Press Conference

Video and transcript: Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference

Note: Questions below have been paraphrased

Opening statement on the draw against Colorado and upcoming game against Real Salt Lake

Having watched the game back several times, a lot of the same ideas are in my head. We created enough chances to get a goal. It was a sloppy day for us passing wise, things we could have been a little sharper with in front of goal, especially with the final pass and final shot. But still, made Clint Irwin make a few saves, thought he had a good day. Thought we threatened their goal a bunch. Was most happy, and I’ve stressed it to the team, that we didn’t give up a shot on goal. That’s  positive. When we got up a man, could we have pushed the tempo a little bit? Yes, absolutely. There was a lot of stopping and starting at that point, though, there was a lot of gamesmanship, I would call it, that went on. To Colorado’s credit, they killed off the game. There was no real flow for maybe the last 16 or 18 minutes of the game when we were up a man, and then including the six minutes of injury time, so, a lot of times where the ball was out of bounds.

We’ve worked a lot this week on sharpness in front of goal. It’s been a very good week of training, I’m very happy with how the group is, and our plan is to go into Salt Lake knowing that we dropped two points against Colorado, to go there and get points on the road, whether its three or one. They’re a team, for me, that is a very strong side; also one of the toughest places to go in the league in a home opener, at altitude. Difficult circumstances, but circumstances that I think we’re up for. You saw a lot of zeroes from a lot of teams this week, so their offence wasn’t clicking on all cylinders. But we still understand that they’re a team that can breakout and have a lot of weapons. So we respect Salt Lake a great deal but know we can go in there and get a result.

Real Salt Lake will want to attack. Are there advantages in that from a counterattacking perspective?

They certainly won’t sit back at home, for sure. They’re experimenting with a 4-3-3. All the talk, and all the different relationships that I have in the league, and even friends on that coaching staff, I believe that they’re going to stick with the 4-3-3. They’ve been a diamond midfield team for so long, it’s something they’ve been comfortable with, but with the weapons they have, Coach Jeff Casser is leaning toward the 4-3-3, so it’s something that…We’re prepared for both, but at the same time, I think he’s going to go with what they’ve worked on for a while.

But, yeah, they’re a great possession team, all their guys are comfortable on the ball. Beckerman sits in front of the back four, does all the dirty work, gets it to the guys that can make the game, and he does a great job for them. So, we’ll do a good job of not letting it be easy for Kyle, first of all, and making him have to defend and not let him have easy service. And, obviously, their special guys: Javier Morales kind of makes them go, try to neutralize him, shut him down; Luis Gil, a great young player; Saborio, great in the air. So, it’s a lot of familiar faces. They’ve had some change there, for sure, but a team that definitely plays with the ball on the ground, and it won’t be similar to Colorado, where they were, for a lot of the game, ten guys behind the ball.

And the counterattack?

Yeah, I still think it’s something we’re very good at, and part of the reason we played the 4-4-2 is to take a little risk and put two forwards on the field, something I think we can adjust to now in-game. Whether it is in-game or at the start of the game, we can give teams different looks. We can’t become this one-look team. Our guys have grasped it well but, at the same time, with the personnel and different injuries that we have an how we attack Salt lake home versus away, you know, all these different variables come in. So, we’ll pick a lineup that is one that gives us the best chance to win there and be aggressive going forward when we do break on the counter. And the counter will come up a lot against a team like Salt Lake because they play so many balls side-to-side, they pin you deep. And then when we pick one off, we want to break quickly and go at them.

When a team is playing a new formation, are there weak points to look for?

Yeah. I think any time a team’s going through a change in formation there’s a little bit of questions and doubts. So, when you have that, when you want to exploit any tentative issues on the field, any little mistakes where you can maybe pick a ball off, or a guys not as comfortable being in a different spot on the field. But, they’re a very well coached team, they’re a very tough team, and they’ve kind of been the gold standard for the smaller market team that has success in our league, and one that I respect a great deal. No matter who they bring in to their team, into the system, they always seem to get results.

But yeah, if there is a little tentativeness with their new formation, we definitely want to pounce on things and take advantage.

