Press Conference

Transcript and video: Jim Curtin’s weekly Union press conference

Note: Questions have been paraphrased.

Opening statement

Just to touch on New England briefly, I thought the fans were excellent. On a cold day that a lot of snow was predicted, I thought they came out and were incredibly loud and pushed the players on.

I think we’ve had a good start to the season. A lot of that was late in the preseason. Earnie deserves a lot of credit, the staff, the technical staff deserves a lot of credit, the sports performance department — all the guys that have laid the foundation to get results on the weekend is what justifies all the hard work that’s been put in.

It needs to be said, too, all of our players have worked incredibly hard, the preseason up until now, making my decisions difficult, whether that be for the XI, for the 18. It’s different when, on the Monday regen session, you look out on the field and Vincent, and Seba, and Barnetta, and guys are training, and Ray Gaddis is training, and pushing the tempo of things on the day when the starting group is out. So, you can see the depth. It doesn’t even touch on the fact that Josh Yaro is playing great, Restrepo is pushing, and they’re fighting to get into the 18. So, we have real competition; it’s healthy. Everybody on the roster knows they’re going to be called upon at some point, and right now it’s a constant effort to continue to push and keep everyone going and believing that they’re a big part of, because they are. Everybody’s put a lot into it in the preseason. It’s carried over to a decent start but, again, we’re realistic: It’s three games.

We know we have a lot of room for improvement. The New England game, yes, we win 3-0, we missed two PKs, but we can do better. In areas in front of goal we created a lot of chances. It’s great to keep a zero. Again, I thought Andre was solid. I think the work of Warren Creavalle flies under the radar; but a good team performance.We’re going to be a group that wins as a team, and loses as a team.

It is an interesting time for everybody to kind of get a little bit of a bye week so that part is…you almost want to keep the momentum going, to be honest. But, we’ll put in a tough couple of days here, we’ll have a little break for Easter, and then the focus shifts back to Chicago.

On the team being over .500 for the first time under Curtin, even if only being three games into the season

It’s not a big deal, we’ve played three games. I think there were moments during the interim time where we had put together a decent record; we weren’t good last year, that’s no secret. The numbers speak for themselves. I’ve always been a guy who talks about wins and losses and being judged on that. I know exactly what my record is now as it pertains to that and Open Cup, and where we’re at, but it’s three games into the season, it’s the very beginning of something. We’re going to work towards improving each and every week, holding guys accountable, all the little things that we do in training and, hopefully, at the end of the year when we look up, we’ll be proud of it, and we will have a record that is good enough to put us in the playoffs, where this club belongs.

On Andre Blake being away on international duty

Obviously, we’ll watch the games. He’ll be a guy who I think it’s good to keep going in playing these big games of consequence where, you know, there’s a lot on the line. It’s not fun, he’s going on the road to to get results and to win. He’s been very good in the preseason, he’s been very good in our first three games. He’s a big part of our team, he’s a big part of our success so far. a very good young goalkeeper but, yeah, obviously, we’ll keep an eye on the games and see how they go. Again, he’ll always…he has a great goalkeeping coach in Oka Nikolov now, and is learning each and every day and, as a young kid who still knows he can improve in certain areas — whether it be in his kicking, or playing with his feet — he’s looking to raise the bar, He’s been very good at coming out and getting crosses and putting the end to any danger in the box — I think he leads the league in that statistic in terms of balls caught in the box under pressure. So, he’s been very good; happy with him. But, again, it’s three games, and we know he still can even give more.

What is your philosophy or policy on assigning penalty kicks? 

When Seba’s on the field, I think his 13-for-13 prior to that, it takes a…I’m a big believer in it’s feel. I’m not a coach that designates who that guy is before the game, ’cause he can have an instance where, say, Ilsinho on the play, that he takes the first PK, say he gets killed and he’s maybe not feeling quite right — so I would never say that it’s one person that does it, I trust my players in that situation. It’s unfortunate that we missed two, I don’t think that will happen again, it’s a unique one. But, at the same time, I leave it up…I think there’s a discussion maybe about maybe CJ taking it on the hat trick but, at that point, it was still a…you want your best guy taking it and, at the end of the day, I still think that’s Seba when he’s on the field.

Alberg came up to me after the game and said he’s on penalties from now on [laughs]…Everybody, when there’s a mistake, everybody wants to jump up and grab a hold of it. We laughed, we had a good laugh about it after the game with Ilsinho and Seba, but, yeah, those opportunities to have that killer instinct, it could’ve been over at halftime if we get that third goal there. You let a good team like New England hang around and they still had a chance or two to get back into it. Took us a while to get the third goal so, obviously, the earlier that comes, the more you breathe a little easier.

