Press Conference

Transcript and video: Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference

Note: Questions have been paraphrased

Opening statement

I think it’s important to reflect back on last week. Obviously, disappointing results wise. The Open Cup competition is one this club takes very serious. The guys showed a ton of fight but, to lose the way we did on penalty kicks is always more mentally and emotionally draining than anything else. I thought we’d have it in us to bounce back against Montreal: we came up short in that regard. Some out of character mistakes from guys that have been excellent for us all year, so, again, we looked at the tape, we talked with the guys about it today. We’re moving on, we see it as a one off. I think…Even Earnie [Stewart] and I had a discussion about it today, too. With the way we ask our guys to play on the road, and high press, and take risks, it’s possible that you’re going to run into a game like that, especially when you give opportunities to guys like [Didier] Drogba and [Ignacio] Piatti, who made us pay on the night. It wasn’t a good representation of us, the Philadelphia Union, the job and the work the guys have done all year, but we move on, we look forward to the new challenge. I know my guys will bounce back against Salt Lake in this building, they’re itching to get back on the field. So, you saw that today in training after we gave them the day off.

It’s been a tough stretch. We’ve played, I believe, 11 games in 39 days, so you’re playing every third day, essentially, which is tough in the dog days summer. We would’ve like to get a few more points but, still, we like where we’re at in the table. We set ourselves up to play in front, as different than last year when we were chasing it at this point. So, we know that there’s urgency, we need to close the season out in the right way, and we expect to do that at home against Salt Lake on Sunday — and we need our fans behind us like they always are. In this building, we’ve established ourselves as a great home team. We need to find a way to translate that to the road.

Also, I’d like to take the opportunity to congratulate Derrick Jones, a player who is our first Homegrown that has gone through the whole “Pathway to the Pros,” from the Academy, to Bethlehem, to now the first team. So, proud moment for me as a coach, a former Academy coach. I’d like to thank Rich Graham, Tommy Wilson for the job they did developing Derrick, and also Brendan Burke, sprinkling in that extra little bit of polish in the half of season Derrick put in [at Bethlehem Steel]. Also would like to thank players, because the one thing that people don’t always get to see is how valuable it is with our first team players being around Derrick in the preseason, and putting him under their wing, and all those little things. As a club, it’s a proud moment because everybody has played a role, from our medical staff, to our trainers, to our equipment guys, all the way through our academy, to Bethlehem, to our first team — to now see a player come through, the group was happy for him, all the players had a smile on their face when we introduced him today as a first team player.

So, a special moment, one that’s proud for me. I want to be known as a coach that plays young players, and gives them the opportunity to show what they can do. Again, at some point, my dream is to have six or seven of them out there with the right mix of good international players sprinkled in, a competitive team that this city can embrace. Happy for Derrick, a really special day and, again, thank you to all the people that were involved in his development. Junior Lone Star needs a shout out, too, because they had him at an earlier age and did a great job with him.

What kind of player is Derrick Jones? Where do you see him playing?

The good thing is Derrick, he’s done it now at the academy level, he’s excelled in the USL — he’s not just there getting minutes, he’s thriving in these games and impacting them in a lot of ways. To give a comparison, a Tony Tchani in our league is a guy who has a similar build and frame, similar skillset. I won’t tell this to Tony but…Well, I guess I am now, but he has a little more speed and can cover some ground. So, I think that that is a good comparison. Obviously, he’s a young player and still has a ton of room to grow; he had some great plays today in training and he also has some ones where we had to teach lessons. So, 19 years old, a baby still, but a kid that has potential.

When Earnie and I look and talk about adding players, there’s two types, right? There’s players for the future; doesn’t mean they can’t impact things right away, but they’re more for the future. And then there’s also ones that we’ll look to bring in and have an immediate impact in the starting lineup. So, Derrick will probably fall into the first category as a guy who’s for the future, but he’s going to push and try to make my job hard each week. So, we’re really happy with where he is and excited for him at this time, but great skillset, ton of potential, and he deserves a lot of credit for being where he is.

Where do you see Jones playing?

For me, he’s a No. 8, a guy who can go box to box, can get you a goal, can play a final pass on a through ball. He has an ability to break up a lot of plays defensively. We ask from our 6 and 8 to be more, to think, at least, defense first. So, even if you rewind back to Vincent [Nogueira], Vincent was a great passer but people don’t realize his mentality was still defense first. He did it in a different way than Derrick in terms of intercepting balls, Derrick’s more of a physical battler, break up plays, slide tackles, little things like that. But, I see him as an 8. Again does not mean he can’t play as a 6 occasionally; you’ve seen him play even as a 10, because his feet are good enough, for Bethlehem. But, if you ask me where I see him, I see him as an 8.

