Press Conference

Transcript: Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference

Note: Questions have been paraphrased.

Opening statement

Just to briefly touch on the preseason, I thought the group put a lot of work in from a physical standpoint, I think we’re at a higher level of fitness. That was the goal going in. We’re happy with where we’re at. We know there’s still another level to go to in terms of fitness over the course of 90 minutes, and how we want to press, how we want to play but happy with the guys, their commitment to keep better possession, something we set forth in the preseason. The results help, too, in providing that belief in the group and there’s a good spirit amongst the guys right now. Happy with where we’re at, had some good results. Most importantly, kept clean sheets in the preseason.

Again, excited to get going. There’s 20 MLS teams right now that think they have something special; that’s the beauty of the start of the season, it’s an exciting time. I believe, and I know the guys in our locker room believe, that this year is going to be different. There’s a lot of exciting things happening at the club, a bit of Union 2.0, so to speak, with the new training facility, the new practice building, and there are a lot of new faces in the locker room. So, anxious to get going. We know we have a tough opponent in FC Dallas, a very well-coached team under Oscar Pareja, a team that has a lot of dynamic, fast players that we’ll have to put a plan in to play against, and we look forward to the challenge.

On Maurice Edu’s injury status

So, he had healed completely from the groin surgery and was in LA — some great doctors out there took care of him in terms of the surgery for his groin. Aggressively approached his rehab — maybe, in hindsight, too aggressively — and there was what’s called a stress reaction. I think people freak out when they hear that; it’s not a broken bone or anything like that, it’s just a warning sign that there’s potential danger [for more on stress reactions, click here]. So, at the moment he has been in and out of a walking boot to try to keep him as immobile as he wants to be — as he can be — he wants to be on the field and is anxious to get going. I think everybody’s frustrated with the situation but, at the same time, we have guys that have stepped in and done a good job. Mo is a leader of our group and a guy who’s been a captain, so we do miss him; that’s obvious, his skills speak for themselves. But the game kind of doesn’t wait for anybody; you know, we can’t hold off the opener to get him ready. So, it’s not looking likely that he’ll be participating in that but other people will be called, it’s the next man up mentality, and we’ll have to have someone step in and perform.

On Tranquillo Barnetta’s injury status

Tranquillo had an injection in his knee just to try to loosen some things up there in the knee. It’s not a new injury or anything like that, it’s a situation where he had some tendonitis, some soreness in there from old, past surgeries. So, we’ll monitor that and be smart. I had a good discussion with him; maybe as recently as last season we’d be almost forcing him back, maybe too prematurely, but we do feel we have more depth this year, and it’s a credit to the rest of the guys in the team we don’t feel the need to rush guys forward. Obviously, he’s a very important player, a top player in our group but, at the same time, we want to be smart in how we handle injuries.

How do you fill the void of two players who have worn the captain’s armband not being involved in practices?  

It’s hard, they’re two leaders in our group. To their credit, they’ve both in their own way done what you can do when you’re not on the field each and everyday with the guys — putting an arm around a young player, doing a little mentoring and helping players as they prepare for some a new league, some the first time they’re playing as professionals. They’re doing their part in that way. They both want to be on the field. We want them on the field; that’s when we’re at our best and we know that as a club and as a team. But the reality is that we have to prepare for a very good FC Dallas team, a top team in our league and MLS Cup contender, and we could possibly be doing it without two of our top guys.

What’s the game plan for guys like Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz?

Hope they don’t get on the ball, hope they don’t play in the game I guess would be the first part [chuckles]. Those guys are incredibly talented. Castillo one-v-one is a top player in our league, has the ability with speed to go by anyone and get to the end line. We’ve worked very hard on how we recover to the front of goal, particularly our center backs because at the end of the day during the course of 90 minutes he’s going to get to the end line a couple of times. That’s something we’ll do our best to prevent but in the case that he does we want to make sure our guys are prepared as best as possible. Mauro Diaz is a very talented player who can play the final pass, can get a goal from midfield; have to be very careful not to foul in and around our box because he has some of the top service in our league. You know, again, guys that are top players in our league, we’ll have to prepare for them. The message is that it is a team effort, it’s not a one-v-one matchup, it’s not an outside backs versus Fabian Castillo, it’s our whole team being bought-in to the style and the way we want to play, and all pressing together so our forwards and midfielders and defenders being on the same page, being nice and compact and not giving those talented players time and space.

