Press Conference

Transcript: Jim Curtin’s weekly Union press conference

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Note: As of this writing, there is no video available on YouTube of this week’s press conference with Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin. Questions below have been paraphrased.

Jim Curtin’s opening statement

Before we get into Kansas City, just to rewind a little and go back to Chicago, a result that we’re not happy with at all. Our game plan going in was to expect Chicago to come out and be a team that was desperate for a victory at home. Priority No. 1 was to match their intensity at the start of the game, because that’s the one thing they would still bring, despite both teams missing a lot of players for different reasons — injuries and international call-ups. The one thing that we needed to do was match their intensity from the start, but we came up short on that one. The other thing that we talked about was restarts — not giving away silly fouls around the box. Came up short in that regard, as well. So, I’m not happy with the performance against Chicago.

You can see how tight the table is in the Eastern Conference: three points there would have put you up to third place and sitting nice. Instead, we find ourselves at the bottom of the table. It’s a fine line; again, no one is running away with the East, but we know we have a tough task now to go into Kansas City against a team, an old Eastern Conference team, that we’re familiar with, and a place where we can go and get a result. But we haven’t made it easy for ourselves.

The guys in the locker room are disappointed with the way the game went in Chicago, as am I and the staff. The biggest thing right now is for everyone to look in the mirror, from the technical staff to the players: Can you be doing more, whether it’s, if you’re injured, to get back on the field? Can you be doing more after training to improve?

The group is still positive. We only had 13 guys who trained today, but at the same time, they got after it in the right way, the mentality is still good in the group. We have various guys missing; a couple of sicknesses this morning, unexpected. Steven Vitoria’s away with having his second child. So, we’re thin right now. But, at the same time, we have to get a result against Kansas City.

Will Vitoria be available for Sunday’s game?

The hope is yeah. They haven’t had the baby yet, but the hope is that he’ll be available for selection for the weekend. That’s the plan right now.

Injury report

Everyone’s progressing kind of as planned. Chaco still looks to be a week to two weeks away. Sheanon’s in a similar diagnosis. Positive with CJ Sapong [being] able to train with us today. No contact yet [though]; his issue will be a concussion protocol that the league has, he has to clear that. I spoke with him two seconds ago and he said it felt good after training, today was the first real intense training that he’s had, so we’ll see how he responds to that. All things are positive right now but, with the head injuries, and the seriousness that our league takes with them — as they should — it’ll be a day-by-day thing where he’s now reevaluated tomorrow and see how he feels. In terms of the actual injury to the face, he’s uncomfortable, but I think that he’s able to deal with that. That’s kind of a non issue, it’s just the concussion protocol that we have to go through.

Is there a chance that Sapong can play this weekend?

Yeah, there’s a chance, for sure.

What did you think when you look at the box score and see there’s no shots on goal against Chicago?

Yeah, it’s disappointing, it’s frustrating because, as poor as I thought we were in the game, there were still three or four moments in the first half where we go three-on-three once, four-on-four in one situation, and even when Andrew goes in one-on-one with the goalkeeper, and we don’t get a shot on goal. Speaking with the guys — because we had so many guys out we haven’t gone into the tape breakdown yet — I’d say the biggest problem right now is we’re dribbling when we should be making a pass, and we’re passing when we should be taking a shot. We’re fouling up the final plays. So, again, recognizing the moments when it’s time to get it off your feet and in move and trust that you’ll get it back, versus guys, when you’re not creating. pressing to do too much, just playing a little more simple, especially around the goal. There are moments where we had opportunities to break on them, [and] we’re a step offside; silly plays that we’re fouling up that we’re usually pretty sharp with in transition that we’ve come up a little bit short. So, again, the message to the guys is getting that balance right — whether it’s Andrew, whether it’s Sebastien, whether it’s Fernando — making the pass when we should make the pass versus when we should take a guy on on the dribble, finding that balance. It’s been a little bit off, obviously, and to get zero shots on goal is not a good thing.

Where do you start in establishing a winning culture?

