By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer
It will be a battle for second place as Nashville SC come to Subaru Park on Saturday, as just three points separate the two teams in the Eastern Conference standings. The Union will be looking to redeem themselves after a disappointing loss against Minnesota United earlier in the week, and continue their push for a playoff spot.
Jim Curtin further emphasized the importance of this game, acknowledging that playing Nashville won’t be a walk in the park.
“You see the table and you know what is on the line,” Curtin said. “They are all big at this stage, but it’s a really tough matchup against a really organized, tough team to break down that doesn’t give up a lot of chances or goals.”
It was also confirmed that Sergio Santos is healthy enough to be available for selection, although it wasn’t specified whether he would return to the Starting XI or ease into the game off of the bench.
“It’s great to get another striker back, especially with the speed that Sergio provides,” Curtin said of Santos’ availability. “Sergio was in really good form and then picked up a little bit of an injury and that hurt us a great deal. We manufactured some results along the way and have tried some different things; some worked really well and some we can improve on. To get another striker back certainly helps us now, especially with the unique skill set that he has to run in behind and stretch the field for us, which is very important.”
The Union will enjoy the absence of Nashville’s top offensive player, Hany Mukhtar, who will miss the match due to yellow card accumulation.
The Boys in Blue will also enjoy the newfound form of Daniel Gazdag, whose brace against Minnesota cemented his hot streak, and furthermore, his place in Curtin’s team.
“Goals always give confidence, but he’s been doing a lot of those things in training, so we know it’s in him,” Curtin told media. “I cannot stress enough that he has 50+ games in his legs, so he’s still getting acclimated to his team, but you saw the quality, especially on his first goal, that is in him. I’ve also played him out of position and asked him to play as a second striker a lot. He’s best suited to be a true number 10 and we’ve tinkered and played with two 10s, and I thought they complimented each other well. We are asking him to do a lot of things, whether it’s in his comfort zone or not, but those two goals give confidence and will propel him down the stretch of the season. I say it to the guys all the time, people remember the end of the season the most, so let’s have a really strong finish in our last four games because we can finish from second toward the bottom, so it’s all to play for.”
The Union have been experiencing a solid stint of chemistry within the team, especially the midfield, as Curtin has gotten more comfortable trying out new formations and putting players in different roles. While trying players out in positions other than their natural ones has, for the most part, worked out in the Union’s favor and shown the versatility of the team, the formation changes have not. Nearly every time Curtin has strayed away from the 4-4-2 setup, things have gone awry (case and point: the Minnesota game earlier this week). At this point, it’s not so much the players and their positions that matter, rather it’s the way they’re arranged that will make all the difference. With a prime opportunity to grab the second place spot, this game is not one for experimentation.
Predicted Lineup: Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Olivier Mbaizo, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, Kacper Przybyłko, Daniel Gazdag
- With Santos’ fitness still tentative, Gazdag will likely be called upon to fill that second striker position. This lineup has served the Union the best this season, and as stated before, this game isn’t the right time to make significant changes to the Starting XI. Curtin can make substitutions if legs start to get tired (ones prior to the 80th minute would be preferable), but this is going to put the Union’s best foot forward against Nashville.
Score Prediction: It’s going to be a hard-fought battle, but the Union’s performance quality has been on the upturn. They have a point to prove, and the playoffs are close enough to taste. A simple 2-1 win is all that’s needed to bring them one step closer to a playoff spot.