On confidence going into Sunday

The preseason has been different, a lot of new faces, a lot of new methodology in terms of our performance department coming in and doing a really good job getting guys in better shape this time around. I would say, yeah, there’s lots of changes at the club but I think this change is exciting. I believe that we’re better and we’re further ahead than we were last year. I think we have more depth at each position. You know, Earnie’s talked about all along getting two guys at each spot; I think we’ve done that. We have young players on the field in this preseason, inexperienced players on the field this preseason, but I would also add they’ve held up against some of the top attackers in our league. As recently as our last game against Toronto — yes, Keegan Rosenberry’s out there, yes, Ken Tribbett’s out there, and they’re playing against Giovinco, they’re doing well, they’re holding up. Again, I’m not naive and gonna say it’s going to be an easy transition for them to just jump right in in Week One in Dallas and perform, but they’ve shown that they belong, they did it over the entire course of the preseason. Yes, missing a couple of key guys could hurt us but, at the same time, I believe in the group. We’re not scared. That’s the good thing sometimes with youth, they don’t know any better so there’s no fear factor. That’s a good thing so we use that to our advantage. Hopefully we can use the fact that Dallas is the team at home — and the favorite, to be honest —  in the game so you can find ways to use that to your advantage.

On Toyota Stadium being a tough place to play

The funniest was actually, we were at a pro license coaching course for US Soccer this past offseason and the one thing that everyone brought up to Oscar during one of our meals was there’s a guy that sits behind the bench and he blows one of those vuvuzelas, and his timing is impeccable: The second you stand up for a second to try to relay any message to any player the thing is in your ear and it’s deafening. And it’s to the point where you almost have to just turn and smile to the guy because you literally cannot communicate on the field solely because of him as an individual. So, it’s a hostile environment, they have a good fan base, they have a good team. And like most teams in MLS are better at home than on the road so we know we have a tough task. We respect our opponent but, at the same time, we don’t fear them. We have to go in there with the mindset of executing. The big thing we stressed all preseason — and, again, we’re not stealing a Bill Belichick line — but just do your job, and stick to that. From there, if everybody collectively does their job, the team can beat teams that have superstars.

On Dallas being dynamic and being a measuring stick for how far the Union defense has come

Yeah, I think that’s fair. They’re a a team that’s dynamic, they have interchange, they’re one of the best attacking teams in our league. It’s no secret we need to improve our defense. I think we did that in the offseason to the back four, but also it needs to be said that defending starts with the forward line, and we have a real commitment now from all of our guys on the field to defend from our forwards to our midfield to our backs. So, strengthening that, getting that foundation there, the starting points are good right now. It will be a measuring stick against an FC Dallas, for sure.

Oscar has his group, too. They do attack and they do have young players on the field, but Oscar, for those who don’t know, was one of the top defensive midfielders in our league and he’s a defensive-minded guy, as well. So, it will be a tough task: They defend well, they attack well, and I’m looking forward to a good match.

How far along are you in terms of knowing what your starting XI is? Are spots still up for grabs?

There’s always discussions. Every morning we talk about the starting XI, the 18, all the different variables that go into it, so we’re pretty clear on…Maybe there’s two spots left where there’s still discussions about but, again, happy with the group and it’s important for the guys that are going into the game against Dallas on Sunday, our first MLS game, that they have a clear frame of mind of who’s going to be on the field, who’s going to be traveling with the group. So, we’ll make those choices; I’m not going to reveal them right now.

On the team’s contingent of Brazilians and Portuguese speakers and how Anderson and Ilsinho are acclimating.

