Press Conference

Video and transcript: Jim Curtin announced as Union manager

Editor’s note: Questions have been paraphrased.

Opening statement from Nick Sakiewicz

I just wanted to thank everyone for packing the house here, it’s a great day.

I’ll start by saying back in June just prior to the World Cup, I felt it was necessary to make a management change in order to improve what was a talented but under-performing Union team. I also said at that time that we would go on an extensive search for a first team coach and I asked Jim Curtin to takeover as interim coach and caretaker of the team. And, boy, did he take care of the team: 17 games unbeaten in 23. I’m sure we’re going to say lots of nice things about Jim Curtin today, he did a great job.

I also said at that time and throughout the coaching search process that I’d be evaluating our technical management structure to determine what the very best overalls structure should be in order to ensure our long-term success on the field at PPL Park, with our youth academy, and in our overall technical set up. It’s no secret the Union is making a huge investment in youth development in this region, and we’ve made incredible strides under the leadership of Tommy Wilson, rolling out our academy last year. We continue to develop our relationship with the Harrisburg City Islanders in order to fill that vital development gap between academy and college players. Them competing in the USL PRO division, too, is a critical piece of the puzzle.

We strongly believe we must have a modern football structure to guide the development of our overall investments on the technical side, and in order to compete at the highest levels in MLS 2.0 — actually, it’s probably MLS 3.0, this league just continues to rise and skyrocket. We need to make sure we have the best, most modern structure.

So, speaking on behalf of the ownership group, we are all very committed to putting into place the best structure to ensure that we not only appear in US Open Cup finals as we did back in September, but also win them. Getting back to the MLS playoffs and competing there on a regular basis is an absolute priority. Not just for the ownership group, but for the guy sitting to my left.

Today’s another important step toward building an overall technical structure to achieve our competitive goals as we proudly announce Jim Curtin as the head coach of our first team.

Jim is the perfect fit to lead our first team because he has worked through our system, understands our great fans, partners, and community, and shares our burning passion in delivering a winning product on the field. Since taking over the reins of this club, Jim has proven that he can compete and win. I’ve said from the outset of this coaching search that we were looking for a first team coach to help guide us to our goal of competing to win an MLS Cup, and Jim is our choice. He has played in the league and knows what it takes to be successful in Major League Soccer. He will lead our first team in all aspects and, along with his staff, he will be fully responsible for all player identification, recruiting, signings, transfers, and trades.

Jim has proven he’s a winner as a player and a coach. After retiring from playing, he worked his way up through our system, starting with coaching Union Futures and Juniors — the little ones — to then working up as our director of curriculum development, and the head coach of the Union under 18 Academy team, in which he won the 2012 Generation adidas Cup. He then became an assistant coach for the Union’s first team and after spending three years working in that system, he is now the Philadelphia Union’s first team coach.

I am very proud to announce that Jim Curtin will lead our team for the foreseeable future. Congratulations, Jim.

Opening remarks from Jim Curtin

First off, I just want to say thank you, a sincere thank you, to Jay Sugarman and Nick Sakiewicz for giving me this tremendous opportunity.

I’m incredibly honored to be the head coach of my hometown club. It’s something that means a lot to me. I’m also very eager to get my first offseason under my belt and improve on a group of guys that have laid a great foundation, push them forward and become that playoff team that Nick talked about.

The title changes with me but the message is the same: I’m here to win. And that will continue. Something that I started out in my first press conference and said that I needed to win here and it’s something that I believe in. Now I have to push it this team forward in that regard. So, again, the title shifts from interim to head coach, but the message is the same. I’m here to win and get this team back in the playoffs where we belong.

I’d also like to thank my wife, Jen. She’s someone that’s been through a ton with me in this career, a young woman that came with me when I was 20 years old out to Chicago, bought into it, and has been part of the crazy process of being a player and transitioning to a coach — someone that is my biggest fan and is someone that I love dearly, and I’m grateful for all that she does for me.

On to the technical staff — obviously, thanks to my mom and dad as well, too, they did pretty well, as well. And Katie, thanks for coming.