You have to start with first being a team that’s tough to play against, and I don’t think we were against Chicago. A team that, when the opening whistle blows, a team that we’re playing against knows is going to be in for a fight. I thought we had the the first three; this is the first game that was concerning for me because we didn’t play well. Chicago didn’t have a million chances, but, at the same time, we were just a little off, we had too many guys have bad days. I tell my guys this all the time: We are a team that everybody has to play a good game, there’s no margin for error with us where we can afford to have three or four guy have an off night, because we don’t have the guys that can bail you out when it’s not your night, you know? When you’re just OK, we don’t have a guy that’s going to bail us out and score two goals from nothing. So, everybody knows on our team that they have to be good — not great — but at least good. Everyone, all eleven guys, has to give a good performance. Again, we have no margin for error to have nights where three and four guys don’t have a good night because, like most teams in our league, we’re not good enough to carry that.

Did the team perhaps take Chicago lightly because they were winless?

No, we didn’t take them lightly, that is definitely not the case. We knew that we were going to get their best punch, they’re a desperate team. It’s a challenge to go on the road anywhere in our league but a that needs a result is going to be difficult. We did not take them lightly in any regard. Good deal of respect for Harry Shipp and Jeff Larentowicz, and guys like that that you know are going to bring it, and to their credit they did. We just didn’t create enough.

On Sebastien Le Toux and his visible frustration

I think first off, he’s a competitor, he wants to win. When we’re not creating chances…he’s a guy that will look at himself first, too. He’s a guy that’s had some good looks at goal this year, four or five good ones, that he usually buries, so, yeah, he’s hard on himself, he’ll feel a little bit of frustration. He has been playing a little higher up the field, a little closer to Fernando; in some ways they’re kind of maybe crowding each other a little bit, so we’ll work on the spacing with the two of them.

We’ll have to look at our formation this week because of the fact that we are missing in the ten role with Maidana, Pfeffer, and now Fred all being out because of suspension and injury — how do we handle that? Is it a spot where we play two forwards? We’ll talk about that. It’s a possibility that Seba does play up with Fernando so the spacing’s a little clearer as opposed to when there’s three of them up there with Andrew, Seba, and Fernando. Maybe if it’s just two up there it could be a little bit clearer. Seba’s a guy who looks to run in behind. He had a couple of chances in the first half and then at the end of the second half, even when we were down a man, it gets back to the shooting when we should pass versus passing when we shoot when Mo breaks through, even when we’re down a man, if he takes another touch there, I think he can square it to Seba, and Seba has a tap in.

So, these are these critical moments in the box that I often talk about, offensively and defensively, where we’re coming up a little bit short now. And our guys know it, and they’re going to respond and bounce back from it.

How tough has it been not having CJ Sapong available?

Yeah, losing him after 45 minutes. You know what you’re going to get with CJ, he’s going to work very hard, he does a good job holding the ball, he’s athletic, he’s a threat on set pieces, very good in the air. So, yeah, we miss him. But at the same time, we have to be a team that can overcome injuries; the excuse of injuries and missing guys is a tired one, it’s been going on, it happens to every team [inaudible] so we need to mentality where the next guy steps up and does a good job and replaces guys when they’re injured.

How do you evaluate the goal Chicago scored, preceded as it was by a foul from Ethan White?

Silly. Inexcusable. We actually win the ball and we’re starting to go out on the break up the field, and Ethan gets into a pushing contest with the guy. Not a good time to retaliate [and] of course the refs, they’ll always catch the retaliation, and that’s what they caught. They call it back [and] from that point on we still have plenty of guys in the box. Andrew and Steven could do a lot better, so to allow their man to run free was inexcusable, it’s a free header inside right the six yard box. So, again, silly foul that leads to it, and not marking. And bailing — because of the silly foul, you should stick together and bail the guy out that made the foul by doing a good job marking in the box. Too loose, and then they get on the end of it and you’re chasing the game 1-0 against a team on the road, which is hard. From that standpoint, it makes me angry, to be honest, to concede free kick goals is…that’s just about competing.

