Fans' View

Fans’ View: Keeping Curtin

Photo: Earl Gardner

I’m no Jimmy Chitwood. My opinion on Jim Curtin has little to no impact on whatever decision is made this offseason. I made the decision to re-doop, so even if he goes, I won’t go.

But from a fan’s point of view, I do believe that given where this team is right now, letting Curtin go would be a mistake.

It feels like this team has been in a constant state of upheaval. After the new team smell wore off and an unexpected year two playoff run caught our attention, change, instability, and the truly bizarre ensued. The Nowak years of skipped water breaks and questionable financial transactions. Freddy Adu. Porfirio Lopez. The unwinding of poor contract decisions. WSSM. Sack Sak. “That’s so Union.” Jay Sugarman’s helicopter.

Keeping Curtin gives stability

The addition of Tranquillo Barnetta, emergence of Richie Marquez, acquisition of C.J. Sapong, and settling of Maurice Edu into the CB role gives the team a solid core up the middle, alongside of Nogueira and Maidana (assuming all are kept). With the promise of additional Barnetta-like talents coming for next season, the Union could have a roster capable of competing in an Eastern Conference that really only has a few good teams. The firing of Nick Sakiewicz, the potential hiring of a Sporting Director, and a new USL affiliation also represent a lot of organization change in one offseason. Continuity in the manager spot offers the chance to connect a newly molded core of the team to some key additions without a full reboot in approach, training methods, or strategy.


I don’t profess to know Jim Curtin. I met him briefly at the team’s open practice at YSC sports back in the preseason, and found him to be confident and very engaging with fans, but that was the extent of my direct interaction. This also shows in press conferences, where he seems to speak simply and honestly, and connect well with both media and fans. His familiarity and experience with MLS seems to give him a good base to start from with players, and from where I sit, can’t find any evidence that he’s lost the locker room or is in any way not a players’ coach. While not a critical qualification, I also fall into the camp that does think being a Philadelphia area guy is a bonus.

Growing up together

Coaching carousels exist in all sports, and grabbing retreads from other teams is hardly inspiring to a fan base, in my opinion. Ben Olsen and Jay Heaps took over struggling Eastern Conference teams just a few years ago. Each suffered poor results in their first years, but given time, now lead two of the strongest sides in the East.

The Union’s shortcomings have much more to do with front office decisions, roster construction, and contract mistakes, which really hamstrung Curtin’s ability to succeed on the field. With money coming off the books, a nice infusion of talent in the last two years (I acknowledge that the overall talent level across MLS has increased too, so we may just be keeping up with the pack), and perhaps, resolution and structure in the front office leading to more effective personnel decisions, it should be easier to truly evaluate what Curtin brings to the table as a manager. There is enough there with Jim Curtin to keep the faith, and maybe we end up catching an up and coming young coach on the rise.

I’m cautiously optimistic that new direction in the front office also leads to a better plan for properly staffing this team for success. While Curtin will surely grow as a tactician with more experience, a commitment to surrounding him with greater breadth and depth of staff can supplement whatever he might lack in game day experience.

Lastly, a new Sporting Director hire may want to bring in their person to lead the team day-to-day. But in the absence of such a mandate, keeping Curtin to lead the team into the 2016 season is the right way to take this team forward, stabilize a situation that hasn’t been on firm ground much in the last 4 years, and provide a level of comfort to players, fans, and staff who just don’t want to start all over again.


  1. Totally agree. Curtin was not the problem and he provides stability. The correct purging has already occurred, now move forward and make smart decisions.

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    Good article Scott. Tough competition with the Walsh piece.
    I say give him a bit more time but my leash is short and I need to see a more cogent and beautiful style that is hunker and bunker then hit em and hope.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Ugh… that is NOT hunker and bunker then hit em and hope. Damn fingers.

    • Thanks El Pachyderm! That was a tough draw getting posted alongside of Dan’s article, though both topics are pretty interesting debates right now. I agree with you on wanting to consistently see a more attractive style of soccer. I’d like to think that with an upgraded roster, we’ll see a more proactive approach stylistically. My impression was that Curtin felt that we needed to grind out games and try to win 1-0 based on what he had available relative to the competition, as opposed to being his dream approach. Time will tell…

      • I just want to say thanks to PSP/Scott/Dan. Really, how great is this site? The opportunity to come here and debate all the things we have the last few days, underneath well written, informative, and informed perspectives, is just priceless.
        P.S. Grats to Adam on his marriage. Yes, I’m a bit late on this one.

