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No help en route for short-handed Union side



Photo by Carl Gulbish

For the second straight game, the Philadelphia Union might not have a full bench.

When the Union played CF Montreal on the road on Saturday, the Union brought just 17 players on the trip to Canada. Philadelphia didn’t just decide it didn’t need the extra help — it didn’t have it. A bench comprised of Oliver Semmle, Olivier Mbaizo, Daniel Gazdag, Jeremy Rafanello, CJ Olney and Olwethu Makhanya was all the Union had to put into the game.

It doesn’t look like Philadelphia’s situation will improve on Wednesday when the team travels to take on Chicago Fire FC. In fact, it could get worse.

The Union started forward Tai Baribo, who’s been a revelation for the club after the sale of Julian Carranza, against Montreal. However, according to head coach Jim Curtin, Baribo might not make the trip to Chicago due to the back spasms that prematurely took him out of the Montreal match, and Mikael Uhre will be out for another few weeks with an adductor injury.

All of those absences are on top of the missing pieces of Jose Martinez (at Copa America), Alejandro Bedoya (injured), Andre Blake (injured).

With Baribo and Uhre out, the Union have two true forwards they can start on Wednesday: Chris Donovan and Rafanello. The situation, needless to say, is grim.

“[It’s not easy, but you also lean on a guy like Daniel Gazdag that you get back from the Euros,” Curtin said Tuesday afternoon ahead of the Chicago game. “[Gazdag] contributed at the end of last game and will be fully ready to go now with us in Chicago. We’ll put a group on the field that I still think can give teams some problems with our attacking. We’ve found ways even in this really tough stretch to to score enough goals.”

Despite Curtin’s outward optimism, it’s difficult to share in his philosophy. While Chicago is a team in the dumps of Major League Soccer, so was Montreal. Baribo wasn’t enough to help the Union win in Canada. It’s hard to believe Donovan can pull off such a feat.

Besides the lack of attacking power in the starting 11, the Union will have to deal with another shortened bench — one that could dwindle down to just four field players against Chicago. In the end, it was the Union’s lack of help off the bench that killed it on Saturday, as it couldn’t bring in any real attacking help and was forced to bring in Olivier Mbaizo just to bring a fresh body on the field.

“We have to find a way to plug and play guys to try to get minutes from guys that maybe haven’t played a ton,” Curtin said. “We’re certainly thin. We’ve known this was gonna be a tough stretch of the year.”

The “guys” Curtin’s talking about are the Homegrowns who haven’t seen much of any pitch this season. CJ Olney made a brief appearance in the Union’s 2-0 loss to Charlotte at home. That’s about all the experience Philadelphia’s youngest talents have for the first team.

Help is not on the way for the Union. As the team’s plane lands in Chicago on Tuesday, Curtin will be dealing with a roster that no Band-Aid could fix.

Joe is a junior at Penn State studying journalism and sports studies, among other things. He's covered the Union since 2017 and has written for Brotherly Game / Philadelphia Soccer Now since 2019. He seeks to answer life's greatest questions, such as, "How did I get here?" and "Where is that large automobile?" You can find Joe on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email (

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