Preseason / Transcript

Highlights from Jim Curtin’s appearance on the KYW Philly Soccer Show

Photo: Earl Gardner

In the latest edition of the KYW Philly Soccer Show, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin spoke with KYW’s Greg Orlandini, PSP’s Eli Pearlman Storch, and CBS Philly’s Kevin Kinkead on a wide range of topics, including Maurice Edu moving back into the midfield, recent signings, and the Union’s SuperDraft picks.

It’s an illuminating discussion and a must listen for Union fans as the preseason gets underway. Below are some highlights from Curtin’s remarks.

Edu and shape

Curtin said the team will have “a little different shape” in 2016 as Maurice Edu moves back into the midfield.

“You are going to see us split our center backs wide,” Curtin explained. “In some instances you will see Mo in the holding midfield role and then dropping in between those center backs to build out of the back, because he is talented enough. Clarifying his role as a guy who does sit in front of the back four — we don’t need him running all over the field to break up plays. He’s a guy that, again, his career speaks for itself, his ability as a defense-minded player is exceptional.

“He’s a guy that — listen, Jurgen [Klinsmann] wanted to call into this January camp but injury prevented that. So, again, a guy that has been a soldier for the club; he’s played center back, whether it be to injury or what I thought the team needed. But, at this stage I think it is fair to say we’re going to unleash him in the 6 role, that holding role.”

More on playing out of the back

Curtin described how he wants the outside backs to better pick moments to be more aggressive helping to build the Union’s attack from out of the back.  “We are going to ask, and I’ve had discussions with Ray about it already, and Fabi as well, about being a little more aggressive getting forward — at the right moment.”

Curtin also, “I think part of the reason we gave up some goals last year is because we were called upon to defend for too long of stretches in the games, where we were pinned in. [If] our defenders, whether it’s center back or outside back, get called upon to make 15 to 20 plays a game, put out 15 to 20 fires, it becomes very challenging. If that number’s down to 6 or 7, you’ll see a lot more zeroes. And that’s team defending, that’s not just on our outside backs or center backs. One of the ways you can defend is to have the ball, to be a little bit better and make other teams worry about you.

“I’m not saying we’re going to all of the sudden flip a switch and we’re going to be a team that’s in the 70 percent possession rate. But, at the same time, you guys could name the games in which all of the sudden maybe we score early and, instead of getting a second goal and keeping possession. We’re kind of — we sat back too much. So, that’s something we’ll rectify, we’ll do it in a smart way, and it’s my job to prepare them and get them ready in the preseason.”

Curtin acknowledged being more aggressive will not happen overnight. “I can’t snap my finger and all of the sudden we’re going to become a team that possesses the ball 75 percent of the time and passes out of the back with no mistakes. The important thing is that we have guys that, if the ball does turn over, their reactions are quick, they’re alert, and they win the ball back or they take a foul to stop the play. We were the team that committed the least amount of fouls last year. That is not an award — the Fair Play Award is not something I ever want to win ever, let alone again.”

The attack

Curtin said of December signing Chris Pontius: “A guy who we identified as someone who fits the way we want to play where our wide guys will come inside and get on the ball and make it a little uncomfortable for the outside backs and center backs to get caught having to do two things: Do they step, do they hold? That’ll be something that I think Chris…is his strong suit, getting the ball and running at defenders and coming inside a little bit and combining, as well.”

Curtin said of recent signing Walter Restrepo: “A wide player that, again, brings an element of speed that maybe we’ve lacked a little bit in the past year or so. We identified him as a guy who can run at defenders, go 1v1, is also comfortable coming inside and combining, and just making it tough on the outside backs where I think maybe we became a little too predictable at times with our wide guys just staying wide.

“So, we have to mix it up, and I think we’re going to do a good job of that. Like I said, striving for competition, two players in each spot. We’re nearly there; I’d say Herbers will come in and compete with CJ but the one other position we are looking at is still the striker spots.”

Curtin talked further about the forward corps, and whether the team is looking for help domestically or from abroad.

