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Without Lionel Messi, Daniel Gazdag, Union and Inter Miami will adjust Saturday

CHESTER — Welcome to summer in MLS, where the first order of business is detailing which chunks of your roster are unavailable on any given matchday.

When it’s Inter Miami coming to town, as the Union face Saturday night, it’s a tad more pronounced.

When the Eastern Conference leaders roll into Subaru Park, the team will be without Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, readying for Copa America with Argentina and Uruguay, respectively. Add Matias Rojas of Paraguay and David Ruiz of Honduras to that list, too.

That counters the Union’s absences to international duty: Jose Martinez, Daniel Gazdag, Damion Lowe and Tai Baribo for starters.

As a coach, Jim Curtin’s message has been exactly the opposite of fans’ first reaction. He’s emphasizing the opportunity for those who will be present in Chester.

“We stressed to the group, it’s not about who isn’t here and able to help us,” Curtin said Thursday. “It’s about the group that is here and finding a way to improve, get a result, and recognize that we all have the same feeling.”

Even that list requires some nuance. Present will be Julian Carranza, despite midweek reports linking him to Dutch club Feyenoord in the most substantive transfer rumor yet for the 24-year-old forward, whose contract expires at season’s end. Carranza, nursing an ankle injury, is available Saturday.

“Julian is healthy,” Curtin said. “Julian is here and training fully this week, a Union player and our best goal scorer. He’s had a good week of training, fully healed from the ankle, and he’s ready to go for us.”

Jack Elliott will be absent against Miami.

After discussions with MLS and the Professional Refereeing Organization, the Union elected not to appeal his red card for violent conduct in the 2-2 draw with Montreal two weeks ago.

Despite the red card being both soft and controversial — referee Ted Unkel showed yellow, then quickly upgraded to red without external consultation after seeing Montreal’s Raheem Edwards, who actually is later into the challenge, injured — the Union didn’t appeal after being preliminary indications that it wouldn’t win.

“While I don’t agree with the call — because of the, as they use the term ‘endangering of the safety of the player’ — the call because of an injury goes from a yellow card to a red,” Curtin said. “In my mind, they went from yellow to red a little too quickly. I think there could have been a moment of calmness from Ted Unkel, maybe get video or take a look at it.”

With Lowe off with Jamaica, the Union are scrambling for a center back.

Every indication is that it’ll be Nathan Harriel drafted in alongside Jakob Glesnes. While Curtin spoke highly of the progress being made by South African center back Olwethu Makhanya with Union II, he doesn’t sound ready to play him. Makhanya, who occupies an Under-22 initiative roster spot, has yet to play for the first team.

Curtin characterized Makhanya as still prone to mistakes, while allowing that it was a mistake by Elliott that led to his red and that his veteran center backs made bundles of mistakes this year.

“He passes the eyeball test in terms of size, physicality, intensity, good defending,” Curtin said. “He has to try to eliminate the little mistakes that happen in training sessions when he trains with the top, top players. There’s been stretches of Union II games where he’s been really good. He’s had some mistakes in those games, too, that he’s going to work on, like any young, good defender. So he’s close. He’ll be up for selection. It’ll be a close decision.”

Replacing Gazdag, away with Hungary for the European Championships, is less straightforward.

Curtin cited Quinn Sullivan, Jeremy Rafanello and David Vazquez as options. Vazquez is getting back up to speed after playing with the U.S. Under-19s last week.

A formation change to a flat 4-4-2, which the Union deployed in Portland with Rafanello, is a possibility, as is the use of a more defensive player at the No. 10 to track Inter Miami’s Sergio Busquets and limit his space to distribute from deep in midfield.

Curtin expects all three in the matchday squad to play some sort of role.

The more perplexing quandary for Curtin is over Andre Blake, named by Jamaica as one of four goalies in its Copa America squad.

Blake remains in Chester rehabbing from meniscus surgery two weeks ago. With a timeline of four to six weeks, the selection left Curtin puzzled. He’s the Union’s responsibility to return to full health, and while Blake is ahead of schedule on his rehab, Curtin characterized it as, “a miracle if he plays as early as when Jamaica plays.”

All that is backdrop to the Union (4-4-8, 16 points) being mired in eighth place. They are winless in their last six home games (0-4-2), one shy of the franchise record. They are unbeaten in four games overall (1-0-3), though “that feels like anything but that,” Curtin said, “and we’re not happy and satisfied.”

Miami, at 10-3-5, leads MLS with 35 points and has found ways to win without Messi.

The admonition to Curtin’s players about Miami is also his secret hope for his shorthanded group. Absent starters, a hungrier group of reserves can emerge. The Union need that kind of jolt.

“Sometimes when the star players go away, that is when teams are most hungry,” Curtin said. “So everyone will talk about Messi and Suarez not being there. And of course, of course they’re world class players and probably the best player of all time, at least in my opinion. … It’s still a really, really great team. We’ll be missing some players no doubt. They’ll be missing some players as well. But it’s about the three points, and they’re going to push for it.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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