How do you evaluate Fernando Aristeguieta’s league debut?

So, he was away, he was back in Venezuela getting a new visa, so he didn’t get the opportunity to train with the team all week. I think part of the rust you saw, too, with the whole team, we trained on AstroTurf, just like any East Coast team that got slammed by the snow. You know, you’re in a makeshift — Penn was an excellent facility but it’s not grass, it’s AstroTurf. So, maybe a little bit of that you can put on it? We make no excuses, though, that’s part of what every East Coast team went through in that difficult training week leading up to week one.

But, yeah, Fernando was good. He’s always going to work hard. I talked to him after the game, he knows he could be a little sharper, a little cleaner with the ball. He still created a few dangerous moments, got his head on a few, had a couple of good looks at goal. So, I know what I’m going to get with him, he’s a guy that is going to score goals in this league. I’m highly confident in that.

What are you expecting from Zach Pfeffer this year? Seems like he’s a little bit of a change of pace.

Yeah, he is, that’s a good point. Zach’s a ki — I can’t call him a kid, I shouldn’t call him a kid anymore — a young man I’ve been with since he was a kid, I’ve coached him in the U-18s [with the Union Academy]. Working his way up, I’ve seen a lot of his growth and development and, for me, this preseason, something has clicked with him. He’s always had the ability on the offensive side of the ball. He’s special in that regard — he can score a goal, he’s got that fast twitch, he’s got a quick first step, things you can’t really teach as a coach, you either have or you don’t. And he has those traits.

What he’s now bought into is the defensive side of the ball: covering ground, breaking up plays, doing that dirty running that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. His mentality has been excellent. Age wise, he’s still young, he’s still 20 years old. But for him to — I talked to him three years ago and I said your goal has to be to be in the 18, that’s should be where it should start. Now, it’s don’t just be happy with being in the 18, want to get on to the field. And he did that in Week 1, and he deserved to be on the field in Week 1. I wish that ball that bounced to him didn’t check up on him, he had a good look [and] that’s one where I’ve seen him literally a thousand times in my life just hit the side-foot curler into the net. It checked up on him a little bit if you watch the tape. But I think there’s bright things to come for Zach this year.

Injury update

Danny’s training full, he’s with us. I’m hoping he’s available for selection this weekend, so I’m happy with that. There will be a report back on CJ Sapong, he’s seeing a specialist right now. It’s not good, I can tell you that right now, he fractured a bone in his cheek, so that’s never a positive. So that’ll be something that he’s gonna miss time, it’s just a matter of how much. We’ll find out when we get the final confirmation; I believe at one o’clock that comes in.

With Sapong being one of the reasons why you could go with a 4-4-2, how much will his absence change your thinking not just in terms of formation but in what other attackers are on the field?

I would say going into the preseason, I did not have the mindset of we’re definitely playing a 4-4-2, and this is how we’re going to play the whole season. That was not the mindset or mentality that I had going in to it. As the games evolved in the preseason and the training sessions, things started going. We decided to play that group in Week 1 because of the fact that that was the group that was playing the best. That’s what we saw as a way to get a Colorado and attack them and be aggressive at home with two forwards. The players, the feedback I got — obviously, a lot goes into the decision to do that and the feedback we got from them, they liked it, they liked that they had two options up there. So, we went with it in Week One.

Chaco is a guy who had some very good games in the preseason, specifically against the Costa Rican Under-23 team and the London United team. But, I’m honest and upfront with Chaco, and I had a talk with him. I thought against Columbus and New York, when he played at the end of that game, I wasn’t happy with his performance. And then training was up and down. This week, to his credit, he has looked as sharp as ever. I thought in the 45 minutes that he came into the game he was excellent. So, the selection wasn’t based on, you know, “We’re not playing this guy, we’re playing this guy,” it was more we played the best group that had the best preseason and had a chance to maybe take a little risk playing with two forwards and a new formation. But I thought our guys created enough chances to win. If one of those goes in, we’re talking about how it was a really great performance, and that kind of thing.

