Jim Curtin accepts it will be “tough to replicate” the Philadelphia Union’s 2022 season in 2023, but he is ready to “fight like hell” to do so.
The Union kick off the new season on Saturday against the Columbus Crew, less than four months on from a heartbreaking MLS Cup final defeat to Los Angeles FC.
Gareth Bale denied the Union victory in the closing moments of extra time, with LAFC then winning on penalties.
Another run to the title match represents a daunting prospect now, as coach Curtin accepts.
“I think the players will only be satisfied with getting back, and that’s a good mentality to have,” he told The Inquirer.
“Is it going to be easy? No. Are we going to go through the highs of the goals that we scored last year, the 6-0s and the 5-1s and the 7-0s? Is that realistic? We’re going to shoot for it, but it’s going to be tough to replicate.
“And then defensively it’s going to be tough to improve on what we already did.”
However, Curtin added: “Of course I want to push myself and get back. You can’t be scared to go into another one and be scared of losing.
“Those are the games that you learn the most about yourself and your team. So, we will fight like hell to get back again, and you don’t quit until you win one.”
Much will be expected of the Union this year, starting against the Crew, and Curtin accepts he has the best team in the league “on paper”, although he added “But games aren’t won on paper, as you know.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Philadelphia Union – Daniel Gazdag
So impressive were the Union in a big – if ultimately heartbreaking – year for Philly sports, he appeared on the Super Bowl broadcast ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It is back down to earth with a bump for last year’s leading scorer as he is again tasked with firing the Union into contention.
Columbus Crew – Milos Degenek
Although the Crew missed out on the playoffs last year, only the Union in the Eastern Conference conceded fewer goals. Columbus had a number of reliable performers at the back, but among them was Degenek in his first season in MLS. Although he was in and out of the side at times, the Crew’s defensive record was more impressive when he was picked from the start.
MATCH PREDICTION – UNION WIN
The Union are on a hugely impressive run, both at home and against the Crew, making this a really tough trip for the visitors.
Philly have won 11 in a row at home, setting a club record in a sequence that included the victories that carried them to MLS Cup. Against the Crew, they have won five straight and kept a clean sheet in each of them.
Although draws were the Crew’s undoing last year – they lost only four road games but drew a costly 10 – they would happily take a point here.
OPTA WIN PROBABILITY
Philly Union52.8 percent
Columbus Crew20.4 percent