Press Conference

Transcript and video: Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference

Note: With the Union playing on Wednesday in Orlando, and flying south on Tuesday afternoon, Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference, which typically take place on Wednesdays, was held on Monday afternoon.

Questions have been paraphrased.

Opening statement

I’ve always believed that you start to get an assessment of your group, and an assessment of the rest of the teams in the league, after about a third of the games; I think that’s a good barometer. I believe we are starting to form an identity as a team that is very tough to break down defensively, is very good at home. Now we need to carry that mentality on to the road in two very hostile places. Two very good teams, Orlando on Wednesday night, and Colorado [on Saturday] at the top of the table. So, two big, tough challenges for our group. We will take every player on our roster on the trip, which is unique, we haven’t done that before, but, at the same time, I believe we are a deep team and everyone is going to contribute — some not with minutes, but some by pushing training while we are away.

I thought the DC game was a strong commitment from the guys, from minute 1 to minute 90, on a night that wasn’t a perfect night soccer wise but, at the same time, [they] pushed and pushed until the very end, with a moment of quality at the end from Seba — actually first from Josh Yaro to Seba — and Richie being committed to get on the end of it. So, great three points, great crowd. Our fans have been excellent in this building and they’re a big part of the reason why we are where we are on the table.

On Andre Blake’s availability before leaving to join Jamaica for the Copa America Centenario

First of all, Jamaica’s been excellent with us, great to work with. We came to the conclusion that what is best for both parties is that he is with us up until the Columbus game [at home on June 1]. The Columbus game is the only game he will miss.

On reports that Michael Lahoud has been recalled from his loan to New York Cosmos and sold to NASL-side Miami FC

There are some things going on right now. Nothing’s finalized so I’m not able to comment on any details of it, but there’s something in the works, it’s an accurate report. But, nothing’s been finalized so I can’t really get into too many details right now.

If a deal does go through would he be removed completely, and immediately, from the Union’s salary budget?

Yes.

There are rumors that he’s been recalled from loan to be sold, and also rumors that he’s been recalled to play

A sale would be a sale. And, again, I can’t comment on rumors and different speculation from other clubs, but a sale is a sale, that’s different than a loan.

On how big it is to have Blake for the Orlando and Colorado games

It’s great. Obviously, his form speaks for itself, he’s a big part of us getting points. To go into two hostile environments now and know that he’s going to be in there is very valuable. Having said that, we are confident in our two backup goalkeepers so, when the decision is made for Columbus, we’ll make one gives us the best opportunity to get three points. But to have Andre with us is incredibly valuable, he’s playing at a very high level. And, again, thank you to Jamaica for understanding that this is something that [keeps] him in good form, and then he’ll have a great competition with them moving forward.

On Cyle Larin’s return to form after scoring two goals this weekend after six-game stretch of no goals

With striker’s it’s always a little bit of luck, are you getting the service… You know, he’s a great striker, one I rate very highly, a guy you’d love to have on your team. Has everything in terms of speed, the body, the size, good soft feet, is pretty clinical in front of goal. But, yeah, all strikers in our league, and the world, run as their teammates run, you know, whether it’s form from the guys around them, getting them the ball in the right spot. He’s proven if he gets service, he’s going to score, so he’s a big point. We dodged a bullet, he wasn’t in last time we played, so he’ll be a real challenge, to shut him down, especially in that building; I can’t stress enough, it’s one of the toughest places to go, it gets loud in there and, for Disney World being there, their fans can be, they can be…they get after you pretty good — to their credit, you know, they’ve made it a tough place to play. And they’re eager to get results now at home. You saw Kaka come out and speak on the importance of the next two games for them at home, so we’re going to get their best punch. They had a couple of injuries early in the game they just played, so we’ll see what the lineup looks like. But we have to prepare to be the team that goes there and tries to play on our terms, as well.

Going back to your opening statement about establishing an identity, are we at the point where the team’s identity is established?

Again, we’re nowhere near finished, that’s not what I was implying at all. But, I think now you can at least look up and you know, have a good idea of what we’re going to look like in a game, whereas that wasn’t the case in the past, you know, it was a bit of a coin toss, we’d sometimes look like one of the top teams in the league, and then there’d be nights where we were very inconsistent. So, I think the foundation has now been laid that we are a team that’s going to be tough to score against, which has been good. One goal against per game is good, that’s good goalkeeping, that’s good defending. And then, also, the importance of protecting the home field. There’s some things you’re starting to see that maybe define us and give us a little bit of identity — it’s nowhere near final, but you’re starting to realize at least what I have in mind, what Earnie has in mind, of what a Philadelphia Union team looks like. Again, foundation is good, but we still have a lot of work to do.

