in phenomenal fashion last Saturday. No player has become a fan favorite quicker than Torres has in my opinion with the double spin + perfect pass combo. Quinn Sullivan will be eager to continue seeing the pitch as well. Sullivan knows how to score, as is evident when watching his USYNT highlights as a forward in that camp. 

Midfield overload

A quick scroll through the team’s depth chart would reveal an abundance of midfield options for Curtin this year. This part of the roster is perhaps the most exciting. Sporting Director Ernst Tanner was able to continue his explorations (and dominance) of the intraleague trade market by snatching Joaquin Torres and Andres Perea via trades this off-season. Union fans are familiar with Perea’s skills, being a frequent goal scorer in games against Philly in his Orlando days. Perea could provide Leon Flach with some serious competition in the midfield this year. And of course, the above mentioned Torres can be useful as a forward option or as a midfielder – a true wildcard, impact player whenever needed.

And don’t forget about the homegrowns, of course. Leading that pack for minutes would be Jack McGlynn. Expect McGlynn to earn some solid sustained stretches of opportunities this year. He will likely be the main homegrown option off the bench in addition to Sullivan. Rafanello and Craig are two other homegrown options for Curtin to use if interested, though we may see them in a lesser capacity at least early on in the year.

Rounding out the large midfield group would be Jesus Bueno (who showcased some goal scoring abilities with Union II last year and in preseason this year) and Richard Odada, a lesser known 21-year-old holding an international roster spot. 

Depth is there, just have to trust it

Curtin said midweek that they will trust the full extent of their roster during this difficult March stretch. It will surely be challenging for Curtin and his staff to decide when and how to rotate the squad. There are endless pros and cons to each strategy as usual. But it is never a bad problem to have. 

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