“We won’t close any doors,” Curtin said. “The reality of pulling off a trade sometimes in-league is a little more complicated. The window’s open right now so we are actively looking, of course, but there are things in-league that are a possibility, as well. Sorry not to give you too many specifics on that one but that is a position right now that we’ve identified as bringing in someone to compete with Sapong and Herbers.”

Curtin said of efforts to bring Fernando Aristeguieta back, “I would just say some situations are easier to deal with, and some places are easier to deal with, than others. I can kind of leave it at that and you can kind of infer from other players maybe at certain clubs that are having difficult times.”

He continued, “It’s a tough one. You guys know how high I was on Fernando. We’ve exchanged emails now, the door’s not completely closed. We both are realistic and professional about it, it’s a tough situation. But, at the same time, just talking specifically of last year, I know Fernando had an up and down year, I still see him as a guy who could score double-digit goals in our league, he just had injuries. It was challenging for a variety of different reasons — called into Venezuela at an inopportune time, some breaks that went against him, a couple of goals called back for offside. So, it was a difficult year for him. Again, a guy you guys have heard me talk highly of, but sometimes things don’t go as smoothly in the end as you would have hoped in terms of keeping players around.”

Defense

Turning to the defense, Curtin said of recent signing Anderson Conceicao: “A left-footed center back. Again, important to mention left footed; obviously, easier to pass out of the back on that side. Also, a guy we identified and kind of had the traits that we want moving forward.”

Curtin continued, “With Conceicao, we did a lot of research on him. We had him come over here. We put him through a training session in the offseason that involved some of our Academy guys at the time, a couple of guys who were still around that hadn’t departed yet for the offseason. So, we got to see him live and up close with our group, made an assessment. We sat with him, we talked to him, we explained some of the things that you just described: This is going to be a club that is going to be hard work first — he’s going to have to put the work in — there’s no off days or taking it easy, and he said all the right things.

“And I think he’s going to show us all the right things, he’s got a bit of a chip on his shoulder, he wants to be in a spot for a long time and put an end to the movement. You look at the clubs he has played at and he’s played in some big games — you can go back and watch him play against the Barcelonas of the world in the pretty recent past. Again, a guy who we are high on, has a lot of good physical tools, good in the air, very good left foot passing and getting us started out of the back.”

Quick hits on the draft picks

Curtin confirmed Keegan Rosenberry wrote to the league to bolster the Union’s Homegrown claim on him.

Curtin called Fabian Herbers “the best attacking player in the draft.”

Curtin said second-round pick Taylor Washington participated in the Union’s combine, which took place in December at YSC Sports, as did third and fourth round picks Mitchell Lurie and Cole Missimo.

Curtin said, based on the metrics from his participation in the Union’s combine, Missimo would’ve been the fastest player at the MLS combine had he taken part in that.

Curtin emphasized part of the team’s draft strategy was to ensure there are at least two players competing for each position, hence taking Rosenberry to compete with Ray Gaddis, and Washington to compete with Fabinho.

The decision to go with Rosenberry rather than pick left back Brandon Vincent at No. 3 was greatly influenced by the team’s familiarity with Rosenberry, given that he has trained with the club for some time. That said, Curtin said he understands pundits and fans alike will be making comparisons between Rosenberry and Vincent as the season is underway.

Curtin re-affirmed the team sees Joshua Yaro as a center back. Yaro impressed in interviews at the MLS combine with his own certainty that he is a center back, rather than a player ripe for conversion to right back.

Just as the familiarity between Georgetown teammates Yaro and Rosenberry is a plus, Curtin said it is no coincidence that the team just signed Brazilian left-footed center back Anderson Conceicao to partner on the left with fellow countryman Fabinho.

13 Comments

  1. This all bodes very well and the praxis will dictate opinion but…
    .
    … same old Union?
    .
    I think not.

  2. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Sounds like one defensive center midfielder, perhaps.?
    .
    4-1-3-1-1? Puts extreme pressure on the players in the flank channels defensively, but Nogueira will flow to where he’s needed, probably. Somewhat vulnerable to the outside channel to outside channel switch, aka the big switch. Barnetta being more disciplined about staying central means he could drop in to cover Edu if the switch pulls him away From the center backs. Hope Restrepo and Pontius are in top shape; They’re going to have to be.