If Derrick is a player for the future, will there be moves in the short term?

Yeah, we’re still actively looking. The biggest thing is we’re not going to make a move for the sake of making a move, Earnie has been adamant about that. Our moves will be done to benefit this club, not just to solve an immediate problem and overreact, but also for an eye on the future and how it best benefits the club. So, a lot of evaluating is going on right now, a lot of things have come across. Some have been good, some have been close, some have been…you know, we’ve made decisions that weeded some things out. So the process is a much more thorough one. We don’t want to make mistakes, and I think we’ve gone about it the right way so far this window, and we’re excited to still be actively involved. We’ll look but we won’t make any mistakes that could maybe set us back.

Would the guy be someone who could step in immediately?

Well, that’s the one thing I would add. The final test for Derrick was — again it wasn’t a situation where it was do or die in terms of me playing him against Crystal Palace, but it was like, “This kid has done it now at the USL level and has made big impacts on games, and dominated for stretches, let’s see what he looks like with our group against a Premier League team.” And that was kind of the final — I hate saying test, but little bit of a test, and he passed. And the more we talked about him as a group, again, a lot goes into this decision, but we saw him as a guy that belonged, and earned it. And that’s important, to reward guys that earn it. We’re going to be a club that rewards young players that have put the work in, and Derrick has done that. So, again, could he come in and make an impact, and be in an 18 soon? I think so, I think he could. That’ll be up to him, though.

On Jones’ path to the Union

Derrick’s journey…Listen, every player’s pathway is different and unique, you know? You think of soccer in this country, and I won’t pull any punches, it’s a privileged sport, there’s no question about it. It tends to be — and this is in the country, this isn’t just the Philly area — it tends to be very structured, expensive in a lot of ways. Derrick represents an urban part of the city that’s tough, Derrick grew up tough, and there’s no two ways about it, OK? He has a great family, a tremendous family that’s incredibly happy for him, but his situation wasn’t…he didn’t come from the Main Line and born into…handed things, he earned everything that he’s got. So, I think in that way, he plays to the city of Philadelphia, right? He’s an underdog story, he’s a fighter, he’s a guy that didn’t have it easy and, you know, there’s something to be said for that. You talk about…You could talk for hours about what the US needs to improve on, and this and that, but I think, sometimes, certain guys that come through and have a real chip on their shoulder like he did can leave a bigger mark on the game. So, happy for him again, I can’t stress it enough, it’s a unique pathway that he’s had.

Getting the structure in our academy was important for him, though, you know, the schooling. That’s the one thing that I’ll say about our academy. Everybody likes to compare who’s doing it the best, and there’s a lot of really good things being done right now in the the US Developmental Academy, specifically the MLS academies, but I can say with confidence, having coached in it and lived through it and seen it up close, our academy is one that prepares these kids for life after soccer more so than any. So, everyone wants to talk about the successful homegrowns, and how many each team has, but no one writes the article of a lot of the homegrowns that are homegrowns and out of this league in a year and no one cares about them anymore. So, it does need to be said, our structure and the way Richie Graham has set it up is holistic in every way. The school, and the things they do there, is amazing, and it’s a special environment. And it’s one that is based on each individual kid and their needs, because every kid has different spurts in their development, highs and lows, and the support system that they provide at our academy is second to none in this country.

On why Jones was signed now

It’s a fair question. A, we had the roster flexibility: we did a great job of keeping spots open and being a team that can make moves and financially has cleared a lot of space to make bigger ones, as well. But, Derrick earned it, there’s no two ways about it, the more you watched him on tape. Yeah, could we have waited until the end of the year and done it at the end of the year? Yeah. But, I think it’s important to show to all of the other kids in the academy, all the other kids at Bethlehem Steel that, if you do the right things, and you work hard, and you listen to your coaches, and you do a good job in school, and all these little things, they add up to the big picture, which is getting to play, and the opportunity to play and put on the Union jersey, and step on this field at Talen Energy, which is a pretty darn good thing to do for a living, I can just say that. It’s a special thing and the setup is big. I say it all the time: This badge is two-and-a-half inches and there’s no one bigger than it. It carries a lot of weight and Derrick is now a part of it and he has to represent the club every day. And I’m really proud and happy that he’s been rewarded.