I do want to thank the technical staff that made this transition for me an easy one. Chris Albright, my technical director, who’s working 24/7 right now to improve this roster, using his connections throughout the country, internationally, to get this thing back where we belong and back in the playoffs. Mike Sorber, who did a great job, pushed me as a coach, pushes our players as a coach each and every day — did a tremendous job. BJ Callahan, as well, with the goalkeepers, as an assistant coach with the film. Paulo Grillo with the keepers did a great job for us. Everybody’s working to get this thing back where it belongs, like I said. Tommy Wilson, also a great resource for me. Ian Munro at the academy helped me out in a time when I was adjusting and was there for me to bounce things off and help me grow and develop as a young coach.

I’d also like to thank the league coaches. I leaned on them heavily, a lot of the young ones and the old ones. They voiced different things in discussions that helped me along the way. As a young coach you need that and I learned a lot from them. They did a lot of work behind the scenes too to endorse me — some quietly, and some publicly like when Sigi Schmid did after the Open Cup final. Those little things go a long way and I’m very grateful for all of them, those friends and colleagues in the league that I’ve made.

Our fan support with me has been overwhelming from day one. The Sons of Ben, the River End — fans really have embraced me. It’s been an honor to serve you and thank you for making that transition a smooth one. Whether it be walking with my kids to the park and someone shouting out their car window, you can start to really realize that the Philadelphia Union has arrived in this city. That’s something that I’m very proud of and means a lot to me.

For the fans that will question a 35 year old, a young coach, that’s natural, that’s normal — there is going to be that. I ask you to give me an off season, give me a full offseason, and see what we come up with. I can promise you we’re going to work 24/7 to bring in great players and improve the roster that’s already very strong.

I’ve talked about this before, more so than any city — more than LA, more than Chicago, more than New York — your reputation in this town is earned everyday. Whether you’re the new kid at the playground playing basketball, you have to earn your respect, you have to earn the right to play. It’s honest, it’s real, and I plan on operating transparently. I’ve been very open with the press with my feelings and I would encourage them , just like I hold my players accountable, hold us accountable, and do it in a fair way. We’ll have discussions, and we’ll be open about things, and you know that the door is always open to sit down and discuss things.

With style of play, I know it’s going to come up and there’ll be questions from the media and different outlets on “What’s your style of play?”. I still stick to the same script of  until you have success and championships as a team you can’t claim a style, you can’t lay claims to a style.

I believe in ideas and principles in a league that’s moving forward right now and ways that we can attack that. So, we’ll build a strong defense. Someone needs to stop the David Villas and the Kakas that are coming in. We’re not going to be the club that spends $7 million on three different DPs. That’s not going to be us, so we have to build from the back. We’re going to add speed, we’re going to get bigger, stronger, and faster.

These are ideas. I will not sit here and lay claim to a style. Salt Lake has a style, Kansas City has a style, LA has a style, and Seattle has a style right now in our league, and we’re not there yet. That’s something we have to stop, we have to beat those teams and we have to find a way to do it. We’ll build with a good defense, we’ll counterattack, and we’ll add some speed that opens up the field for the Nogueiras of the world and the Maidanas, and gives them a little more space to react. That’s not the blueprint, but that is some ideas for you guys moving forward, and some ideas that we’ll implement as a staff.

The last thing I kind of want to leave for our fans is how our end-of-the-year meetings went with the players. I thought, more so than any end-of-the-year meetings that I’ve been a part of, there was as sincere disappointment and accountability. That’s something that we’ve preached from day one with me getting in there, was accountability. Our end of the year meetings went in a way that a lot of (players) actually put their hand up and took blame for the games down the stretch and coming up short. I do that as a coach and we talk about ways we can improve. It was refreshing to see the players listen to what the coaching staff had to say, instead of giving the empty false promises of, “this offseason I’m going to do this, this, and this.” They took accountability, and to me, that was a big first step for a lot of them in regard to being disappointed and not satisfied about how the year ended. Playoffs are the goal. That’s all we’re going to talk about moving forward with me. It’s not about championships or MLS Cups yet — we have to get in the playoffs and be a team that’s in the playoffs every year, and that will be something that I’ll be responsible for as head coach.

