With a week and a half to go until the Union’s season starts, manager Jim Curtin acknowledged Wednesday that some key positions in the lineup still aren’t settled yet.
Start up top, where Curtin has rotated all six forwards on the roster through the two positions so far. In a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Curtin found a way to praise each of them, then said, “The ones that do the best over these final two games in training this week, and preparing for Toronto, will be the ones that get the nod to start on opening day.”
That obviously wasn’t much of an answer. A truer one came when Curtin decided to treat Wednesday night’s preseason game vs. D.C. United in Clearwater, Fla., as “as close to a regular-season MLS game as possible," mainly in terms of limiting substitutions.
Curtin ended up being limited himself, because Sergio Santos was scratched just before kickoff because of knee soreness. Santos was to start alongside Cory Burke. C.J. Sapong got the nod instead.
The Union won the game, 2-1, and looked decent doing it. Marco Fabián scored his first Union goal in the 60th minute, canceling out Wayne Rooney’s 23rd-minute opener. Burke scored the winner in the 74th on a pretty combination play with Fafa Picault.
Fabián’s place certainly isn’t in question: he’s the playmaking star atop the four-man diamond. Alejandro Bedoya will mainly man the right side, though he got a spell on the left Wednesday to give Ilsinho some playing time. Haris Medunjanin and Derrick Jones are the main candidates for the bottom of the diamond.
The left side is mostly unsolved. Brenden Aaronson did very well playing there against Montreal, but doesn’t have quite as much defensive bite as other players. Warren Creavalle would make sense, but he was sidelined for a while with a rib bruise and returned to practice only Tuesday.
Bedoya’s move allowed Ilsinho to get some time on the right side. When Ilsinho’s shift ended in the 73rd minute, Bedoya moved to the right, Medunjanin to the left, and Jones to the bottom.
“It’s fair to say that is the one [midfield position] we’ve rotated the most in games, the one we’ve rotated the most in training,” Curtin said.
On defense, the question isn’t so much who plays as how they play. There wasn’t much high pressure from the back line against Montreal, and new left back Kai Wagner took a beating from the Impact’s attackers.
“Getting out and preventing the two-on-ones in wide areas is something we’ve talked through a lot since the Montreal game in film [sessions],” Curtin said. “Still some things we have to tighten up with our sliding and our pressure to the ball.”
The Union’s lineup was:
Forwards: C.J. Sapong (Fafa Picault HT'), Cory Burke (David Accam 87′)
Midfielders: Marco Fabián / Alejandro Bedoya, Ilsinho (Derrick Jones 73′) / Haris Medunjanin
Defenders: Kai Wagner (Matt Real 89′), Auston Trusty, Jack Elliott, Ray Gaddis (Olivier Mbaizo 76′)
Goalkeeper: Andre Blake