      • murphthesurf says:

        + 1000 !

        I just completed moving to the west coast, but will be rooting for both the zolos and the xolos now!
        sob till I die ~
        Peace – Murph

  3. Totally agree with this… well done! 🙂

  4. Yes, yes and yes! I’m sure I sound like a skipping record to some, but I think the impact of a head coach is largely overstated in soccer. The quality of the players is the most important determining factor for win %. A coach has to just keep the the right pieces together, and point them in the right direction. Add to that some off-field ability to address the fans and the media, and you check all the necessary boxes.
    Firing a head coach sets a club back by at least a season. You don’t fire a coach unless you have someone else waiting in the wings who has a proven ability to get a teams to outperform their salary-based expectations. You are also permitted to fire a coach if they go on an ego maniacal, fruit-ninja sytle dismantling of your roster in the vein of one “Beeter Shmovak”

  5. I agree with you, Scott, and I’d even go a step further on your point about the locker room – I think this group very clearly plays for Curtin and listens to him. That’s huge, and not something that’s easy to learn for a coach. He clearly has room for improvement on the more tactical aspects of coaching, but he has shown growth in this area and should only continue to improve if he is given time and help.
    At the very least he should be starting next season as the manager. If the first 15 games go the same way as this past season, that’s not good enough and the Union should move on. But right now I think if he gets a little time and a little help, he will come good.

  6. No no no! Curtin is not growing. He is going backwards and will never be a top coach. You also mention Olsen and Heaps. Olsen had great success when he started and only had 1 bad season during 2013/2014. Heaps started great as soon as he took over. These 2 are much much better coaches than Curtin. Another great one (who is available) is Petke, who should be hired ASAP.

    • Guido – has anyone seen enough of him to say he’ll never be a top coach? Especially given front office disarray and salary mess that had to be cleaned up? Roster construction matters, and they now have a midfield at least, that can hang with most teams.

      As for Heaps, his first year record was 9-18-7. He then had them in the playoffs in year 2, yes. Both he and Olsen suffered through rough seasons early on, and if compared at equivalent points in their coaching tenures, it would be hard to label them as better than Curtin. It’s easy to say now that they lead two of the better Eastern Conference teams.

      Start the season with Curtin – if it’s a mess two months in, adjust. I don’t believe that it will be though.

  7. I thought that Jim Curtin’s resume was too light for him to be named head coach in 2014, and the Union’s 9-16-7 regular season record this year has done little to change my mind about his qualifications for the job.
    That being said, I feel strongly that the new sporting director must have full authority to decide who will be the head coach in 2016 and beyond, and I have to trust that person to make the right decision (be it JC or someone else). The sporting director and head coach must be on the same page if the Union are to have any hope for success in the coming years.

  8. As I’ve said all along, I have no idea what Curtain is as a coach, or what he will eventually become. I agree with Scott that the upheaval and instability in this club has done nothing but cause damage. Firing him at this time can do nothing but add to that. A new manager means a new play style, which probably leads to him needing”his type of players” which leads to more turnover and instability. Another year in the dumps is the least it would take to get a new manager’s team going, if at all. Curtain/Albright obviously have an eye for talent. I add Albright to the mix because I’m not sure how the inner workings play out. But they obviously have an eye for talent: Sapong, Marquez, Barnetta, Ayuk. To a lesser extent, even Nando and Vittoria. Curtain still has the locker room. And in two consecutive years made it to the Open Cup finals with a team less talented and deep than the rest of the league. No, he didn’t win either, but it’s still something to get there. He did all this with Sak in the way. We all agree how badly Sak botched a lot of things on the team side of operations. And Curtain has grown. To say he hasn’t is just ignorance, or an inability to see whats in front of you. He changed his substitution patterns. He grew into his press conferences. He’s grown, plain and simple.
    Getting rid of Curtain now is a mistake. A mistake this franchise can’t afford. Give him some time to make things better.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      John Hackworth gets some credit for Marquez because he placed him for a full season with Harrisburg where the young man grew a lot. Remember, Richie Marquez came out of a Division 3 NCAA program.

      • I defer to your greater knowledge and agree Hack deserves recognition. I only add, he needed someone to give him a chance and have faith in him, and that was Curtain.

