Press Conference

Transcript: Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference

Note: Questions have been paraphrased

Opening statement.

Just to briefly touch on Toronto, I thought we had moments in the second half where pushed the game well, especially when we went to three in the back. A couple guys had good performances. Richie Marquez really stepped into a tough spot as a center back, performed really well against two of the top forwards in our league. He was a real positive in that regard. I thought Ethan White had a solid game as well. So two good young centerbacks, hopefully to build on and get some momentum as we’ve struggled giving up goals. So, again, happy to have that performance from them.

I thought the goal Fernando scored was a good goal. Looking back, I think Collen Warner keeps him onside. When things are going bad, though, you don’t tend to get the benefit of the doubt on these tough calls. Disappointing.

We have a real tough task to go to Vancouver, a team that is a top team right now in the league. Defensively, they lead the league in shutouts. We’re a team that’s struggling a little offensively. They have five clean sheets and then attack-wise, with [Octavio] Rivero, with [Darren] Mattocks, with [Kekutah] Manneh, and [Pedro] Morales in the middle there, they’re a top attacking team as well. It’ll be tough to go there on the road, we’ll have to put together a game plan to defend well first, obviously, then look to hit them a little on the counter.

What’s up with the goalkeeping situation?

So first with Rais [Mbolhi], he’s a Philadelphia Union player still, that part never changed, there have been teams in Europe that have inquired about him in the future. Obviously the windows aren’t open right now, so we’ll always listen and explore but he is a Union player first and foremost.

Yesterday in training, we had both goalkeepers go down with injuries. Got word, got confirmation (audio cuts out, but Curtin says that Andre Blake tore the meniscus in his right knee; he was returning from surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee)… Feel bad for the kid, but he tore his right meniscus now, almost the exact same injury as the preseason, so he’ll be getting surgery, tentatively, probably as soon as possible. Coincidentally, I get an email from Jamaica asking to call him in and have him be part of the Gold Cup and Copa America. So I’m really devastated for the kid, he’s had a tough run, obviously, with the injuries. So I feel bad for him. And then John [McCarthy] had a strange play in the game where he actually threw the ball and kinda fell awkwardly on it, they had to stop the game for a little bit, there was a little contact to his head. Obviously, concussions are very sensitive right now, as they should be, and in training, right after Andre left training with the injury, John had a ball that was blocked and hit him in the side of the head and made him feel a little woozy, and he was just evaluated by the docs and he’ll be out with a concussion.

What was the timeline on Rais returning…

Rais came in yesterday evening and that was his first training session, and the injuries were after he showed up.

What was the discussion like with Rais? Was he called back? 

Yeah, we’ve been in contact with Rais, and we had him scheduled to come back and the thinking was: to train, to stay fit, to stay sharp. Obviously, a unique situation arises and we have to adjust and we have a decision to make for the weekend. There’s a couple options that we’re exploring right now. We haven’t made a final one. We’ll see whether it’s a pool goalkeeper or a goalkeeper on loan. We’re gonna need two, one way or the other, then we’re gonna have to make a decision from there.

Who is a candidate?

Any goalkeeper in the good ol’ US of A right now. No, there are guys who are familiar with the team. Brian Silvestre came to mind, that was the first one that popped into my head.

Again, these players are going to be on other teams right now so it’s going to be a unique situation where you’re going to have to loan for a guy, similar to how you saw with Montreal in the CONCACAF final. So it may be a short-term loan scenario.

With Andre’s injury being a long one, knowing you’re going to miss him already in the summer, a move might have to be made.

When Rais left the first time, whose idea was that?

That was my idea. I decided that it was best for him to be away from the team. He took a month away, and we decided it was time for him to come back.

Was there anything with the Player’s Union, or is there anything specific in the player’s contract that says when he isn’t playing he has to be training…

The rules would be, you can… he is still a Union player. If you mutually agree to have time away, that’s fine. You can’t physically prevent someone from training unless there’s a violation of team rules, and in this case there hasn’t been.

Are you seeing any change in him since he got back?