On Real Salt Lake

Salt Lake is a very good team, a very dangerous team, especially attacking. They are struggling to score goals, so they’re in a bit of you could call it a cold spell. They’ve been the last three games at home and I think they’ve only had a goal in each one, a stretch of games where most of the time in their stadium they take all three points. So, they’ll come in here with a bit of a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. We know we’ll have a tough task, they’re a very good team, well coached, organized. And the scary thing is that they could break out, you know, and that’s what we have to prevent. They have experience, they have dynamic players. You talk about [Joao] Plata, you talk about [Kyle] Beckerman, [Javier] Morales — you know, it’s going to be a real challenge to neutralize them. Our guys tend to have a lot more life in our stadium and get the feeling, the feed of the the crowd, and we’ll have to do a good job pressing them, making them uncomfortable because if you give them time and space, you know, [Juan Manuel] “Burrito” Martinez, guys that can pick you apart. So, we’ll have to be on our “A” game. [Yura] Movsisyan has a little bit of a hip flexor — I haven’t even mentioned his name — it wouldn’t be the worst if that hip flexor keeps acting up for a week.

Now that the US Open Cup is over for the team, is there more of an “all-in” mentality?

So, we said it before, yeah, I mean, it’s playoffs now. The only focus is the league. So, again, it’s good to sometimes have a singular focus. You always want to move on and get to a final and have a chance of winning a trophy so we’re, obviously, crushed and devastated. But now that we are out, it does put everyone’s eyes — from the medical staff, from the technical staff, to the performance department, to the players — it’s all for the playoffs now, that’s the only thing on everybody’s mind. Sometimes that can be a good thing. Everybody realizes the urgency, what it takes to win games in this league, how hard it is to win games in this league, and we’ll need to continue to do more of the same like we did in the first half of the year. We know when we’ve played good, and we know when we’ve played bad, I think we’re a pretty honest group. There’s been some special moments this year, some really positive results, some really good games, and there’s also been some halves that have been bad and, going back to Montreal, a game where we say “that’s not good enough,” and we’re disappointed with. And I know our guys will respond on the weekend.

On what has changed from where the team was at the Copa America break

We’ve given up too many goals in that stretch, that’s the key that jumps out. It’s no longer a one off, it’s a trend, we’re giving up too many goals. We had a good discussion about it today about how we want to approach these games on the road because do you go with two more defensive minded midfielders, do you talk about that, because, right now, it hasn’t worked on the road in terms of our approach. We will still always be aggressive, we’ll still going to press, but does it make a little more sense to have two defense-minded guys, defense first mentality guys when we go on the road. It’s a discussion going on right now and, again, that’s a discussion that goes on because we haven’t had success on the road. We have the one win, and that was a while ago. So, we’ll have to change some things. We’re still going to play the same way at home and be aggressive, we’ll still press on the road, but can we do it now in a smarter way with some more defense first guys on the field.

What did you tell Andre Blake and Keegan Rosenberry before they left for the All-Star Game?

Again, you talk about the badge, it’s a great presentation because Philly hasn’t ever had two players like this that have earned their way on to the team. I think we had some situations where maybe guys got called in because of where the game was located, and injuries, and that kind of thing. These guys earned their way on. And for our badge to be up there when we play against Arsenal is a big thing. I told them specifically to ask a lot of questions because they’re both young players, they’re both growing in their development, [and] you don’t get to sit down with a Drogba, a [David] Villa, a Piatti, these type of players [everyday]. It’s an unbelievable experience: Take it in, it goes by quick. It’s almost like a wedding [laughs], kind of. You know, when everybody tells you your wedding is a whirlwind? I was fortunate enough to play in one and I remember my head being spinning. The actual game stunk because I got thrown out there for 90 minutes. Anyway, it’s a whirlwind, [so] try and step back and actually reflect on it and realize, “Wow, I’m out here with some of the best players in our league” —  some of them former best players in the world. But, ask questions, it’s the best way to learn. These guys have such a wealth of knowledge, they’ve been places that, quite frankly, Andre and Keegan may never go. So, now is the time to almost be annoying [laughs] and pick their brain, because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I know they’ll go there and be excited to represent the club well, it’s great for our club to be in the spotlight and I hope both of them start and get some minutes. Most coaches will tell you they don’t want anybody to play because of the risk of injury. I want them to play, I want them to get some time and experience it because it’s a unique opportunity, and I know they’re fit enough to handle it and come back and play on Sunday.

Maurice Edu update 

He trained full today again. Initially we talked about him being a neutral and I kind of vetoed it and made him play both ways, so he had to play both sides of the ball. A hundred degrees out there, at least it felt like that today; huffing and puffing a little bit and tired but, in terms of the soccer, good. In terms of the change of direction, going into tackles, fighting, looked very good. So, it’s a good step again, I think it’s getting better and better each day. Is he ready for Sunday? No. But, at the same time, the fitness will come the more he’s out there training with our group. And now, with it being for the most part with the exception of the one Wednesday Columbus game, we have weeks in between each game. So, we have real preparation. We have a group that trains their butts off every day so it’ll be good for Mo in terms of that, and I’m excited for the rest of the season, I’m excited with him playing a role down the stretch.

Will he get game time with Bethlehem?