I don’t want to get caught up too much in whether it’s a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, or a 4-1-4-1, but giving my guys an opportunity to play multiple ways and be comfortable with it on the fly, and understand each thing that goes into preparing for the week and how we want to attack teams so we have a little more flexibility, it’s not as rigid as just one formation. That was a long-winded answer to say that we put the best team on Week 1 based on preseason. Now we have to obviously adjust, and Chaco has had a very good week of training, which we’re happy with.

Is there a way to Maidana and Sapong on the field at the same time?

The short answer is yes, absolutely. The good thing about all the guys that you mentioned — I’d even throw Sebastien and Andrew Wenger into this, too — they’re very versatile, they’ve played multiple positions in their careers. I’d say the only guy that probably that’s a true No. 9, abut even he’s more comfortable playing with two, would be Conor. All our attacking guys because of their work-rate, because of how much they can run, can easily flow from two or three guys up there. CJ did it for years with Kansas City. Now, he’ll tell you he prefers the No. 9 role for sure, but he can still do an honest, above average job and get on the end of things and score goals in MLS as a wide guy. Wide left or wide right, I’ve seen him do it for years now. So, again, the flexibility of the group gives us a lot of attacking options. These are good problems to have, I should have tough decisions every week, it’s a lot easier this way. It’s not a lot easier, I should say it’s a lot better to have these tough decisions to make every week, because that means we’re getting deeper as a team and we have more competition at every spot.

If you do plan on changing the formation on a week-by-week basis, is that something that could be challenge on the players?

Yeah. I mean, good players can adjust to things and handle them as long as their roles are clear and defined during the course of the week of training. I don’t want to be a team that’s tinkering, I’m not going to over-coach and over-tinker, and change every week, week in and week out, that’s not what this is about. It’s just, first week we decided to go with a 4-4-2. We step back, we look at it, what we liked, what we didn’t. It just will be a situation that will come up though again in the course of the year: maybe you’re down a goal and you’re pushing, and all the sudden you have to throw a second forward on there. It’s familiar now. We know how to play it, the roles that are involved in it. Was it perfect? No, absolutely not. I’m not saying that all. But, just to have a little more flexibility in the group and, like I said, good players adjust to these things quickly on the fly on the field.

Have there been any decisions about players who might go on loan to Harrisburg?

Nothing’s been finalized quite yet, they’re still in their preseason there. We are going to send guys that don’t travel this week. There will be three guys that we’re planning on right now sending out there to play with Harrisburg in a couple of friendlies against a college team that they’ll be playing against. That’ll be on Friday, I believe. So, yeah, the wheels are in motion for that. Young players need games and it’s a good thing that we have an affiliate like Harrisburg, a team that made it to a final last year, to get our young guys minutes. I still think it’s valuable to be here every day for training one hundred percent, and be in with us training here, but you need those 90 minute games because that’s your true test —  your report card, so to speak — at the end of the day.

How did Pfeffer’s decision to sign and not go to college affect his development, and what our your thoughts on college development versus academy development?

Oh man, I could write a book on this, but I’ll give you my best synopsis on that. I’d say every player’s pathway and career is different and needs different things. Zach was at a stage where what was right for him was to take the jump and go professional. It’s one that he’s run with now, and he’s been a part of the US national team, and his pathway has been a good one, and a clear one. Is it the best thing for every kid? No. Some kids aren’t ready, some aren’t ready for the different things. Zach has a great support system at home, too, and he’s lucky to play in his hometown. I think that that built-in network has been positive for him and made the decision easier. You know, he’s not thrown in to a — although he did go overseas and get that experience, as well, at a different point of his growth. He’s kind of had a little bit of everything, but the college system is still good for some kids. I think it will produce good players still, there’ll still be players that come from college, absolutely. But it is moving in the direction of the developmental academy being the one where you get your homegrown players from. That’s the way it is all over Europe, the team itself produces the players. That way the philosophies are the same [and] it’s a seamless transition all the way up the ladder, and it’s a clear one. Whereas sometimes, you know, you get a scholarship to college, you’ve played with this club team growing up in a developmental academy; now you’re in college for four years and you’re separated from it for four years, and then you’re thrown back into it. It’s a little disjointed. So, maybe it’s a little bit clearer pathway now with all the MLS teams having the teams in the developmental academy.

