Press Conference

Transcript and video: Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference

Editor’s note: Questions have been paraphrased.

 Opening statement

Alright guys, I guess there’s some news that was leaked, I just want to clear up everything. I’m still the interim manager. I’d say more so than in any other city, in Philadelphia, respect isn’t given, it’s earned. I get that part, I agree with that part, and I’m still fighting to have the interim tag dropped.

I don’t want it to be a distraction to our team, I had a good talk with them this morning about it. To be honest, I was on the playground yesterday with my kids and all the sudden the phone starts going — Alexi Lalas, and then Ives, and then Twellman and different guys, asking questions, congratulating in some regards. Same as you guys, probably, I read the article: Not true.

So, again, still the interim coach, working hard to have that removed. My players have done a great job in helping that; if not for them, I still probably might not be the guy.

So, we’ll open up for questions but the main focus from our group, like always, is on the field and getting a result against DC.

Is it an advantage facing DC on Saturday after they’ve DC had a midweek CONCACAF Champions League ?

It is. It always depends on the team they play before you, so you always look at that. I’m actually familiar with the Tauro team, I played against them and they’re always a big, strong, athletic, very physical team, so that’s good for us, that’s a positive. They’ll put up a fight in that game for sure.

It’s a game that Benny [Olsen] knows how to manage. His guys, they have a really deep team, but, at the end of the day, he’s got to play some of his guys, so it’ll be a hard workload on them on a Wednesday. Us preparing for them, and the fresh legs that we’ll have going into the weekend — we haven’t had many free weeks where we’ve had a chance to prepare, so it’s a positive in that regard. But, yeah, any time a team plays the midweek before is an advantage, for sure.

How is Ethan White’s injury coming along?

He’s progressing good. He was jogging around the field so it’s not a thing where he’s completely ruled out by any stretch right now, so he could probably be a guy who’s hopefully up for selection. Cautiously optimistic that he could be a guy still available for selection this weekend.

Would you consider Amobi Okugo filling in at center back?

I lean more toward Amobi in the midfield. A lot of articles have been written on the subject — we read stuff, anyone who says they don’t is a liar — they’re good discussions. I don’t just make these decisions on guys willy nilly, you know? You lose a lot of sleep, you think about every option, you think about the matchups, you think about all these things.

I’m high on Amobi Okugo. He knows that, our locker room knows that. He’s been a big part of a lot of our wins. Somebody did it today: if you project out our record in just league games right now, we’d be on pace for 60 points in the season, which our fans are intelligent to know they’d sign up for that. And Amobi’s been a big part of that. He’ll be called upon again now and I would say he is a midfielder in my mind. That’s where he likes to play best, I think that’s where he is best.

The decision that went against him in the Open Cup final was just one that, you know, we’re at home, we’re on our home field, it was a little more of an attacking lineup — it was a risk. I think we’d all agree it was a good game that we played, we brought a lot; I don’t think there’s too much second guessing that can be done on that one. I love hindsight too, you know, I’m a Monday morning quarterback every time the Eagles play, and what they could’ve done different. When you’re making those decisions, they’re tough ones. That one went against Amobi, no question about it. So did Houston. But, when his number’s called, I know he’ll be ready to go.

What do you say to the players to keep them focused when distractions like the reports on Tuesday about your interim status changing arise?

They’ve been great all year. If you call them distractions — whether it’s different people that have come through the locker room and they’ve met — they’ve kept their focus just on the field, and they’ve done a great job with it. They bring it everyday in training. If you go to our training sessions now, those guys that are laying it all on the line every day that maybe took days off earlier in the year. It’s great to see. We see healthy, healthy competition at every position. I do think that they have grown up a lot recently, whether it’s closing out tight games, protecting our home field. I think we’ve lost one game in our last eleven in the league. We’re tough to play against. Are their going to be breaks? Penalty kicks go your way, penalty kicks don’t go your way — there’s different breaks during the season, but we’re tough to beat, that is a fact. And that’s because I have men.

What can be learned from the first meeting with DC earlier this season (a 1-0 home loss)?