He’s been sharp in training, which is good, so again, I’m all for second chances, so we’ll see how it goes. We’ve had some unique situations. I had a good conversation with CJ Sapong, who had a similar thing where now he’s going to get an opportunity again after making a little bit of a mistake. It’s part of pro sports, it’s part of life.

How’s the team handling all the drama right now?

It’s a lot, the group’s been through a lot already this year in terms of crazy finishes, some things going against you, some injuries, some difficult things. It’s still a tough group, I think that we are still together and we’re going to fight to try and get a result in Vancouver, a tough place.

Nothing really galvanizes a team more than winning together. That’s the only solution at this point. You can talk about having team meetings, closed door staff meetings, talking about trading guys, bringing in new players, keeping the group together, whichever you decide. The only thing that solves it is the  90 minutes on the field and getting the result.

Talk becomes cheap at this stage, so we have to go into Vancouver and find some way to get a result.

Was it Monday night that Rais was back?

Yeah, Tuesday was the first day [back in training].

Is there any timeline for Andre?

I literally just got out of the room with the trainers and they said it’s the same injury, the meniscus, so I’d imagine the timeline will be a similar one. It’s a a really hard situation for a young kid. He still has a lot of years in front of him though, so he’s just gotta get through a tough situation and try to stay positive.

Is there a timeline on John?

He felt bad last night – woozy was how he described it – just didn’t feel like himself. So he came in today, was evaluated by the doctors and they agreed that it was, they diagnosed him with a concussion. The protocol now is until he has no symptoms and is fine, it’s still an additional six days after that at a minimum. So they’re very cautious now with head injuries throughout our league. As they should be.

Is this connected to hitting his head Saturday?

I’ll put it this way, I don’t think the incident in the game helped, but I think the final straw was, again, a strange play where a pass gets played back to his feet, he’s a little hesitant, looks up, gets closed down by [Dzenan] Catic, and he winds up having to slide and kick the ball, and it rockets off Catic and hits him in the temple. He wasn’t out cold or anything, but he was out on the ground for a little while.

Is the timing of this all pretty crazy?

I mean, you can’t make it up. Yeah, I’d say the timing is beyond crazy.

I’ve never seen two goalkeepers get hurt in one training session. I’ve never seen two goalkeepers get hurt in the same season, let alone, literally, 45 seconds apart. Yeah. I don’t know.

How do you try to minimize the effect on the players?

You try and keep things on the inside. You try to keep the group tight and going together and on the same page. The one thing is, while we haven’t played great soccer at all, and we’re aware of that, and we can all play better, we can all do a better job, we have fought and worked hard. With the exception of the Columbus game, I think every game we’ve been involved in, we’ve been ‘in’ the game. So from that standpoint, we haven’t laid down. But you’ve got to keep things inside. We’ve had some good, hard discussions, and try to improve and get better each week. It’s been a difficult, tough time.

You see different, little articles that have been written: It’s been tough for New York City FC, it’s been tough for all the teams that are toward the bottom of the table right now. Again, it’s the kind of challenge where you have to stick together and dig yourself out of a hole.

Can you elaborate on moving Ray to right back?

Yeah, going back to the offseason, I have a tough conversation with Shea[non Williams], a player that I like a lot, a player that I think highly of. Actually had a decent preseason, a decent start, he had some good, some decent moments in games where he was responsible for goals being scored, as were other defenders; we gave up too many goals. I think Ray’s always been the one who has been, for lack of a better word, sacrificed, and moved to the left to play on his weak foot. And at this stage, I made the decision now to move him to the right. And Shea has had some good games, some bad games, and now we’ll let Ray be the one that tries to make that position his moving forward, and can work on all the angles and different things to play passes out with his right foot. And Sheanon will compete with Fabi[nho] for the left back spot.

What’s happened to Sheanon? As recently as last year he was considered one of the best young defenders in the league and now he’s competing for a spot…

I think all players go through highs and lows in their career. I think the good thing for him is that his career’s still young, it’s early on. In the offseason, we had a tough discussion where I said, ‘I think you have the talent to be a national team right back,’ and it’s up to him now to grab ahold of that and keep going. He does have the qualities. He’s a player that a lot of coaches in our league rate highly. He’s got a good right foot, he’s got an ability to, when he wants to, get up and down the line, but talking about it and doing it are two different things. And we just want to get him back and playing a little more consistently.