It’s helpful. I think it needs to be said to that, no matter what language you speak, obviously, soccer is pretty universal. But the fact that our Brazilian players are such good guys, and open, and good teammates makes the transition even easier. there is a bond between all of them, they’re always together, they’re always joking, they’re always laughing. But they’re also integrated into the entire group. Yes, Anderson and Ilsinho don’t speak English well; they understand a few things but between my broken Spanish we can still communicate. That part is strong, the messages are getting through clear to them. I never thought Fabinho would be a translator for me — and, actually, to be honest, the University of Pennsylvania deserves a ton of credit in our Spanish to English classes, it’s been unbelievable the strides some of these guys have made in terms of communication because, listen, on the field it matters, and it pays dividends. They’ve done a great job, they have a heck of a program that they’re running with our guys, very valuable. Vincent is another one who picked up a ton and now is vocal and is a leader on the field. Fabinho is talking to the back line, telling them when to step and drop, and we’re kind of laughing on the sidelines because as recently as two years ago he thought the words position and possession meant the same thing for a season. So, he’s made some strides and it’s good to see, it’s a good group of guys, they have each other’s backs, they fight for each other, and they do it with a smile on their face, which makes coming to work every day good, they’re good guys to work with.

On Fabinho improving as a defender

He is better. One-v-one defending he’s improved greatly. I think, more importantly, his positioning and where he fits in can be over-aggressive, and he would be the first to tell you when he was playing outside back in Brazil it was more of a…you just had the freedom to attack and get as many crosses in as you can. He’s adjusted to the league; I think he’s become a very good defender in our league, great for us, and a guy who I think is very valuable. Again, it goes back to when you sit with your peers in the league and they talk about left backs, his name always comes up and they really rate him, just like we do. So, good player, expecting big things from this year. Can he shore up things defensively? Of course. Every defender, every goal you concede there’s always something in your head that you think maybe you could have done better. But, from a willingness to want to learn,want to be here, want to represent Philadelphia and wear the badge, he checks every box for me.

On players like Herculez Gomez becoming available following the roster compliance deadline

I think first it needs to be said that, geez, names that come across now when there’s players released, it shows the quality of the league is improving because guys that have had great careers are being let go from good teams. And the reality is right now I think in a salary-cap league, every roster spot matters so much. I think that’s something we learned a ton last year, every single spot is important, everybody will be called upon at some point during the year so you have to find the guys that fit — the bang for your buck, so to speak — together. Some big names have come across. We always have internal discussions about everyone: Is it a fit, does it make sense? Age, position. What does the team need, where are we at? Do we want to bring a guy in that’s just there to be a third at a spot where he makes X amount of dollars? You have to weigh in a ton of variables. But, yeah, interesting names have come across. We are happy currently with where we’re at but always looking to improve our roster.

On being focused on the season opener versus looking ahead to the next few games

We look at it as knowing that we have our first two are on the road. So, we’ve approached the preseason with a road mentality, a road mindset. To pick up points for FC Dallas where you confront them might be a little different than, those are little variables but we’ve known all along now that we’ll be on the road for our first two. We’re on the road a lot in March and April, it’s going to be challenging, for sure. Again, the initial reaction every time that schedule comes out from everybody is “Ah, man, this is brutal.” At the end of the day you know before the schedule’s even handed out exactly who you’re going on the road, and who you have at home, from the Western Conference, and you know you’re going to play three games against most of the Eastern Conference teams, so they’re all tough games. If we have Colorado on the road for Week One, it’s still hard, there’s no easy. LA Galaxy, Seattle, who ever you have it’s going to be difficult, there’s no easy games in our league. But, yeah, I did have the first initial reaction to see, too. You see FC Dallas and then MLS Cup finalists Columbus on the road back-to-back. It all evens out over the course of the year — 17 at home, 17 away.

Important to get a better start than last year, though, that needs to be said.