    • Alex Anderson says:

      OK then, I think that makes 4 or 5 of you who stated that Curtin has NOT lost the locker room and that he has the players respect. I HOPE that you are correct but I fear that you are not.
      I’m for keeping Curtin too but my main concern is that he never did quite have the players attention and respect. Too many times this year I watched from 104 as the Union came out of the tunnel for the 2nd half of a crucial match and just DID NOT PLAY until they were losing at the 70th minute. This can happen to any couch but it happened consistently at home this year. Curtin was never able to correct this even though it happened all year. Isn’t the ability of the coach to inspire and correct a team a vital part of his resume? Is this just my lone observation or are others concerned about this crucial flaw in this Union side (and thus at least a concern about Curtin’s work to date?).

  9. I agree with your perspective wholeheartedly, Scott. And it’s not because I’m convinced that Curtin will become a great coach — maybe he will, maybe he won’t. I think he did definitely show some growth on the job over the course of this season. But, most importantly, this club just does. Not. Need. More Turmoil. Changing coaches yet again would be a needless risk for a team that will need to 1) improve its talent level somewhat; and 2) try not to underperform its talent level.

  10. Overall, I agree wholeheartedly with those who suggest keeping Jim Curtin in place.
    A new Sporting Director can live with taking a season to evaluate an incumbent.
    The franchise can stand to demonstrate a absence of capricious unreasoned instability.
    A coach can make mistakes and lose games; a coach can make mistakes and damage a player’s development; a coach and a technical director can evaluate talent and potential incorrectly, but “correctly” is limited by the salary cap, the availability of funds, the character of the candidate, the availability of alternative candidates, and the quality and quantity of the organization’s scouting resources.
    Before we change coaches, let a Sporting Director create a scouting network effective in North America, South America, Europe, and also Africa. There has been a snippet here and a snippet there suggesting that direct personal knowledge of the club has helped close deals, Alejandro Moreno played some role in Aristeguieta coming on loan, for example. BC, Casey, Le Toux would all be candidates for that sort of role, were they interested when the time comes. We have no idea how many people Chris Albright has available to him. Improve that, hire the young coach who had Reading United when Hackworth was the boss for Bethlehem Steel FC team, and give Jim Curtin a full season.
    After two and a half seasons strengths will remain clear and the trends in the weaknesses with be clearer.
    Would someone please detail for all of us the last times in professional soccer when changing only the coach radically improved a defense’s performance, please? That is the heart of the matter.

  11. A good coach gets the best out of players, which Curtin clearly has not done. I hope you had a look at the Peru-Chile game last night. Then you would have seen how the coach of Peru got the most of his (unknown) players. This has nothing to do with the FO.
    A good coach also shows excellent astuteness with respect to tactics and substitutions. Curtin has also been weak on this front. This may get better with time but you may as well get a coach who has clearly demonstrated this in the past.
    Then there is the motivator issue. I am not sure Curtin is a great motivator who gets the team to always play like it is their last game. If they would play like that then I would not have given up my seat for next season.

  12. This is a silly discussion. Why do you think we don’t have a sporting director yet? It’s likely because Sak – and now Sugarman – are too cheap to hire a good one and too cheap to allow that guy to hire his own coach. The condition of taking the Union sporting director job is probably that Curtin has to stay. So no one wants the job. Keeping Curtin is a nonstarter if you want a well-run organization. So we can stop arguing about whether he should be the coach going forward or not.

    In a similar vein, I suspect that one of the disagreements Sugarman had with Sak was Rais’s role on the team. Sak likely told Curtin that Rais had to start, so Curtin went to Sugarman and said he’d quit if he had to play Rais. And Sugarman too cheap to find a real coach so he ok’d getting rid of Rais, and as a result Sak’s authority compromised.

  13. Here, without venom or malice, Jim Curtin is not qualified to coach a youth team. He has never been a head coach. In his last FORTY matches, he has lost TWENTY. He has not demonstrated any acumen, tactical insight or a strategy. Once. Ever.
    If they lose Sunday, it will be less points than the disaster of 2012. It will be less points per game than the inaugural season. He has lost the plot.
    If the entire case to retain his services is “well it’s bad to start again so let’s keep heading the wrong direction”, well that’s some bad logic. If he hasn’t lost the locker room, explain the first half against RB. That team rolled over and died. None of the characteristics he’s espoused – “Philly tough”,”playoffs”, “I’m a former CB, we’ll be tough in the back. Building through defense”- have come to pass. If you like the local and nice guy narrative, send him to Bethlehem to ruin the Pfeffers, but for Gods sake leave him be from Nogs and Barnetta.

    Jim Curtin must go.

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