I think every club has a learning curve. This is year five now of this club, and in the great meetings I’ve had with Nick and with Jay Sugarman, you can tell that they’re serious about things. Our academy is moving in the right direction and rolling in the right direction, and the first team is starting to roll in the right direction, and I think it’s time to take the training wheels off and really run with this thing.

Question to Nick Sakiewicz on the club’s plans on adding a general manager or sporting director, or other front office additions?

Well, I said we’re constantly evaluating our structure and today is about adding a very important piece, which is our first team manager. We continue to look at making heavy investments in this club. We invested heavily in Tommy Wilson with the academy and what we do up there in Wayne. We’re investing heavily in Jim and resources given to him to make sure we get this team continuing to move in the right direction. We just built the practice facility, which is really important for a professional team to have, and I’m sure the guys and all of us are happy about those two beautiful fields next to PPL Park. So, like everything, we are evaluating our structure, and whatever we can do to make the on-field product competitive in MLS 2.0 or 3.0, we’re going to do. So, there’s going to be lots of announcements over the next three months — players, staff, structure, forward thinking, and I hope everybody’s excited about it.

Question Nick Sakiewicz: Without a GM, who’s going to make all of the decisions with the Expansion Draft, player acquisition, at this point right now?

The man sitting right to my left, Jim Curtin.

Question to Nick Sakiewicz: Was there a moment or game when you decided this is the direction I want to go?

I don’t think there was any one particular moment. You know, Jim had a front row seat to the whole interview process and, working with him every day — and really, having to win every game since he took over just to make up ground from the earlier part of the season — was a great audition for him, and he had an advantage over the rest of the group, which was, by the way, over 200 CVs from around the world, not that I interviewed all those folks. It was a pretty amazing  coaching search. It’s been my fourth in 20 years in Major League Soccer, and I’ve never seen such high qualified people come to the fore in that coaching search. It was pretty amazing.

So, I wouldn’t say there was any one moment, it was just, as I began to know Jim — I’ve known Jim as a player; as I said, I’ve a lot of bad memories at Giants Stadium with the Chicago Fire and Jim Curtin. All the way up to now, I got to know Jim as a coach in that time period. What was the most defining moment for me was that I believe that the relationship between the first team coach and the chief executive officer of the club is the most vital relationship in the club. And, Jim proved to me that he’s the best candidate out of all those very good coaches that could have that relationship with the CEO and the owners and investors in the club. That’s really important to move this thing forward. It’s important that we’re on the same page, that we view the game in the same way, and that our goals and objectives to create what we want to create at PPL Park , and the club in general, are on the same wavelength. And Jim was, without question, the best candidate.

Question to Jim Curtin: On what he learned during the experience of being interim manager

I’d start by saying I think with the interim tag, I was filled in to the process. Like Nick said, I was in on the meetings, I met a lot of the candidates, I respected a lot of the candidates. But, I’d also add that if you want something bad enough, you just take it, and that kind of was my mentality the whole way through. Yeah, I would say I learned a ton in the first year. I experienced a lot of success, a lot of big wins, and I also experienced some amazing defeats. The draw against Chicago and loss to Columbus, I don’t expect to have two worse, more devastating results in my career. I’ll do my best to prevent that.

I’m not a huge stat guy, but I will say if you look back at the team, one of the biggest things — and this is part of that learning that you’re talking about — at minute 75: If every game ended in the 75th minute this year, 16-12-6, That puts you in the elite. That’s three things from me. One is maybe fitness, with guys who can improve so you’re not having to go to the bench. A little depth, depth would be No. 2 — maybe you can improve guys you’re bringing out. And the third is, I raise my hand and I say, “Can my adjustments be better at that time of the game?” That’s something that I’ll learn.

I took a lot from the bad results, I understand things that I have to adjust: closing up games is a big thing with the Philadelphia Union, especially at home. Our home field has to become more of a place when teams come in, they’re intimidated, they don’t want to play there. Right when they get off the bus, they just don’t want to be here. That has to happen; I think that is there already, but closing out games? Too many crazy games in our home field. I want more 1-0, 2-0, “Thanks for coming, and see ya.” Too many games go red cards, penalty kicks plays — two penalty kicks in the last seconds. It has to be more of a business-like mentality at home.