Did that play out similarly to the goal Salt Lake scored?

Very similar. Same goal where we lose a one-on-one matchup. You can talk about do you change, do you fight through the pick, do you do this, do you do that? In those situations, there are matchups that are pre-determined before the game, and you have to win your battles. If your man scores, that’s on you, and that’s kind of the way…obviously, you want to help each other out, but that was a poorly defended free kick.

On the pressure on Wenger and Le Toux

There could be something to that. I think that maybe because of the great preseason Andrew had, a lot of publications have run with how high his ceiling is. And I’m guilty of it too. I still believe Andrew’s going to be a guy that’s able to play in any league in Europe, but maybe there was too much pressure put on him, and he’s feeling it. Seba too — they both want to score goals. That’s what they’re paid to do, that’s what they want to do for the team, they want to help the team. So, maybe there is a bit of pressing right now in trying to, every time they get on the ball, do something that leads to a goal. That’s not the way that either of them, you know, place their bets. Seba’s a great one-touch finisher in the box, and just kind of letting things come to him and pouncing on other team’s mistakes, and getting a lot of his chances from really good hard work and pressure. Andrew’s similar, too; you don’t want to have him be a guy who we’re solely depending on to create all our offense. So, it’s unfair to both of them, in that regard. It’s a team sport, and we can do a better job getting them in positions that make other teams uncomfortable right now. I’m confident in both of those guys, I know they can do it in this league, they have for a little while now. So, the chances will come. We need to shore up defensively; we’re a team that when we’re organized defensively, that’s usually when our attackers get going the best.

On the additional games added to Zach Pfeffer and Fred’s suspensions

One of the big crackdowns when you have the preseason meetings with the referees this year was the hands to the face. Anything with the face right now they’re going to add an additional game to. Both of them they were different; Zach’s was an elbow to the head, Fred’s was more of a — I won’t even call it a slap — a push to the face, but it’s not something that’s worth even challenging because they’ve taken a hard line on anything to the face and head right now, which I actually agree with. Going back, there’s other ways to show you’re tough and competing. It’s not…those were two examples of maybe guys wanting to show that they’re committed, and want to help the team, that kind of went south, you know what I mean, the wrong way. Ethan’s play, too, similar, same thing: the play’s gone, the ball’s away, so take a shot at a guy — that’s not the toughness that I want. Plays are over and you can’t do anything about them.

Fred apologized to me today. At the same time, there’s no sorrys in soccer, the game moves on, it waits for no one. We’ll miss him for two games now in a time when where, quite honestly, we could probably use him as a starter, to be honest, because we’re so thin in that area. But, again, it’s a missed opportunity. Same thing with Zach. A golden opportunity where he would have had two starts for sure, these past two games and know he has to sit and watch. Hopefully we learn from it and grow as a team from it. Again, we’ll have to have the mindset to have the next guy step up and help us get a result in KC.

You weren’t happy with the result in Chicago, what about the team’s effort?

I think that they tried, the effort’s there. We run and cover ground, and the data will prove that, all the GPS monitoring that we have and we analyze after the game. They work their butts off; they don’t work smart, necessarily, all the time, and that’s the balance that we’re trying to find right now, working a little bit more intelligently and on the same page as a unit. They’re doing the running, they’re just arriving late to the ball to close things down, and the next guy’s not there to help them. That has a domino effect: if one guy shows a little bit late and takes a break for a second, the next guy’s a step late, and on TV it looks like a lack of effort. They’re working hard, but we’re just coming up a little bit short in being all on the same page. And, you know, that’s on me.

It’s only four games in, but do the players understand the sense of urgency?

Yeah, there is definitely a sense of urgency from the coaching staff and from the players. We know that you can’t dig yourself into a deep hole; we learned that last year, it’s hard to dig out of. It’s four games gone by, we’ve lost twice, we’ve been beaten twice. We’re not happy with where we sit in the table, at the bottom. But, we’ll have to put together a good effort in Kansas City, have a good performance, and a performance that’s worthy of getting us some points, and then come back home against New York, where we know what we need to do at home when we get back on this field, and that’s to get three points.

