Press Conference

Transcript and video: Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference

Note: Questions have been paraphrased.

Opening statement

Just to reflect back on what was a very difficult, challenging road trip for a wide variety of reasons: climate, good teams, referee decisions; I thought our group showed a ton of resolve and proved we can go anywhere and take points, which is the sign of a good team. I think the best way to put it, whether it’s from the fans now, players in the league, coaches in the league, the best compliment that I can get as a head coach is that people are saying, “I really enjoy watching this team play.” That’s the best compliment you can get as a coach because that means you’re doing things the right way defensively and offensively. So, when you hear the fans say that, whether it’s passing in the street or wherever in Philadelphia, that is something our team is proud of, our staff is proud of.

Looking forward to Columbus, a very good opponent, 3-1-3 in their last seven, so Gregg [Berhalter] has them playing very well right now. Dangerous, good in possession. It always starts with [Federico] Higuain and doing a good job on him. We have our hands full going into this match.

We set goals for ourselves at the beginning of the year to go into the Copa America break in first place. We find ourselves with the possibility of doing that, of achieving that. The other goal that we set for ourselves was to [not] concede one goal per game which, over the course of 34 — you guys can do the math — 34 goals against is what we’re shooting for. We have the opportunity with a shutout tomorrow to maintain that pace: 14 games, 14 goals against. So, two of the biggest goals we set at the beginning of the year are attainable. The group is hungry. They’re anxious to get back out on front of our home fans, and we look forward to a great match tomorrow night. We’ll need our fans as loud as usual.

With Andre Blake now away with Jamaica, have you decided who will start as goalkeeper on Wednesday night?

Yes, we have made a decision: Matt Jones will be the starter tomorrow. It’s always difficult to lose Andre but Matt is a more than capable backup; John McCarthy, excellent, as well. So, we’re confident in all three goalkeepers. We’ll go with Matt tomorrow; I know he’ll step up and do his job. He’s riding a little bit of a high right now having his first-born son, Jackson, so he gets a little shout out here [laughs]. But, no, Matt has, like all goalkeepers, waited for his opportunity — obviously, only one can start — and we expect Matt to have a strong performance. He’s been excellent in training, he’s confident right now, and it’ll just be the next-man-up mentality we’ve had all year with every position.

On the decision making process in selecting Jones to start

Well, first and foremost, Oka Nikolov is who I lean on for that choice. I’m not a goalkeeping expert; I can pick a good one out when I see one — and we have three good ones — but he has the nuance, and is with them every day, to see the little things that maybe I can’t pick up. Experience weighs into it, the amount of professional games weighs into it. Again, two good goalkeepers that are performing well in training; leaned on Oka for the decision, and the choice is Matt Jones.

On advice given to Jones

Yeah, advice on having a kid — good luck: Your life will be different [laughs]. No, it is a roller coaster of emotions to have your first born, it’s a big deal. I tend to see the positives in that, you know? It makes you a little less selfish, you’re playing for a little guy, too, so it’s a special feeling that he’ll have. You do have to keep things in check. I told him today, “It’s just another game, you’ve been a pro for a long time, this is why we brought you here.” We know he’ll perform well, we have the confidence in him. He’s played in a lot of big games in the top league in Portugal, and this is just another game. He has a strong defense in front of him, a strong team in front of him so they’ll make his job as easy as possible on the day. He’ll get that first save under his belt and it’ll be just another 90 minutes from there. But, yeah, there’s always emotion, especially with his child being born; for sure, that factors in. But, Matt’s a pro, and he’ll step up.

On the value of goalkeepers getting minutes with Bethlehem Steel FC

It’s incredibly valuable. Getting minutes at the USL level is a necessity for goalkeepers especially, because the crosses, the corners kicks, dealing with traffic in front of goal is something [where] the intensity isn’t always that way in training. So, to get games and live action has been critical, they’ve both gotten their share; Johnny’s had a lot more minutes; we see Matt as well in little scrimmages and inter-squad games. So, we’re familiar with both of them in what you’d call live action, and they’ve done well. Matt’ll step up and do a good job.

On how Jones was signed by the team

You know, it was like so many things a little bit of timing, a little bit of luck, a little bit of an agent reaching out to us, and he really fit the criteria of what we were looking for: over a hundred-plus games in the top league in Portugal at a very high level, a guy who won a lot of those games, too. Had a wife that lived in the area and they were looking to come back to the States. And, again, it was a good fit. You talk to him, you sit down, you meet with him before, obviously, big decisions are made. He’s a pro. He has a good head on his shoulders, he’s intelligent, and he came in with the mindset of yes, he understands the role with Andre being the No. 1, but he’s going to push every day and make my job and my decision difficult each week. And, he’s done that, to his credit, and now he gets his opportunity. So, it’s a good story, one that we’re happy with everything that Matt’s brought to the team.