Those are things that, like I said, I’ll raise my hand and I’ll take blame. When you look at the 75th minute stat, that’s a real stat. It’s something we have to adjust. I was half of the season on that, so I’ll put my hand up. But, there were games where subs we made paid off, so there’s a give-take, and there’s a learning curve.

There’s a lot of phone calls that go on with coaches and things that they go through, and I’d ask , get the interim thing out, the one thing I actually resent hearing is the comparisons to it being an interim coach that took over last time. I think it’s disrespectful to John  Hackworth, and I think it’s disrespectful to me. We’re two different people, we came up two different ways, our relationships are different. If you want to compare me to somebody, you can compare me to other coaches in the league, young coaches that have been through some things. There’s good ones, and there’s situations where it hasn’t worked out. So, again, I’ll sit up here and I’ll take criticism, but that one for me is one that needs to stop.

Question to Jim Curtin: There are two philosophies,one where you fit players into a system, the other where you make the system fit the players. Where do you stand on that?

Not to steal, but if you read Jose Mourinho’s last interview with Gary Neville, he talks about how he’s tired of hearing this style of play thing. Because it’s who’s he playing? Is he home, is he away ? Who’s injured? Who’s missing the game? There’s a lot of variables that go in to just say, “We’re going to play ‘X’ way, and we’re going to do it, no matter what.” I’d like to get to that point but we’re not there yet. So, again, for me to talk about it, it’s not where we’re at in the order of things.

I would say that my style would be a defensive one, defense first. We have to prevent goals, something we need to improve on. When I took over, I’d say the one change was we shored up the defense; we moved Maurice back from midfield. I did play, more often than not, with two holding-type midfielders to protect the back four. And when we broke on the counter attack, we broke with the best teams in the league. Did teams start to figure that out toward the end of the year? Absolutely. That’s where a speed threat of the bench that could come in and change the game a little bit would be an option in the offseason. But, if you look at the stats, we scored tons of goals. We didn’t have problems scoring goals. Everybody called for the striker, striker, striker. We are going to look to get a striker, but at the same time we’ve produced a lot, and scored a lot of goals, more goals than this franchise ever has before. So, little tweaks, little adjustments. It’s tough for me to sit here and tell you exactly how we’re going to play until a lot of pieces fall into place here in a crazy offseason, because you have an Expansion Draft now. You have a re-entry process where, you look at a team like DC last year, they cleaned up in the Re-entry Draft. Si, I could add two or three guys in that, and that changes our philosophy on how we want to play based on who’s available. So many moving parts so, sorry I don’t have a better answer for you.

Jim Curtin final remarks

Thank you everyone for coming and people here for putting on a great event. All the Union front office staff, I really appreciate it.

Nick Sakiewicz final remarks

I just want to thank all of our staff and out technical folks from the academy that came down, It’s a great celebration, a great day.

I also want to send off Aimee Cicero over here in our communications department. Aimee is going over to the other side, the agency side, but I heard was buying season tickets, right? Is committing to that, so, that’s great. Good luck, Aimee.

Thank you everybody, thank you joining us.


  1. Ed, there is a place in heaven for you for doing this.

  2. Next up Fire the Union AV crew – what the hell is with all the audio cutting out every press conference – I could do a better job with my phone.

  3. Not to quibble on the A/V, but are we absolutely certain it wasn’t Sak who said “[S]orry I don’t have a better answer for you”? ‘Cause that would be the case, methinks. Do any other MLS clubs make “major announcements” in local eateries? I mean besides the Galaxy “celebrating” Beckham’s signing at the “In-&-Out Burger” on Wilshire Blvd., of course. Or Deuce at the Original Starbucks. Sheesh!

  4. One thing is for sure, Jim Curtin speaks the right speak— so to speak.

  5. So since Curtin “name dropped” Mourinho and has said he wants to build up the defensive structure of the backfield…….I assume the Union’s style will be to “Park the Bus,” and play Not to Lose, not necessarily to Win.