Thoughts on MLS coaches being mic’d up for nationally broadcast games this season

We sat in the draft meetings this year, there’s always different agendas and initiatives they want to push. and, listen, anything they want to push that grows the game I’m on board for. Is it a little wild when you first hear you’re going to have a microphone on you inside the locker room before the game? Yeah, that does sound crazy. There’s going to be microphones at the fourth official table. So, it’s different but I think as coaches you need to be innovative and open to change. You look across the leagues now, the NBA, the NFL, you see Peyton Manning doing an interview before the Super Bowl kickoff, ten seconds before they kick off, so it’s something that’s coming. If they can do it in those leagues that are billion dollar TV contracts I think we need to at least open our minds and be acceptant of maybe new ideas in what are maybe previously deemed sacred places. There is still special parts of the locker room that you do kind of question outside access to but, again, at the same time, there has to be a bit of a give/take.

I will say this: Any coach that’s going to be mic’d up, there’s no way to say exactly what you would if you weren’t mic’d up. That’s a fact. Even when you watch these NBA huddles and the different things that are said, you can almost tell right away that the coach is speaking like he has a microphone on and watching what he says, is probably the best way I would put it because — I’ll just say it gets emotional in there sometimes.

It’s a good thing. I think it’s good for the game, it’s an innovative thing and, again, we’re trying to market our league as one of the top leagues that moves it in that direction.

On conversations between coaches and the fourth official being picked up by the microphone

I think any access to the fan that is new to the game, anything that’s said to a fourth official, that’s said to a player that’s going into a game, that’s said in a locker room environment, first and foremost it’s cool for them to see it because it’s something that they maybe have never had before. And then the nuance and the messaging that they hear, and things that maybe make sense in the directions that they hear, can help them learn, which is positive. Again, we’re at a time where we’re trying to grow our game.

It does need to be said, too, though that the fourth official table, man, people are really going to be watching what they say, too, because I’m sure they’re going to be able to review things and there’s a lot of maybe bad language that gets used I don’t think would be appropriate for live TV. So, somebody’s going to have to the hot button ready in that regard.

16 Comments

  1. Jim…we’ll forgive you for a few F’bombs. No worries.

  2. ” Fabinho is talking to the back line, telling them when to step and drop, and we’re kind of laughing on the sidelines because as recently as two years ago he thought the words position and possession meant the same thing for a season.”

    Was that part of the reason for the rocket assembly?

    • I had the same thought. Can you imagine the confusion? MVP = U of P?

    • Once I read that line, everything about Fabinho suddenly made sense. Nothing else ever summed up the past 2 years as a Union fan as well as that did.

    • Should we be worried the coach is speaking Spanish to the Portuguese?

      • HopkinsMD says:

        Good point!

      • Yes. I thought everyone understood English if you say the words loudly and slowly enough.
        .
        Seriously, though, the Brazilian imports also probably know some Spanish, so it’s the common language.

      • There’s probably more similarities between Spanish-Portuguese than English-Portuguese. It’s not ideal, obviously. But sometimes, any port in a storm…

      • I was being slightly sarcastic. They are both “Romance” languages so they draw their roots from Latin. But I know there are differences. If I remember correctly Portuguese is supposed to be more nuanced and differences stem from variations in pronunciation and voice inflection. Though trying to remember information from high school Latin class is not my strong suit.

      • Had the same thought listening to this…. Does Curtin think the Brazilian guys speak Spanish?

      • Had the same thought listening to this…. Does Curtin think the Brazilian guys speak Spanish?

      • Apparently the Brazilian guys know some Spanish and Curtain also knows some Spanish, so they can communicate a bit using Spanish rather than Eng. or Port.

  3. James Lockerbie says:

    Wow, great news Conference. Just look at his body language,his excitement level, Jim is obviously happy with the current state of this Union 2.0.

    Jim is acting like, what I can only imagine how, Gen. George Washington acted once news arrived of the French army/navy joining forces with the colonial Army against the British at Yorktown.

    I know we haven’t even kicked the first ball into play for this season, but I can’t help this feeling that we have already won something true HOPE and Excitement have returned to Philly! HOT DAMN

  4. Ugh, Spanish ≠ Portuguese.

    • I had the same thought until I learned that the Brazilians on the team speak a little Spanish, and Curtain speaks a little Spanish too, so they can communicate a bit using Spanish rather than English or Portuguese.

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