It was a long time ago. They’re a good team though, they’re in form. We were a different team, they were a different team. Espindola had his little injury after his hot streak, he’s now been suspended a game or two. We expect him to be back [and] when he’s on his game he’s one of the toughest to deal with in the league. Chris Rolfe, an old teammate of mine, is a handful but now that he’s out with the broken arm he makes them look a little different, you know? Silva’s in great form, he’s scoring goals for them from a deep spot, he’s a handful playing underneath the forwards. Again, dangerous team. Eddie Johnson, wild card too with the concussion. They’re a team that we respect a ton. It’s a rivalry game — Ben’s a friend of mine but we both want to get a win, we both know we need three points; they’re looking to win the East, we’re looking to get above the red line, so it’s going to be a war, another Eastern Conference battle.

How difficult is it figuring out what DC is going to look like?

It’s tough. They still have their core guys, it’s going to be Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud in the middle, you know what the center back pairing’s going to look like with Birnbaum and Boswell, and I know what those guys are about, what they bring. Sean Franklin. So the core six to eight guys are there. Is Eddie Johnson a nice wild card to have getting back? Yes, he is. Espindola, we know what he’s about, he’s a proven goalscorer in our league, a guy that you have to deal with for 90 minutes. He’ll fight and scratch — he’s one of those guys who’s a Carlos Ruiz-type player: You love him when he’s on your team, you hate him when he’s not. He’s a handful and he’s in good form. Rolfe’s the big injury that they’ve had because Chris was having a great year for them. So, hopefully that’s something that we can use to our advantage, to have him missing.

You’ve had so many tough games. Does that make going into this one easier?

Yeah. I would say they all feel like playoff games, they all have the intensity that it’s a do-or-die, a must win. The mentality of our group’s changed. After the Houston tie the guys were disgusted with it. That was a face that I maybe didn’t see earlier on, and that’s something that they at least realize: there’s accountability within the group, to know that that wasn’t good enough. Sure, we created enough chances to score a goal and win, but we didn’t have the killer instinct that we needed to get it done. We’re a no BS type team, we are what our record says we are; that’s kind of what we’ve kind of believed in and that’s what we’re about. We know going down the stretch in these last games we have to protect home field, obviously, but we’re going to have to go somewhere difficult and steal points. Obviously, the Columbus series looks big too, but the focus is on DC on the road. It’s going to a brutal, tough game, but we’ll be ready to go.

On how much Ethan White has meant to the team since he’s gotten into the lineup

He’s been great, he’s been unbelievable. Everything a guy could ask for out of a center back, he does. To be honest, I don’t think he’s gotten the appreciation he deserves in the press. I know that the coaches on the other teams in the league that talk to me are as high as can be on him. I’m as high as can be on him, and that’s why, in some ways, the Amobi-Mo discussion — like you could just displace Ethan White — was I think a little disrespectful to him, and a little bit unfair. Because what the kid has done in keeping his mouth shut for six months in not being in the lineup and bringing everyday, and then putting out the fires that he puts out in the games — in the real games, in the big boy games — has been special. We’re going to miss him a lot, it’s a big injury, we want to obviously get him back before the weekend so we’re missing him in training right now. He’s a guy I can’t say enough about, I’m very high on him. I played the position, I wish I had the attributes that he has as a player. He’s got a little nasty in him, which I like.

How difficult has it been with some of the rotation going on at goalkeeper and center back to maintain the defense’s rhythm?

They’re good players so they can handle it. If you look at our game against New York, they had the penalty kick which probably isn’t a penalty kick, and then they had the sidefoot from Henry that Zac would tell you he should’ve done better on. Then you fast-forward to Seattle, we handled them for the most part, inches away from winning that game. Then you go to the Houston game: We did not give up a shot on goal. So, the defense is doing a great job, no question about it, whoever I plug in there. I have great players back there, I have great goalkeepers, and they’ve done a phenomenal job. Our attack has been good as well, but the defense has been excellent.

Hindsight is a great thing, it’s a good thing in sports. If Germany won World War Two there wouldn’t be MLS — you know, you could go on and on, it doesn’t stop. I’m happy with our group, I really am. It’s a fine line though in MLS [between] a week like last week looking perfect versus we’re all disappointed. There’s no more moral victories for us, though. That Seattle game, I feel like that should be the last I talk about it. This club should be done with moral victories. Now it’s time to win a trophy.

On Harrisburg City Islanders reaching the USL PRO championship final

It’s great, it’s excellent. We’ve had a lot of guys that have logged a lot of minutes there and helped out along the way. Some less than others but even when they’ve been thrown down there periodically they’ve done well. It’s great game experience for our young guys, for Jimmy McLaughlin to get real games, playoff-type games, and Antoine to be doing well for them, and Richard Marquez to be playing great minutes at center back — it’s so valuable for those guys to be getting not only minutes but playoff minutes in games of consequence where there’s a winner and a loser and the loser goes home. It’s so valuable. Bill Becher’s done a great job with that group. They were an underdog going into the playoffs — much like we might be. They’ve gotten to the final, they put themselves in a final, and I wish them all the best. Hopefully they can pull it off and win it against Preki, my old coach.