    “So, we’ll build a strong defense. Someone needs to stop the David Villas and the Kakas that are coming in. We’re not going to be the club that spends $7 million on three different DPs. That’s not going to be us, so we have to build from the back.” — This sets the wrong tone (in my opinion) to your fans who see inaugural clubs sign class and have something to be excited about. The Union are now 5 years/3 coaches/over 90% player churn/and 1 playoff appearance.

    So to solve this, Curtin is going to create an defensive shell and through sheer “grit and yeoman’s work,” will put a “winning” product on the field……LOL

    I would rather watch speed with great ball possession/movement and LOSE, then watch “Bite and Hold” trench warfare and eek out a draw or narrow win.

    I am not asking that the Union over-night become like Southampton or that the MLS is comparable to BPL……but making your club into a bottom-feeder Serie A club with this defensive Hold with a counter-attack is absolute Trash

    Out of 200 CV’s and if you narrowed that down to 10…….Curtin still comes out on top [ either the numbers couldn’t get the deal done, or taking on the Union with this ownership group is just suicidal ]

    I am not drinking the Kool-Ade and if the Union are under .500 come May then what? Sorber as the Interim ………. SO F*ING FRUSTRATING

    • Ian. Quality thought in your opinion. Nothing says fun like watching Mourinho play a meaningful game- and that is with 11 world class players on the field. At least when he knows he’s better he lets the team play freely.
      Curtin is a defensive guy- stands to reason he would build a team in this defense first mold. If you like free flowing offense, may I suggest Chip Kelly? Got to piecemeal it together.

      • Joel Prushan says:

        I remember a quote from Curtin in an interview a couple months ago. ‘He said that he would rather win lots of 1-0 games than 3-2 games. It’s easier to win with a sound defense than to try to out gun some one. That’s rooted in my being a defensive player.’

        You can be defensive and still play good looking soccer. That what Seattle has done most of the year and is LA’s default setup.The difference is, is those teams CAN play possession when demanded, even if it is not their best option like RSL.

      • I agree. Hopefully we get a meld of both worlds.

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      “I would rather watch speed with great ball possession/movement and LOSE, then watch ‘Bite and Hold’ trench warfare and eek out a draw or narrow win.”

      Wasn’t that what Hackworth did in the first half of the season, play at speed with possession/movement — and lose?

      When the Union made the playoffs in 2011 under Nowak, it was a season of “‘Bite and Hold’ trench warfare” with eeked out draws and narrow wins.

      I’m interested in seeing a team that does whatever it takes on the field to make the playoffs and win cups. When they prove they are capable of consistently doing that, then I’ll start worrying about if the doing can be more attractive.

  6. My favorite moment was this quote from Nick in explaining Curtin’s hiring:

    “What was the most defining moment for me was that I…

    (audio cuts out for 17 seconds)

  7. Curtin says he resented comparisons to Hackworth. I can understand that. So I’ll just say some of the decisions were a byproduct of the Hackworth staff of which Curtin was a influential part. A lot of what Curtin fell back on was the same business as usual with a slight difference, which was trying to keep players in their natural positions when possible. Obviously you are only going to get certain things from say a Danny Cruz. Not having the foresight or in game adjustment ability to come up with a new idea to close out games was again Hackworth by committee aka staff. Not using Pfeffer or McLaughlin was business as usual by committee. The lame excuse of earning playing time in practice doesn’t hold up if what you’re practicing isn’t translating into results during games. How did Brown, Ribeiro, Cruz, Fabinho and others earn roster spots and playing time when what they did during practice didn’t translate into results during games, particularly at home? Then there was the MBolhi forced situation (along with a litany of other things) which inadvertently helped derail what strides the Union had been making. How did he earn his roster spot and playing time?
    What Curtin needs to hope happens is a GM will be brought in to seriously upgrade the skill and depth on the parent team and the influential/ non-influences of Hackworth and sakiewicz by committee finally go away. I’m hoping all good things for Curtin, the team and most of all this long suffering but supportive fan base.

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