Are you concerned about the “silly” fouls and mistakes, that, at this point, the players should know better?

Yeah. Again, the decisions that you make in the moment, the big, critical moments in the game, we’ve come up very short on. In front of goal offensively, have come up short. Defensively in our own box, we’ve come up short on corner kicks and free kicks. And then the silly stuff with the red cards, you know, something that should not be happening. But, again, each case is different. we’ll learn from each one. And I don’t believe there are any similarities to last year, I think this is a different group, I think this is a different season, I think all the situations are unique, and we’re going to have to put a stop to it, and put a stop to it quickly.

Is Le Toux a guy that could play the No. 10 role?

Yeah, we talked about that in our meetings today. Seba does give you a guy that, if he plays beneath Fernando, can do the running defensively to shut down their holding midfielder, but then also can make a run out of there to try to get in behind the other team’s back when we do break.* So, he is a candidate for playing in there. He’s not, trust me, he’s not the prototypical No. 10 that’s going to get a ball played into his feet, hold it, turn, and dribble three guys, that’s not really his role. But, if you look at the options, I think that could be one of the better ones. We’ll see as the week goes. We’ll try a few different things, but that is a real possibility to have him play in that spot because he’ll do the running first defensively, and also look to get in behind and run into the channel. Kansas City is a team that, when they fly forward, they fly forward with both outside backs a lot of times and, if we are able to win it and play balls into the channel that those guys have vacated, Sebastien’s a guy that has the engine to run in there and get in behind.

What have you seen from Rais Mbolhi’s body language in the wake of how Sunday unfolded for him?

I’m not going to speak for another person’s body language, it’s just, it’s tough, you know, I haven’t noticed anything. It’s a situation where, when you’re losing, I think everything gets put under the microscope and his…it’s no different. So, again, we need to get that first win under our belt and, from there, I think you’ll start to see confidence. In terms of the body language, I kind of can’t speak for another player.

But, at the same time, I do know that everybody in our locker room is trying to stay positive with things. We’re frustrated, we’re angry, for sure. But, we also know that this is a good group, this is a good team, and the points that we’ve gained so far haven’t really reflected what we’ve put into it. We think we’re deserving of a couple more points, which changes the outlook on things. My message to all of them is to stay positive. Take a look in the mirror at yourself, and know that you can do better each day in training, and that will translate to the game. We’re in this together, we have to fight our way out of a tough spot. But the month of March is behind us, and it was a bad month, for a lot of different reasons, for the Philadelphia Union. But, it’s in the past now. We’re on to April, and we need to get some results in April.

*We tweeted the following from the PSP twitter account after the press conference:

25 Comments

  1. The lack of discipline is very very troubling. It is ALWAYS a sign of poor management and misdirected attention.
    .
    Beyond the team’s inability to generate anything worthwhile in results or aesthetic, these senseless fouls leading to a direct gol or man disadvantages for the game plus another is a telltale sign their is a leadership problem. Part of this is on the players – most of it is on the culture that should still be new and bought into as laid out by the coaching staff.
    .
    In five or six weeks I am going to post —- telling every reader here that Jim Curtin has earned my respect and belief he can be a now MLS manager- for weathering the worst of possible conditions or it will be strongly arguing, time is up, turn off the ventilator- we have to let this go.
    .
    It is really this black or white. One or the other. Nothing in between.

    • Oh and a bit of constructive criticism- stop saying, ‘Yeah’ to every question as a starting point for an answer. It is a sign of linguistic weakness- similar to, “do you know what I mean” “Umm” and “Like.”
      .
      Command the language. Command the audience. Command the players.
      .
      This is a time for Maximus Decimus Meridius or at least Inigo Montoya- make us believe than show us.

      • Noticed that “Yeah” nervous habit too! It’s annoying. He also does it while the question is being asked. Some people use it to be dismissive and rude! Not saying that’s what Curtin is doing though. Just saying.

      • Scottymac says:

        Better or worse than Hackworth and his “for sure” in each sentence?