But, yeah, it’s in the moment. I’m a believer in trust your players in that regard. It’s not like basketball kind of hot hands kind of things because it’s different, it’s a dead ball situation. I’d say I’ll leave that up to them but hopefully it doesn’t ever happen again.

On Warren Creavalle

It needs to be said, he stepped into a pretty darn hard situation in Columbus, finding out in the pregame meal that he was going to be the starter. He’s a pretty even-keeled guy, he’s quiet and kind of goes about his business, and you don’t always know what he’s thinking. But, he brought it in Columbus, and he brought it again in the home opener. The amount of ground that he covers, breaking up plays, very good with feet getting out of tight spots and connecting passes. Still things we can work on with Warren, that 40 to 50 yard diagonal, doing it a little quicker and more consistent, that gets us from one side of the field to the other that kind of invites our outside backs forward, that’s something that we still work on with him. There’s a reason he played for a year with Dom Kinnear in Houston on a pretty darn good team with Rico Clarke in there in a two-man midfield; we have an extra guy in there with him now so he probably doesn’t have to run as much. He shown a real commitment to break plays up, he’s fearless, he’s physical, does a lot of the little things that don’t show up in the stats, but was fortunate enough in this game to get on the stat sheet with a good assist.

So, happy for Warren. Again, he’s been kind of a…doesn’t maybe get the credit that he deserves in these past two games, but really happy for him.

We didn’t hear much in the offseason about whether Creavalle’s option would be picked up. What was the deciding factor in keeping him?

When we picked him up last year it was a little bit for his versatility. He’s a guy that, athletically, can compete and can play on the righthand side, we were a little thin there last year. But, once we reassessed it in the offseason, and then we thought about him more as a holding guy and we talked about playing with a 6 and an 8 that breakup plays and can move the ball from one side to the other, it became a little more clear that he was best suited to play in the middle of the field. Had a good discussion with him in his end-of-the-year meeting — that’s where he wants to play, that’s where he’s most comfortable. Yeah, in a pinch, does he want to be on the field if it can be at right back and we’re jammed up? But we’ve kind of resolved that, the depth issue, on that side of the field we’re good so now Warren is a central guy and he’s shown he’s a starter in this league, he’s done well.

The team has faced some of the league’s most challenging attacker players in the first three games. Who can you single out in defense to praise?

I still think when we talk about defending we’re a team that everybody has to be on the same page. So, it starts with CJ’s pressure, actually. People will laugh at me when I say that, but CJ dictates a lot of our defensive work in terms of which way we want to shift the ball, which players on the opposition do we want having the ball in what areas of the field. So, CJ sets that. Pontius is working his tail off defensively. Ilsinho, doing a ton of dirty running. Alberg is working harder in that area. And then BC, kind of anchoring and protecting the center backs; we talked about Warren already. So, it’s everybody. It’s unfair, I think, to just single out the two center backs for good — which they’ve been, they’ve won their battles, and they’ve won their things in the air with Marquez and Tribbett; a good partnership is forming. Fabinho’s played well in the past two games, and Keegan is playing beyond his years. So, it’s a team effort. Andre bails you out with a couple of big saves, as well.

So, again, everyone attacks on our team, and everyone defends. And that’s kind of our philosophy going forward.

Tranquillo Barnetta looked like he was running pretty hard in training today. Is he close to returning?

Yeah, he’s excited. And then the thing about winning, everybody wants to get back into the starting lineup and get into the group. So, it makes guys recover, and when they do get their chance to step on the field, whether it’s in training or eventually in the games, they’re going to give that much more because there’s…I don’t want to say pressure, but it’s a positive competition where…Today was a day where we played a lot of the guys who started in the last game in the orange team that you saw, and the gray team was buzzing; actually had the much better day, scored some good goals — and orange didn’t like it. These are all good things, you know, these are good problems to have, because there are good players in an our entire roster, and they’re really getting after it in the right way. It’s a good thing; it makes my decisions hard, but it makes the coaching part easy, if that makes sense.

What are other teams going after when the face the Union?

I think it’s early so teams are still kind of feeling out who’s different, who’s made changes, who has different personnel. I think maybe the one thing that we caught teams off guard [with] is last year we sat, and dropped, and absorbed a lot. This year, we’ve pressed a lot higher with our line, home and away. In particular, in the Columbus game, if you think back to the 85th minute, we’re still high pressing in their half of the field. So, I think that’s caught teams off guard. Conversely, I think they are maybe a little bit surprised at our commitment to try to play, to open our center backs. Again, the possession stats, the percentage of possession isn’t the big one that matters, the biggest one we look for is possession in the opponent’s attacking third, and we’ve been very good in that regard. But you do see, even in the New England game, where the percentage wasn’t great, the commitment of our center backs to open nice and wide, our outside backs to be very high, and guys centrally comfortable to get on the ball, wingers coming inside and creating numbers advantages…So, a commitment to play would be the one thing that maybe is catching teams a little bit off guard, they might have thought we would just be a team that was comfortable dumping balls in and kind of defending for our lives, for lack of a better way of putting it.

