We caught up with Matt Ralph from Brotherly Game to find out what the Union have done to improve their squad and what we can expect this weekend.
Burgundy Wave: What gaps do the new players that the Union has brought in during the off-season fill?
Brotherly Love: David Accam essentially fills the spot of Chris Pontius, who returned home to California to play for LA Galaxy.
Borek Dockal, a Czech Republic international on loan from the Chinese Super League, fills the all important No. 10 role in Jim Curtin’s 4-2-3-1 system. The position has been an issue for the Union pretty much since Tranquillo Barnetta returned to Switzerland after the 2016 season. Roland Alberg didn’t really fit the mold and Ilsinho wasn’t a great option either so it was a definite position of need in the off-season. Dockal is still settling into the team and coming off a less-than-stellar MLS debut two weeks ago against Columbus but he should be more in tune with his teammates after another two weeks training together.
The other off-season additions were more for depth and the future, though homegrown signings Mark McKenzie and Matt Real are both expected to be in the 18 on Saturday due to injuries. Jamaican international Cory Burke, who the Union signed from USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel, appears to be the super sub who can provide a spark off the bench while homegrown Anthony Fontana is another 18-year-old with a huge upside that can come into games late and cover a ton of ground in the midfield.
BW: Besides putting a couple new faces on the pitch, has Curtin done anything else to improve upon last year (i.e. new formation, moving players around, etc.)?
BL: The Union’s formation hasn’t and will not be changing as long as Curtin is head coach and even if he were let go it’s hard to imagine a Union technical staff advocating for anything else at this point. Fans would probably love it if Jim would experiment more with the players he has—push Alejandro Bedoya out wide to get Derrick Jones starts pairing with Haris Medunjanin in the midfield for example—but that’s also not going to happen. The Union have a philosophy from the top all the way down to their pre-Academy and they are sticking by it.
Since the Rapids aren’t playing here in Chester, you won’t get to see the new home jerseys (nicknamed Doop Hoops) but that was actually a big change for the team that they teased for way too long on social media.
BW: Considering all the leftback injuries, is this a weak spot for the Union or do you have confidence in Matt Real or any of the other young homegrowns that could be playing there this weekend?
BL: Given the way homegrowns Anthony Fontana and Auston Trusty have performed early, I’m not too worried about Matt Real. Part of the advantage of having a USL team is that you have a chance to give young players like Real valuable minutes and the opportunity to play through the ups and downs that are inevitable in player development. Real had an entire season with Bethlehem Steel to prepare for this moment should it arrive on Saturday and he’s coming off a training camp in Spain with the United States U20s. If he does play, he provides a lot of advantages over right-footed Ray Gaddis. Real is much more dangerous in the attack down the left flank than Gaddis and his ability to whip in crosses makes him even more dangerous than Fabinho in certain aspects of the game. In fact, I would be less worried in some instances with Real than Fabinho, who has had some not-so-great performances on the road for the Union in the past.