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Signal Intel: Union in evaluation mode as Fire sweat postseason seeding

Eugene Rupinsky of The Brotherly Game joins us for the three-question ritual

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Philadelphia Union
Is it possible to be a team’s leading scorer and still be massively underrated? CJ Sapong is an argument that the answer is ‘yes.’
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Hot Time: Is 'freedom' really just another word for 'nothing left to lose?' Because if so, Jim Curtin has tremendous freedom to shake up his preferred XI Sunday against the Fire - do you anticipate him doing so? And what do you think Earnie Stewart and Curtin will be looking for in the two dead-rubber matches to come?

The Brotherly Game: That's what Janis Joplin said, and it does ring true in most cases. I don't know how free Curtin is to experiment though, as he'll most likely be evaluating guys for 2018 over the next two games. He's also got to balance that with renewal clauses in contracts may trigger after a certain number or percentage of games, and that you may not necessarily want to trigger those clauses. I expect to see a most of the same guys we've seen all season playing, with a few exceptions.

HT: Speaking of Stewart & Curtin, what is the feeling from the supporters about this very earnest but short-on-results front office?

TBG: It all depends on who you ask, but it seems like a lot of the political capital that Stewart came in with has been burnt through. His detractors are (rightfully) upset at the regression of the club from 2016 and the washout signings during his tenure. I think there's also a portion of the fan base that is calling for Curtin's head, but I feel like he's done about as well as he could with an MLS 2.0 roster in MLS 3.0.

Personally I feel like there has to be a fundamental shift in how the organization is run in order for it to be successful. If Owner Jay Sugarman is unwilling or unable to spend more money to help the club become competitive, he'll need to bring in other partners into the ownership group so there's a broader capital base to draw from. Even if that happens, the Union simply have to be smarter with their signings. In a league with a salary cap and finite number of roster spaces and international player slots, you can't give Jay Simpson half a million dollars a year to be a bench option because he isn't able to succeed in the system your team runs. They must improve in player scouting. These things aren't under Curtin's sphere of influence, they're under Stewart's and while there's no debating Stewart inherited a giant mess from Nick Sakiewicz this is going to be the third season with him at the helm. It's time to sink or swim.

HT: Who's an under-the-radar player on the Union roster that the rest of MLS should have more appreciation for?

TBG: It may sound counterintuitive, but I'm going to say CJ Sapong. Sapong has had a fantastic season, scoring 14 goals on a team that has for the most part been missing a solid contributor in the attacking midfield. You'd think a guy that tied the team's club record for goals in a season would get more press, but that also hasn't really been the case either. To add insult to more insult, Sapong is the leading American scorer in the domestic league, yet while the United States could have used a goalscorer throughout their World Cup Qualifying run they went with Jozy Altidore (13 goals), Chris Wondolowski (12 goals), and Clint Dempsey (12 goals) - all of whom are on much better teams than CJ.

Injuries: OUT: D - Ken Tribbett (left Achilles strain), OUT: M - Maurice Edu (left ankle/left tibia surgery recovery), OUT: F - Fabian Herbers (sports hernia surgery recovery), QUESTIONABLE: M - Warren Creavalle (right hamstring strain), QUESTIONABLE: D - Joshua Yaro (right knee contusion)

Suspensions: No one is on suspension or in danger of yellow card accumulation.

Predicted XI: Andre Blake; Fabinho, Richie Marquez, Jack Elliott, Ray Gaddis; Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya, Derrick Jones; Fafa Picault, Chris Pontius; CJ Sapong