On plan to deal with Orlando’s wide defense

We’re going to be a team, home or away, we’re going to play the same way. Again, everybody has their own different formations, and Orlando’s played a 4-4-2, they’ve played a 4-2-3-1. With Kaka, obviously, he’s going to be the guy we focus on the most — he makes them go, we’ll have to deny him time and space on the ball. They present a lot of problems just because they have some guys that’ll really go forward and attack, they’re really aggressive going forward with their wingers. Adrain even, reading his quotes, he was a little disappointed how end-to-end their last game got, so I expect them to maybe try to be a little more compact and tight; so, you read little things that other coaches say and you try to take little tendencies of how their going to approach the game.

The good news is that we’re on similar rest, it’s not a game where we’re going down to Florida and they’re well rested and prepared. But, we plan to continue to play the same way: high press. We’re a team that we don’t do well when we sit back and absorb, and are kind of reactive instead of proactive. So, we’ll go there, we’ll be proactive, and we’ll try and play the same way as we do in our building.

Injury updates on Ilsinho and Vincent Nogueira

Ilsinho’s running on the side; they’ll both come on the trip. As to how much they’ll be used in Wednesday and Saturday, obviously, the hope is to have them on the field, we’re a better team when they’re both on the field. But, at the same time, we’re not in a position…I honestly don’t know whether they’ll be available by Wednesday. We’ll assess after Wednesday’s game and see what it looks like for Colorado. But, two tough games, we’re going to need every person. I thought it was important to bring them along so that they can get the treatment, they’re with the whole group, and keeping the whole team together is important. Again, everybody’s not going to play, that’s impossible, but, at the same time, we are a team and we’re going to travel with the whole group.

Anything lingering with Fabinho after he was subbed out on Friday?

It was just cramps, fortunately, it was just cramps. I think when you look back and watch the tape, a lot of it was — especially in the first half, I had a good view of what he looked at every time he got on the ball, it was right in front of me — he had to twist, and turn, and fight his way out of some tough situations just because the movement in front of him wasn’t great; he could have made better decisions on the ball, as well. But, I think in the midst of all the twisting, and turning, and fighting a lot harder than he had to, he cramped up. No pulls or anything like that, just fatigue.

On Colorado beginning to look like head coach Pablo Mastroeni was as a player

I text with Pablo, he’s a guy…there’s a group of about 10 to 12 of us that are taking their pro license together, all MLS players — MLS coaches, excuse me, a lot of them did play, it kind of goes that way — and he was the guy in the course when it started — it’s year-long, it started in December — we were talking about different things; a lot of similarities in our groups, and talked about the good and the bad, and the trials and tribulations of being a young coach, and really happy with how their performing. You watch and turn them on, they get after you, they compete. Obviously, it starts with Jermaine who, thank goodness, won’t be there for that one [because he will be in the US Copa America camp] but, yeah, they’re getting after it. It’s no coincidence they do look like Pablo out there: closing the ball down, getting after each other. And while the names…Again, they don’t have a lot of big names, they’re doing it with some guys that’ve been in and out of other teams, on different rosters in MLS, but he’s getting the most out of his group right now, and they’re playing some good soccer; they know how to win the 1-0 game, and they can also keep better possession and can beat you in a couple of different ways.

So, really happy for him. He’s a guy I respected a ton as a player and now as a coach, too. Always good to talk with guys who are in similar positions as you.

Is the fact that the team plays away midweek and cannot return home before traveling to Colorado for Saturday’s game an opportunity to keep the team together?

Stange week, yeah, it’s a strange week. It sets up a little weird, you don’t love going down to Florida and then straight from Florida all the way cross country to Colorado, to altitude, [it] is challenging. We have a great sports science staff that prepare our guys as best as possible, get them acclimated quickly. But, yeah, it’s not an ideal one — you come back and have to play the Crew on Wednesday before the break. It’s an important three-game stretch. We’re approaching it as a big three games that we want to set ourselves up nicely going into the break because these are our games in hand on a lot of teams right now. So, yeah, they’re two tough one on the road, but these are games we have in hand. You look [and] a lot of the teams in our conference have played 13 [games] so to get a little separation is critical. We can’t go in there complacent, think we’re in a good spot, because you guys have seen how quickly the table can change.