For sure. For sure. Yeah, we’re believers of that because nothing replicates the game. Again, the USL games, the more you watch them this year, there are so many players in that league that could step in for MLS teams and start and contribute. So, it’s not like you’re sending to the old days when it was like these reserve league games that everybody was hungover and didn’t want to play in. These are real games, in real stadiums, in real environments, so it’s a great league. Again, you’ve seen Derrick come through, the games he’s put in there, and now for us to have that option to send Mo down there and get minutes when he’s ready to do that, that will certainly be something that we’ll look strongly at.

On the process of getting for Edu whatever clearances he needs to get minutes with Bethlehem

It’s a pain in the butt. It’s a bunch of paperwork that I won’t bore you guys with but, unfortunately, people do have to do it. It can be a scramble, especially with international players, fortunately Mo’s not that. There’s all kinds of visas and this kind of stuff with the foreign guys that makes it really tricky but, if there’s enough notice, we can turn it around pretty quickly. So, if something came up and Mo has a great week this week and says, “You know what, I want to give it 30 minutes,” or 45, or whatever, we have the option to do that, which is great flexibility and, again, speaks to that pathway: academy, USL, first team. It’s excellent, it’s professional, and it’s taken a while for MLS to get this up and going, and now every team — not every, but most teams — have it, and it’s really valuable selfishly for me as the head coach, because it gives these guys valuable minutes.

9 Comments

  1. I have to admit Curtins frankness has really won me over. I genuinely want to want to see him do well.

    Although I have no doubt he will be a good coach I do wonder where he is right now in his learning curve and how patient Ernie and the fans will be.

  2. Old Soccer Coach. says:

    Compliments to whomever asked the right questions to unlock some information about Edu.
    .
    The Steel might sell some extra tickets if people knew far enough in advance that Edu was going to play 30, or 45.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    I have to say it and I know we had Copa… but 11 games in 39 days is near insane.
    .
    I would just about anything to see Edu and Jones on the field together.
    .
    I’d take jones right now over Crevalle.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Oh by the way…. I’d take a player with a chip on his shoulder every single time.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Depends on his temperament. Remember that talented hot head who pitch for the Cubs a while back? Carlos Zambrano, maybe? He had the chip but could not keep it under control. That doesn’t work.
        .
        That said, I agree generally speaking.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Creavalle you know can destroy the opposition’s play at the MLS level..
      .
      Creavalle you know has trouble with effective offensive distribution as the league’s pace of play undergoes its annual acceleration from “fast for March” through “fast for June” past “fast for September.”
      .
      We have one observed datum, not two data, of Jones’s play at the first team level. It was in an exhibition game, a club’s very first exhibition game.

      A young man who was a top club team prospect scored in a Union exhibition game when he was a teenager. I want to say it was against Real Madrid, but I have only memory and it is not trustworthy.

      His name is Christian Hernandez. After a few seasons, Bill Becher dropped him from City Islanders. I tried to find out if he was still playing somewhere once, but failed and gave up after a few minutes.
      .
      Let the people who know him best bring him along at the pace they judge best for him.
      .
      I am guessing completely with this statement, but I get the feeling that Homegrown Player means they think he is ready to practice with the first team. He has to prove it in practice, which he probably has been doing on a periodic basis before being signed, if reports about practice structure on this website are accurate. Why else put all teams in the organization into the same template, if not to facilitate a player like Jones “practicing up” a level to see how he does?
      .
      Everything we read and hear says “game” is a beast entirely different from “practice.”
      .
      We. Do. Not. Want. To. Wreck. This. Kid.

      He’s a good kid. You could hear the Steel players talking to each other during the game last Sunday at Lehigh. He’s a good team mate. Everybody grows at different rates, some earlier, some later.

      On a trip to Greece, Gaius Julius Caesar is reported to have wept at the sight of a statue of Alexander the Great, who died at age 33, be cause he, Caesar, was older than Alexander at his death and had as yet done nothing. Alexander bloomed early; Caesar was a little later.
      .
      I know Philadelphia begins with P and that Patience in Philly sports exists only once and that at the very beginning. But player development has a scone “p” for a second bout of patience later on in the process.
      .
      He will play with and against Edu in practice in the next few weeks. We would both give our last tooth to hang with binoculars in harnesses off the Commodire Barry Bridge to watch that practice.
      .
      We’ll get to watch only when the coaches decide he’s ready. Let them have time. Allow them to make good decisions, not rushed ones.

  4. The Little Fish says:

    I do often wonder where guys like Hernandez ended up. We’ve had a lot of guys come and go. Roger Torres? Josue? Gavilán? It’s hard to keep track of all the South American Union alums. But I’m curious as to whether a lot of those guys had productive playing careers back home, elsewhere, or totally washed out after their Union days.

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