So, I’m happy in that regard. Again, it’s early, have a lot to learn, but there’s a lot of teams going through the early stages. I’ve always thought in this league, as a player as well, when you’re on top of things early on in the year you can get a lot of points because a lot of teams are sifting through new signings and who fits, and who doesn’t work, and trying different things. So, if you have your stuff together early on you can take a lot of points away in the first ten games. That’s what we’re trying to do. We still have a lot of work to do, though.

On the play of Ken Tribbett and Keegan Rosenberry

They’ve played excellent. Ken is a guy who not only wins a lot of things in the air and with his feet, but he connects that first pass, which is so critical, you know, he’s not just kicking it out of bounds or winning a header in desperation and it goes to the other team. He’s very good and composed about — whether it’s taking a ball off his chest or heading it back to Andre — it always seems to go to our team, and it’s not by coincidence, he knows what he’s doing. He’s put in a lot of work to get where he is. Developed a little later then maybe other players, other pros, but it doesn’t matter because he’s here now. Everybody’s pathway is a little different and I’ve told him already, when you do grab a hold of it and you do taste what it’s like to be a starter in this league you never want to let it go. So, that’s my message for him, that’s a simple one.

The same thing with Keegan. Keegan has done a very good job defensively and with the ball in the attack. Again, they’re smart players, high soccer IQ; I’d say both of them check that box, for sure. They know how to manage games, they don’t get too rattled, too high or too low, and they fit in well. But, again, three games. I want 34.

How to keep momentum going through training during an off week? Does the competition you described do that?

For sure, I think that’s a good question. We wanted to attack this week as one. We don’t have an opponent on the weekend but there’s little things we can work on. What we worked on today was in the moments — we never want to be losing a game but the reality is we’re going to be at some point down — so, we worked on at the end of game in the 3-5-2, what that situation looks like so when it does come up at some point during the year there’s not confusion or chaos. We worked a lot on, for instance, ten minutes, down a goal and we’ve gone to a 3-5-2 with two forwards up there, how do we press the game, where are the areas of the field we want to exploit, who do we want on the ball and where. Then, conversely, we flipped it and let the other team go in a 3-5-2 and see if we could defend it, defend the goal for ten minutes.

So, a lot of situational things that you can do in weeks like this that prepare your group for the craziness in a MLS season. There’s going to be a game this year where we’re down late and we need to push. There’s going to be a game where we blow a lead and then have to maintain our composure and fight through it. So, a lot of game situational things we can go through during this week and that’s how we’ve attacked it.

Is it reasonable to expect CJ Sapong to play 80 minutes a game for 34 games given the physical play he gets involved in?

I think so. He does get fouled a lot; I don’t think he gets a lot of calls in the league because of the way he plays. Part of it is him, he likes it physical, I think he feeds off of that. I’ve been trying to coach him a little bit in not getting so caught up in tangling with these big strong center backs for the course of 90 [and] sometimes being a little smarter about it. I think he enjoys that part of it. We’ll have to be smart in how we manage it. Good options there with Fabian, Seba could be a guy who could play up there, as well. But, yeah, you want to ride a hot forward for sure. You do see how much running and dirty work he puts into it, and slide tackles to keep possession — maybe not your typical forward. Maybe the best way to put it is get him to work a little smarter in little movements in the box, like he had in the game, you know, two little movements where he peels off of the center backs and gets himself free, rather than having to fight and wrestle for a sliding goal where he’s getting stomped on.

He’s improving every day, he’s very coachable, he wants to listen. But, yeah, I’d agree that we’d like the toll that he takes getting kicked to be less. I’ll never tell him to stop working so hard, though, because that’s who he is. He brings it every day and wants to fight for the team. But there is a way to maybe sprinkle in some smart movements instead of always so physical. But, very happy with where he’s at. He’s hard on himself, he could have scored a couple more in the game.

2 Comments

  1. Lucky Striker says:

    Marquez and Creavalle make a huge difference in their ability to highline press. When ‘quillo returns we’ll have to see how the equation changes yet again.

  2. Where is Thumbkin Where is Thumbkin… Here I am Here I am.
    .
    How are you today sir… Very well I thank you.
    .
    Thought you had me Mr. Farnsworth…. thought you had me today.

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