      • Dan Walsh says:

        +1!

        Half the team picked up “for sure” under Hackworth.

      • If he said it like Lumbergh from Office Space I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

        “Yeeeaaah, if CJ could play this week, we might have a chance to get a point….”

      • It’s a Philadelphia thing – look for it when people answer your phone calls.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Five or six weeks? I’m calling it right now…NEXT!!!!!

  2. Bring in Meulensteen. Curtin and staff out.

    • We really do not need more coaching churn at this point. Not yet, anyway. Look what that did to Toronto FC for years.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Meultensteen hasn’t earned any faith, either. He’s just cashing checks ($DP). He can jog on, as well.

      • Eoin Boyle says:

        How does one earn faith? He was courted for what seemed to be from end of June. He said he wanted the job. What more could he do, if he started coaching now JC would be finished anyway, cod a man who coached at MUFC for as long as he did, must be a better coach than someone who did PU academy kids.

        And

        Of course he is just picking up $$$.
        Please don’t be so saintly as to tell me you wouldn’t?
        A club takes you on a dance, and then as you tell the world you are about to sign as manager, they pull the plug in favour of a rookie? And then, when said rookie can’t win a game in the stretch, they call you back to ‘consult’. Easy money, and unless you are already wealthy enough to say no, you are not turning it down. Easy money on easy street. Not his fault, Sugarman tried to do Curtin on the cheap, and we’ve been bitten again. And no doubt now, we couldn’t afford him anyway because we have to pay Curtin and co off, then bring Rene and his staff in. Club is a mess, until Sugarman as main investor is out, ultimately the final say runs with him. And his final word has been BS for too long.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I’m not saying that Meulensteen(sp?) is wrong for accepting the position…and the salary that comes with it. I am saying that we are wasting that money because if he has had any involvement with this clubs performances, he is failing. They look like a rec team…XI individuals playing their own game…and its not a good one. They look like they met yesterday. I’m not pinning this on Rene Meulensteen but I am questioning what our money is being spent on. From what I have seen; I would cut ties and stop the bleeding…of cash.
        .
        Agreed, regarding Sugarman. Football is not his business. He should stick to real estate.
        .
        If we continue on this downward trajectory, there will not be a Philadelphia club.

      • Eoin Boyle says:

        Fair comments and I’d like to know if he has had any involvement. If I was to guess I’d say minimal on coaching because I am sure that if he had, you’d see him near or on the technical area on game day.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    Meulensteen = $$ AND $$ = not happening

  4. Disappointed with the MBolhi answer. He hasn’t noticed? You can’t have someone sulking around like that out there, especially a keeper, who should be organizing the defense. Hold him accountable. He’s not playing well enough to be acting like a petulant child.

    • Honestly, that sort of thing should be addressed internally and not made a big deal in the press anyway. For all we know he has addressed it and just does not want to turn it into a big thing.
      .
      It is fair to question Curtin’s experience and tactics/subs/etc but I have to say he has been nothing but respectful to the players/media/fans since taking over.

      • yeah it serves no purpose to call out a player in a press conference. that would definitely not improve the situation.
        .
        also, to shed some more light on mbohli’s attitude: dave zeitlin tweeted that mbohli’s gesturing and yelling is apparently even more intensely salty during practice than it has been during games

      • Agreed. I always appreciate when a coach keeps this sort of stuff in the locker room. I’ve never understood why people want coaches to toss players under the bus in press conferences. Once the coach establishes a strong pattern of dealing with issues internally, then he (or she) has the tool of the rare public “calling out” available. But a coach shouldn’t use that tool until he’s clearly demonstrated to the players that he has their back in a press conference.
        .
        Now, if Curtin isn’t saying something to MBohli in private, that is a problem.

    • “I am not going to speak for another person’s body language. I haven’t noticed anything.”

      Sorry Jim, but I do not believe this statement for one second. The tension and the blame game is front and center between Rais’ and Steven. His sour relationship toward his CB’s is killing our back line. “it’s not my ball” was a perfect example. Instead of pointing fingers he should be stepping up and organizing his back line. He was hired because he is a “world class” keeper, shouldn’t he be the one to instill his knowledge and experience on lees traveled players?