On the differences Curtin’s seen in Eastern Conference versus Western Conference opponents  

We’ve had success against Eastern Conference teams, I think that’s critical to win your conference games, just like any other sport; NFL, especially; you got to win your conference games, they’re critical, they’re the six-point swings. You can go on the road to a Western Conference team and you can take a little more risk, I would say, I think that’s fair to say. You look at the top six Western teams right now and the reason their point totals are so high is because they’ve dominated at home, I think there’s one [home] loss between all six teams, which is incredible. A lot of that is, I’ve said it before, the East gets sent out West early because of weather and climate, so it’ll start to even out. I would say it’s fair to say that the West teams are playing better right now, they’re stronger but, MLS, things change very quickly. A team that you might look at now in second or third place might not make the playoffs, and someone that everybody’s forgetting about and is down low will make a run, and get hot at the right time, and could wind up in MLS Cup final. So, it’s a great league in that regard, it’s a true 34-game season — you’re never too far out of it, even though it might look like it now, you go on a three-game run and you’re right towards the top. I mean, look at Red Bull right now, they come off of a 7-0 win and they’re right back up in the thick of things after a tough start. Again, it can change quick, you have to have your guard up for every game because there’s no easy points in this league, it is really hard to win, home and away. So, we’ll have to be on our “A” game, especially going on the road here.

Sebastian Giovinco was not selected for Italy’s Euro team. Do you believe his non selection is a blow for MLS’ image?

I mean if, that’s almost like stealing a Bruce Arena line when Landon [Donovan] wasn’t selected for the World Cup: If Giovinco’s not in their 23-man roster, they’ll win the Euros quite easily, right? Because he’s an unbelievable player. I don’t care if he plays in MLS, if he plays in Spain, if he plays in Italy, his talent is unbelievable. I’m not coach of his national team, so I’m not being critical of that. But, man, if they have players that are much better than him, it’s unbelievable because he’s special, he’s a guy who can make a play from nothing. Incredible talent. I hope that playing in our league wasn’t what weighed into a decision but, again, he’s an exceptional player. And it’s a strange one for me because in your head, you go, you know, you see great athletes, and you see greatness, and you measure your guys against certain guys, and there’s only so good you can be, you know< you understand [laughs]. He’s a guy who’s as good as I’ve seen live, and that includes…We’ve played against Real Madrid in friendlies and different things like that, and you see things you can’t teach, you can’t coach. So, exceptional player. Disappointing, I’m sure, for him to be left off, but it just makes Toronto that much harder now for the month. That’s how I kind of look at it [laughs].

On the challenges of going from heat, humidity, and artificial turf in Orlando to cooler temperatures and altitude in Colorado on such a short turnaround

Not easy. We’ll go down to Orlando with the mindset of getting three points there. Both games are incredibly important [but] one is against an Eastern Conference rival on the same rest. Colorado’s going to be fresh so I will have to weigh that into my decision when we go to altitude: how do we attack that [with] as aggressive as they are, and as physical as they are, playing at altitude is a factor, I think it’s part of the reason their record is so good right now, [and] Pablo’s done a good job getting them all on the same page. But, yeah, the heat down in Orlando, I think I saw it’s 89 degrees, and everybody goes, “Oh, you guys play at night, it’ll be down around, it says, the low 70s.” The low in Orlando comes at about 2 in the morning, so it’s going to be about 85. That turf traps the heat in, that building is tough, the people are loud, they’re in your face — we’ll just say it nicely that way. It’s a very hostile environment, it’ll be a tough place to go to get points, but we’re going to be up to the task. We have to go there on a Wednesday and then fly four-and-a-half hours to play the top team in MLS at altitude. So, yeah, like I said in the last press conference, a lot of different ways that you can win games, and we’re going to have to go to the vault on that one. You might have to win won ugly, you might have to steal a restart goal. Maybe one of them we play attractive and we’re on the ball and out possession teams. I don’t know how it’s going to go [but] we’re going to need to have all three kinds of ways of winning games in our bag. Again, not a great stretch schedule wise when they made the schedule, it’s a tough stretch when we looked at it, but we’ll have to play the games that are in front of us, but it will be tough.