What’s your confidence level in Rais now?

It’s only been two training sessions, so I can’t say I’ve seen anything different. Again, we have two injured goalkeepers and he’s our third one that’s under contract. We still will explore what’s the best option to get us a chance to get a result in Vancouver. Again, it’s an environment in Vancouver where you’re going to have to make some saves to keep us in the game for sure, no matter who is in goal. Hopefully he’ll be up to the task if we do decide to go with him.

When did the agreement come that he would be coming back?

I believe it was Sunday evening late?

Is he definitely going to start, or not going to start, or you don’t know yet?

It’s to be determined, we’ll see. The one thing that’s 100% is that Andre is out for sure, John is ruled out, and then we have a decision and Rais is obviously up for selection. He’s the last man standing. We’ll still explore a pool goalkeeper and see what that looks like. We have some calls in already to see who’s available and what we can and can’t do. Because we’re going to need to add a second goalkeeper regardless just because you can’t go there with just one.

Who else was in training today?

That was Andrew Vardy, he’s an academy goalkeeper.

Anything else on the injury front?

Fernando [Aristeguieta] had the pin removed from his hand, his quad, he says, is 100%. So he’ll be fine, he says he’s ready to go. [Vincent] Nogueira trained full today for the first time. Trained a little bit yesterday. Looks good. Probably not 90 minute ready yet, might be used as a reserve, we’ll see as the game gets closer. [Steven] Vitoria is unlikely for the weekend. Trying to think who else…


[Michael] Lahoud will be out for like, he’s got a hip flexor injury, he’ll be 4-6 weeks or so, is the early diagnosis.

Is this rough for Lahoud given how well he was playing?

Difficult for Mike, because, again, he was in some of the best form I’ve seen him in in his career. And now he has a setback, unfortunately, I think it was the third minute, it happened, he left the game in the 5th. Just a freak one. He’s a guy that’s very fit, takes care of his body very well, again, in good form, confident, and we lose him. It’s on the list of tough breaks, and, as you said, crazy things have gone on?

What can you say about Vancouver? What’s the challenge going in?

Everybody talks about how they are a young, dynamic, attacking team. But if you look right now, their back line is playing as good as any right now. I think Matthias Laba does a very good job, is underappreciated in our league, breaks up a ton of plays, is a big reason they lead the league in clean sheets. Some games they’ll go with [Gershon] Kofi next to him, that’s when they’re a little more defensive. I’d expect, at home, maybe it’s [Russell] Teibert, who is another great young player that doesn’t get maybe the appreciation.

And then Rivero up top is obviously scoring goals for them. They can go with [Kekuta] Manneh, they can throw Mattocks at you so they have some speed as well, they have a stable of really good, young, attacking players. I think the underappreciated side is they’ve done a great job defensively.

Talk a little more about Richie Marquez possibly playing against Vancouver. 

You look at Toronto, and Toronto didn’t high press us like Vancouver will. But you’re not going to play two better players than Jozy [Altidore] and Giovinco. So, again, that’s a baptism by fire that Richie got. He was up for it. He’s a player that rises to the occasion.

Is it a whole other animal on the road? It certainly is. For a young player, it’s a big jump to go on the road and know what that entails at the center back spot. It’s crazy. There’s going to be moments in the game where he’s going, his heads spinning, and he feels like it might be too much.

But those are the moments when you’re going to have to grab ahold of things and trust in your abilities, and make a couple good plays and realize something will click. And I think it did, maybe, that you belong in this league.

Physically, he can compete with anyone. You look at the testing and he’s off the charts. Vertical leap, speed over ten meters, speed over forty meters, he is MLS, above and beyond.

The thing you can’t really prepare him for is the speed of play. When the game starts now and you’re looking over your shoulder and your head’s on a swivel, that’s new to him. So it’s going to be tough for him if we do decide to go with him, but he’s had some good days of training. And like I said before, the only way you improve, the only way you learn as a player is to go through the ninety minutes together, stick together, and Richie was, like I said, a bright spot on Saturday.