      You pushed Zac aside in favor of Rais’ based on what? his snapshot performance in the world cup against Germany? Well I hate to be the one to break it to you but that’s not the keeper you got. Since arriving he has been indecisive, flat footed and confrontational with his defense. Say what you will about Zac, but at least he was committed, made decisive movement to protect his box, and his heart was only matched by that of Danny. Sitting behind Zac listening to him organize his defense was always the best part of sitting in the river end, now it is mostly quite until the time come to pass the buck.

      So lets all admit that this didn’t work and and try a different approach. For a team that has a stable of keepers akin to an MLB bullpen it escapes me why his lack luster performance is relied upon as if we have no options. Admitting you have a problem is the first step. I understand there maybe some crow to eat at various levels, but the long term stability of the club, hopes for a payoff level team, fan support, and pride far out weigh having some egg on your face.

      “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”

  5. WestmontUnion says:

    How the owners aren’t reading this and questioning everything (team practice, team management, culture, signings, tactics and strategy) is beyond me. This interview with Curtin can only be described as playing it save, protecting himself and his players (which is understandable). That said, Curtin’s clearly a good guy, but good guys very seldom finish first in business or sports. After 3 terrible games this year, and with the team presenting itself as having no direction, style of play, organization, or chemistry; playing itself is not a smart move. Curtin needs to stand up, show his IQ and team management ability (if it’s in him as a coach), and show in practice, and in game tactics (from formulation to starting line up to SUBBING!) and reflected in player behavior that he knows what he’s doing. Mbohli sulking, Edu not running hard, Nog showing frustration at lack of movement, Le Toux playing like crap and with frustration, White hoofing it to no one liked a scared child being forced to play by his father everytime the ball comes near him, are all indications that Curtin and his management team do not have things under control or are leading the team effectively. The vote of confidence from the fans needs to be earned. I think the Union are the one Philly sports team, where fans do give managers time and support through bad runs of form. This support in the face of a completely mismanaged team by its owners and coaches, going on 5 years, will stop. A new club strategy (that’s public), and investment in a coach and players that equal the potential and ambition of this city, need to be in place today. Not next year after this dismal year concludes. It has to happen today, or risk the entire enterprise and risk a Chivas 2 scenario.

  6. Phil in Wilmington says:

    Injuries aside, we are all talking about an incomplete team, even when healthy. That is no one’s fault other than the FO. I wish SOB would make an offer to ownership to buy the club a la the Green Bay Packers. But anyway, back to the here and now.

    Mbohli may be good for his national side, but he has had a inconsistent club career, and historically it has not been worth it to splash money in a league where there are quality veteran keepers available for half the cost. And thanks to injury and lack of cap/budget we have no depth in the position. Even if the hope was for him to be Mondragon 2.0, this was a bad acquisition. It happens in sports, but this FO has little good will left with this fan base and it will sting with every goal given up until he’s gone.

    Edu is also of international quality, but he is not a difference maker without both Noguera and Maidana healthy and starting. He is just not the franchise player the FO he was brought in to be. I’m not implying that Okugo could have been, but in the end this will look like the wrong call.

    As promising as this midfield and striker pool looks (even though we’ve yet to see them all on the field), this team started the season without an MLS-quality starting back four. No amount of gelling, seasoning, and GK leadership will fix that. Period. There should be no surprise about where this team is based on that single reality, let alone the injury woes.

    So… in a perfect world, you blow up this season now, deal Edu and Mbohli to raise cash for an adequate keeper and proven CB pairing, build chemistry and understanding with the squad and the new coach. Use the leftover cash to hire some more FO staff that actually can build your franchise, and a PR and customer relations team that can tell a story that makes folks get behind a two or three year plan, cause nobody with sense should buy a “playoffs now” line from a team that started the season without a real 18.

    But, I’ll bet a donut the FO won’t make any of those moves.

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