    • This is the formation I tend to like best as mentioned in a different post.
      .
      I think the responsibility of the 6 is immense in this position and puts Edu in a position to have an MVP caliber season…

    • The additions of Pontius and Restrepo makes me think they want to keep width higher up the field then something like a 4-1-3-1-1 would allow.
      .
      My guess is either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 or some hybrid of the two.
      .
      A 4-1-4-1 is not out of the question either, both Pep and Joachim Löw were experimenting with it a few years ago. But I think the Union have to prove to themselves they can dominate possession before using something like it because it pushes so many players forward, leaving the team one bad pass or touch away from a counter.

    • I think the players will really set the formation no matter how they originally line up. Still hard to say what this will be. What we do seem to know at this point is a 4 man back line. Edu and Nogueria both play deeper as D-Mids. From there on who knows. Barnetta will play ACM in the middle or stay wide depending on what he’s told so he’s flexible. So it really depends on who else is in the lineup in the top 3 spots. I could see it being a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 (more like a 4-2-1-3), 4-2-2-2, etc. The only thing I’m sure of is it will play as a 4-2-?.

    • I’m thinking it might be more like a 4-1-1-3-1. Basically, it depends on how high up the wingers generally play.

  3. Given Jim Curtin’s comments as summarized above, do you think he and the other Union decision makers are envisioning a backline of Fabinho, Conceicao, Yaro, and Rosenberry in the near future?
    .
    By picking Rosenberry over Vincent, it certainly looks like Curtin, Albright, and Stewart were more interested in finding a challenger for Gaddis’s spot than for Fabinho’s. And Curtin’s statements about how certain players match up well with others suggest that the notion of pairing Conceicao with Fabinho and Yaro with Rosenberry is looked upon favorably by the Union leadership team.

  4. I know it’s still just January, the draft just happened, and there are a lot of roster spots left to fill. I was worried about Anderson C. and his pedigree, but Dan Walsh’s article elucidated some things about his club that I didn’t know about. Obviously Ernie and Jim think this guy could be a diamond in the rough. And Yaro could be ready pretty quickly, it seems. So I’m Ok with that.

    And obviously we need some more forwards, but it’s clear that they are working on that and just don’t want to tip their hands overmuch. So I’m pretty sure that’ll be addressed, in some manner.

    But I still have 2 significant concerns about our depth right now. They are: 1) Left back. Fabinho is starting — fine. But having a 2nd round draft pick rookie as his only backup seems seriously dicey to me. Fabi is going to be out at some point, via injury or card. We have to have somebody else who can work out there. I suppose we could put Gaddis there in a pinch, but that’s playing him on his weak foot, and putting another rookie at RB, which is a lot of pressure on both of them. I really feel like they need to pick up another outside back somewhere. 2) Center attacking mid. With Pfeffer gone, I don’t see anybody on this team who can back up Barnetta. Is Leo Fernandes supposed to fill that role? That’s a big ask.

    • As far as I can tell we have 8 spots open. I think we need a backup CB, a backup outside back (LB preferred), backup DM (fine with Creavalle), 3rd string ACM, starting or backup forward (at least equal to sapong), starting or backup winger. That’s 6 and does not include the 3 draft picks not yet signed. could need other positions depending on if someone like ayuk is spending the year on Steel.

  5. Lucky Striker says:

    Pontius, if healthy, can play all across the base. Leo will be just fine as long as he’s allowed to stay central. If he can’t caddy ‘Quillo, he’s as out of place as Pfeffer was.

  6. Curtin also, “I think part of the reason we gave up some goals last year is because we were called upon to defend for too long of stretches in the games, where we were pinned in”

    Wasn’t that his “counterattacking strategy”? Guy has no clue.

  7. I don’t really care about all of this since they have been saying one thing and the reality has been so different. I just was to see good soccer and reasonable results in this upcoming season!!!!!

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