On Antoine Hoppenot’s time with Harrisburg

He’s been good. The message for Antoine is keep up the work you’ve been doing. I tell our guys in the locker room, I told them as recently as yesterday, someone in this room that hasn’t contributed a ton during this year will score a big goal, will make a big play defensively that get’s us into the playoffs. It always happens. It always, always happens. There’ going to be someone who’s not called upon now, just like there’s always a team that no one’s expecting to make the playoff to make it, and there’ll be one that everyone has counted in right now, they’ll drop out. It’s just the way this league goes.

Other than Ethan White, anything else to report in terms of injuries?

No, we’re healthy. Our medical staff does a great job — Paulie, Stevo, and  Kevin Miller have done a great job keeping everybody healthy. We’re fresh. Excited for this push.

Who’s the Union’s biggest rival, DC or New York?

We shouldn’t really like anybody in the Eastern Conference, to be honest. I still think we’re figuring that part out, we haven’t had enough playoff games to have that real bitter rivalry. I’d still put New York there just because of the Philly mindset with New York that goes back a long way, back to the time when we thought we were the second city, the little brother type thing. But, I think that time’s gone. I have tons of New York friends that have come, moved down to Philly now and live here that say it’s better. That’s a whole other discussion but, rivalry wise, I still think it’s New York just because of how close it is. DC’s another good rival, but you have another New York team coming in. I don’t think we’ve had enough playoff history with anybody to really hate, to really, really have that true Sixers-Celtics, or whatever it might be. We don’t have ours yet. New York is the closest, I guess.


  1. He is so much more believable than Hack

  2. “So . . . is there a Mrs. Curtin?” In all seriousness, how do you not feel for JC now? Because this “rumor” is clearly right – MLS must OK your coach & someone leaked it – and it only makes his job the next 5 weeks tougher. After all these years together Nick is definitely “the devil he knows.” I hope JC gets it right. He’s beat the odds his whole career.

    • James Lockerbie says:

      I don’t believe this has anything to do with MLS. My take on this, it got out the reaction was not what they were expecting so they backed off and had Curtin deny the reports.

      I have to say, I have been impressed with the turn around and I really like Coach Curtin’s personality. Having said that I can understand the hesitation fans are expressing after the pass week and a half. If we had won the Open Cup or just scored a few goals against Houston for a win. The “Interim” tag would have been removed and the fans would have been fine with it.

      Now, He gets us into the playoffs and we are one and done. Fans are we o.k with that?

      • You have to step back and look at the big picture. This is HAckworth part 2. Nice honeymoon during the interim tag. Nice guy. Team likes him.

        But not ready to be a coach.

        Give me someone who has coached in the EPL, please.

      • Has any current MLS coach been in the EPL in any capacity? I think that’s too high a standard for this league at the moment.
        I think Curtin shows more promise as a head coach than Hackworth based on what we’ve seen on the field. Of course, we have no idea what goes on behind closed doors. While I think that both this team and JC would be better off by going in separate directions for the next 5-10 years, it’s a big risk for both parties.

      • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

        I am assuming James is referencing Muelensteen, who was an assistant under Sir Alex Ferguson before having a brief stint in charge of Fulham in the Premier League.

      • The original report of the leak cites “a league source,” implying that MLS gets advance word. Other than critical fan comments on sites like this, the decision seems to have been widely applauded. Its merits aside, the reported decision cries out for an official statement. Day 4. Still nothing. No way to run a lemonade stand. Or to have your club thinking only about the biggest road match of the year tomorrow.

  3. I like the guy a lot.
    Hackworth may have been an idealist in the real world and too much of a hustle-player guy. You see that Curtin values physicality highly in his CBs so that explains White vs. Okugo/Edu.
    I’d put him at the wheel but I’m biased toward straight talking Philly guys. I like Philly sports analogies. I’m not qualified to pick the head coach for a pro team.

  4. JC’s first controversial tactical decision (benching Okugo) still lacks a sample size for determining its success or failure. If the Union miss the playoffs, how many of his backers this week jump off the bandwagon?

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