I could go on that topic forever, it’s one that our country is still trying to figure out the best, clearest pathway. But the college game still is going to produce important players. The draft is getting a little watered down, but it still will have some diamonds in the rough if you’re doing your homework that you can get a player that can come in and really impact the team for a long time.


  1. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Interesting to see who those three are who play for Harrisburg on Friday, assuming they get on the field.

    • Ayuk, Catic, Lee. Those are my guesses.

      • McLaughlin is another possibility. With Sapong injured Catic might at least travel with the team.

      • I hope not. I’m not sure McLaughlin benefits from another year in H-burg.

      • Agreed but is he above Maidana, Nog, Wenger, Le Toux, Sapong, Cruz, Edu, Lahoud or Pfeffer right now on the depth chart in the midfield?
        Lower level game time is better then no game time.
        Also as a side note: the Union now signed Bird so he is another candidate to go to H-burg.

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    I think it will be even more interesting to see the starting 11 for Saturday. Curtain did not impress me sitting Maidana and then making the subs too late. We don’t need another coach learning on the job. I still say the U should have won, and it certainly wasn’t all Curtain’s fault, but that’s strike one Jim.

    • The Black Hand says:

      I don’t think that we will see a change, in our product on the pitch, until we hire an actual manager. This promoting of coaches, from within a flawed system, only changes faces.

  3. One of the knocks against US coaches is that they often base too many decisions on work rate in training. It certainly explains Danny Cruz’s inexplicable place in Hackworth’s lineups. Obviously you don’t want a culture of laziness but Maidana is clearly a one of the best XI on the Union. He should have a place in the starting lineup in all but the most extreme circumstances.

  4. So a 4-2-3-1?

    Wenger —Chaco —-SLT

    Subs – McCarthy, Casey, Pfeffer, Cruz, Lahoud, Fabinho, and (Fred,McLaughlin,?)

    • Is this what you think the lineup / bench will be? Or what you hope the lineup / bench will be?
      If it’s the former, that’s the starting 11 I expect to see on Saturday. They’re not going to come out in their more aggressive 4-4-2 formation at Rio Tinto; they’ll sit back in this and play the counter – something they’re pretty good at, actually. The bench may end up with a surprise or two, but that’s OK.
      If it’s the latter, then I’m going to disagree. Salt Lake isn’t a good fit for Cruz, I don’t think. Last year, of course, he was an automatic in the 18, but I don’t think so this year. I think Brian Carroll is a likely bench option this week, because if they manage to steal a lead I can see Curtin wanting to bring on Carroll for Nog late to try and shut down Salt Lake. (I’m not saying Carroll can do the job; just what I think we’ll see.) I do think one of Fred or McLaughlin makes the bench, as well. Casey is automatic, and so is Pfeffer I think. McCarthy, obviously. You’ll get one of Fabinho or Marquez – I’d rather see Marquez, but I think Fabinho is more likely and they’ll use Edu or Williams to cover CB in an emergency.
      So my predicted bench: McCarthy, Casey, Pfeffer, Carroll, Fabinho, Fred, McLaughlin

      • That’s what Lahoud should be for don’t you think – defense sub for Noguiera?

      • Yes, it is. Absolutely. And yet, Brian Carroll still has a roster spot. My prediction is he’s on the bench Saturday. I’d prefer Lahoud.

      • It was what I expect. I think Lahoud makes it over Carroll anyway. Which is why Fabinho over Marquez. If a CB goes down, Edu back and Lahoud in. I think Fred makes it over McLaughlin too, but didn’t want to work everyone up that Fred will see significant bench minutes this season. I think he’s actually #2 at CAM in Curtin’s depth chart. That “Pfeffer is pushing Chaco” stuff was coach 101 motivational crap. And my inclusion of Cruz isn’t an endorsement in any way,shape or form. Sapong is out, so JC will want wing help when SLT isn’t effective.

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