Is it too early to say Richie will start?

Yeah, it’s not 100% yet. But process of elimination: There’s only so many bodies that can play center back for us. We’ve talked about three in the back, and different ways we can do it but I don’t think we have the personnel healthy right now to make a drastic switch like that and roll the dice with something.

Any update on CJ Sapong?

I had a good talk with CJ that was a personal one that’ll stay between us. But the league has decided for CJ to go out to California to Malibu right now, and he’ll be evaluated for a weeklong eval, and they’ll make a decision on how to move forward.

Again, I would say he’s still a player I believe strongly in. He’s a good kid, he’s an intelligent young man. He made a mistake. And he’s dealing with the consequences right now. But, again, a guy I still believe strongly in and the Philadelphia Union believes strongly in.


  1. hobosocks says:

    I posted this on the MLS site today. It sums up how I feel about all this pretty well. I bet you can relate.
    “If anyone reading isn’t a Union fan, here’s what it feels like: Imagine your head exploding over and over again, but each time the explosion is bigger than the last, and you’re inexplicably not dead so it can happen again and again forever.”

  2. AGGNOWHATEXPLETIVES- maybe March 2016 would be a good time to watch the U.

  3. “It’ll be tough to go there on the road, we’ll have to put together a game plan to defend well first, obviously, then look to hit them a little on the counter.”

    When you enact a strategy as such, you’ve lost before you’ve even begun. Time and time again, this is the Union’s mentality. It’s the old “They’re better than us so we’ll pack it in.” Sometimes you need to do that, but you don’t need to announce it publicly on Thursday before the game. Not exactly motivating.

    Jim’s act is starting to wear pretty thin…

    • But aren’t they better than us? Aren’t the Union the worst team in the League? When you have so many key starters out due to injury, Dui’s, etc., what choice does one have. There isn’t a miracle savior out hiding in the wilderness. At least not for this lost season. It’s May 6th and the season has been lost for a week, maybe more.

      • You don’t need to announce it in the press conference. Quite frankly, they do it way too much. There’s talent on this team…Edu, Nogs, Madaina, Pfeffer, Nando…they shouldn’t always be playing the counter-attacking role.

      • The Little Fish says:

        @VDS I Totally agree

  4. The Chopper says:

    I am not a medical professional and maybe it is all a coincidence, but man it seems hard not to question the quality of the Union’s medical staff and conditioning program.

    The amount of injuries and seemingly long ineffective rehabilitation programs for numerous players seems to be more prevalent than with most other clubs.

    Is it just the Union bad karma or something more?

    • Agreed. Countless times a guy will be training with the team all week but simply cant play in the game. Why is that? Medical staff, lack of heart, etc?

  5. Ok, so now the koolaid I’m contemplating is the kind laced with something. I really don’t think I can take much more.

  6. What could possibly be better than calling back your ostracized keeper….l oh I know, the growing potential that the No. #1 draft pick goalie you traded up to get may never be healthy enough to play meaningfully.
    In a parallel universe, where Marvin the Martin reigns supreme, the Union is a perennial contender.
    Oh and another thing….. poor Jerome Boateng.

  7. Two fairly serious knee injuries on the new practice fields since they opened. Coincidence, I’m sure.

  8. Old Soccer Coach says:

    It seems revealing that Curtin’s first instincts, as he is still digesting Blake’s injuries in his mind while he’s talking to reporters, is to think of a former trialist who was with the team in January, Brian Sylvestre. He is the Carolina Railhawks backup and if I read the statistics on their website correctly has not played at all for them.

  9. james lockerbie says:


  10. Hi, I’m Jim Curtin and this job sucks.

    • Hahaha, that’s one of the few laughable moments this year. That said, he’s brought some of this on himself via poor substitutions and some questionable gameplans.

    • Jim Presti says:

      +1 I ruined my work computer and suit spitting out coffee. Thanks. Can’t wait to tell my boss to put it on my tab…

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