Did you expect Kaka would still be with the team at this point or called up by Brazil for the Copa America?

I was hoping for Brek Shea [to have been called up for the US squad] when I looked at it, I look at all that stuff. I was hoping Brek Shea [for] USA, [Cristian] Higuita [for] Colombia — that just didn’t happen — Kaka [for] Brazil, of course– you want every little advantage you can get. Didn’t fall that way this time but, at the same time, we’ve gotten a break here or there with guys missing games and suspensions. So, we get lucky with maybe Jermaine [Jones] possibly missing our game [in Colorado], and Andre being there for us. So, again, the good and the bad, you take it but, yeah, you definitely look ahead and you see just from a timeline perspective who’s going to be possibly in or out. Yeah, I’d rather play them without Kaka, for sure, if that’s what you’re getting at [laughs].

You have a young backline. Might those young legs be helpful over this difficult stretch of games?

I think that’s a fair point. All those guys that you just mentioned, it needs to be said, take care of their bodies as well as any athlete I’ve seen. In terms of eating, the weight room, they’re all towards the top in terms of performance and taking care of their body. The are young, [and] young legs do recover quicker than old legs, that is a fact. So, yeah, with Keegan, he can turn around and play two quick games, I don’t think that’s a factor. Ken Tribbett is also very young and getting back to a hundred percent here. Marquez is kind of a physical specimen, bench presses more than probably most NFL linebackers [laughs], but he’s a handful, his body can take it. And Andre, obviously, the goalkeeping position isn’t as much maybe the physical, but the mental part is hardon those guys, so he’s playing at an incredibly high level, too. His focus has been unbelievable, his talking, his communicating, has been excellent. Yes, they’re young, but they’re good, and that’s kind of all I care about; I don’t believe in “Ah, this guy’s too young,” or, “This guy’s too old.” I think there’s only good players and bad players, and they’re very good players.

Have you observed that players coming out of college “get it” now, what they have to do on and off the field to be prepared to play in the pros compared to when what it was like when you began as a pro player?

I think it’s a huge difference. I think back, and we get in these arguments all the time, some of the old DC United teams, some of the old Chicago fire teams, would they go out in today’s league and dominate? I think I have days where I believe yes, I still think they could, but then I step back and go, “These kids are taking care of their bodies in ways that we didn’t even know existed,” you know? You look back at the center backs of my day and we were all a little…we’ll just call it pudgy. we probably spent more time in late nights out, I would say, less time worried about social media and maybe staying out of trouble. It was a different time. The more I think about it, it gets silly to compare generations because, again, these kids are just exposed to so much more, sports science wasn’t as prevalent in my early days and in the early days of the league. I think there was still incredible players, but the running that these guys do now, and the weight lifting, and the training, and the eating right, it was things that weren’t thought about as much in my day. We had a lot of fun [laughs], and the camaraderie was unbelievable, but at the same time, I think that they’e — I’m not saying that today’s player doesn’t go out and have a good time every once in a while, but it’s certainly not as much, that’s for sure, and they do put a real focus on taking care of their bodies, recovery, massages, hot and cold tubs, all the little things that go into monitoring your body to be an elite athlete. I think the bar has been raised a great deal since the early days of the league.

2 Comments

  1. This isn’t relevant to this post, but most significant to this season. I’ve seen some recent comments that Edu is in light training and could be fit for light field work in a few weeks, with full field in late June early July. do those dates sound realistic? Is there some way to try to get confirmation from JC at the next presser?

    • I posted this on another article but it is relevant to this comment so I am including it here too.
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      I believe the team said it would be about 3-4 months out for Edu in the very beginning March when the stress fracture was announced. That would mean a reasonable timetable for Edu being available for selection could come sometime between mid June to early July.
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      Without any announcements from the team, such as “Edu had a setback”, we are left to believe that he is on schedule. As team captain I believe once he gets full medical clearance it is expected he will put in a ton of work after training to get to full fitness asap but of course will not be 90mins fit until he gets some game time. I imagine they will build him up – a sub appearance or two then 60mins then 75mins…etc. Also, now with BSFC they can get him extra game time to build fitness pretty quickly.

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