Again, a lot of the guys who aren’t getting minutes for us, I can’t stress enough how this is really a true team. We have depth, and even guys you haven’t seen play — the Walter Restrepos, Leo Fernandes hasn’t gotten a lot of minutes, Cole Missimo, Taylor Washington — these guys are pushing training each day, and everybody is a big part of this thing.

Update on Josh Yaro’s shoulder injury 

He’s getting a MRI as we speak. He wasn’t in training today, we thought it was best to get a picture and get a real definitive answer. He has some discomfort. Shoulder’s are tricky; it doesn’t seem like it would be used a lot in soccer but when you’re pushing off, when you’re bracing some of these top forwards in the league, you need every ounce of strength. And if that thing doesn’t hold up and gives out, it can be tricky and challenging. I’ve gone through two surgeries on the shoulder myself, so I’ve talked with him about it, and the different pains that he has. I’m not a doctor so I won’t speculate but I have an idea of what might be going on, and I’m hoping that it is something that he’s able to play with [for] the rest of the year, and we can do whatever needs to be done at the end of the season.

On Ken Tribbett stepping in for Yaro

Yeah, Josh was playing a great game in Orlando if you go back to watch the tape, he was one of our top performers. And for Ken to step in, first at the very end of the half, is very challenging. The center back position is not a position that you usually like to sub at all. But, Ken came in pretty seamlessly, got the goal — which is a bonus, obviously, but I was happy with how he defended. Connects his passes out of the back. And then to follow it up in Colorado where he had a lot of friends and family at the game was probably emotional for him but he got through the 90 minutes. Did fatigue at the end, when you start to see when guys get tired, and I talked with him about it. He had a couple of little mistakes towards the end of the game — part of that is your legs are starting to fade — but it was good for him to get that under his belt. He’ll be ready to go now tomorrow for the full 90 minutes.

On the condition of the field at Talen Energy Stadium following last weekend’s lacrosse tournament

Yeah, Earnie addressed the group and apologized for the state of the field, which just shows, again, we have a guy who has the players’ backs, which is huge. He talked to them and, yeah, there’s some beat up spots from the lacrosse. It’s not bad, Johnny Torres has done a heck of a job getting the field in shape, in really good shape, but, again, it’s part of Earnie raising the bar, and the professionalism, of the club. He sees the value of the field being perfect, he wants this to be the place where the US National Team wants to come and play because the surface is so good. It’s not as good as it was, but it’s still in decent shape, and they did the best they could with the women’s lacrosse tournament that was here this weekend.

Is it necessary to apologize for something one doesn’t necessarily have control over?

But, still, he puts the players first, and he wants them to realize that everything, every decision that’s made, he does have them in mind, which goes a long way in the locker room, keeping the guys together. Little things like getting the guys suits and us traveling in those and looking sharp on the road, all these little things add up to big things, and he’s at the head of that.

On staying sharp with the Copa America break coming up

It’s always dangerous, the two weeks after, because you don’t want guys to look ahead, right? We have had some success, we’ve achieved some good things, but, at the same time, it’s still very…it’s still early, nothing’s been finalized just yet. This’ll be the 14th game of the season. I think you can start to tell what a team’s identity looks like for a year after that amount of games, but you don’t want them to look to a break, it’s always dangerous, you have to finish things the right way. I believe my group is mentally tough enough to do that, and they will tomorrow but, yeah, there is always a little bit of, you know, you can get a little side-tracked and tend to look ahead to some down time — which they’ve earned. They’ve earned a few days off, for sure, but I think the group will be together in their mindset of executing and reaching our goal of being top of the Eastern Conference as we go into the Copa America break.

On the referee decisions in Orlando

You don’t like to talk about the referees. They have a hard job, I concede that. I do think there should be maybe some more public accountability when there are mistakes. There were some mistakes in that game, simple as that. The two biggest ones: Warren Creavalle, penalty kick for sure, one hundred percent; and the goal Larin scores where Kaka gets away with one in the corner on Keegan — ok, you can live with that — gets crossed, he scores with his arm. Maybe he scores, maybe he doesn’t, I don’t know, it’s bang-bang, and I don’t know if it crosses the line, we probably never will know the real truth, but very quick to call that a goal [laughs] and I can say with fact that they were out of position to make that call, which is challenging. I mean, I could go on and on: Larin’s collision with Andre, that usually gets whistled; whether it’s Larin or Fabi’s involved, you just blow the whistle and you move on. But the biggest one for me is the penalty kick. That’s a penalty kick. You can talk about the other fouls that are red cards, as well, but, again, it’s the past. We’re moving on — as much as I sound like I don’t want to move on from it [laughs], because that’s two points that I think we deserved. My group showed a lot of character through adversity to come back, deal with all the elements that were involved in that game and get a second goal.

Has footage of the ball crossing the line with the Larin goal been found? 

We never got a response back from the referee committee on anything so we weren’t happy with that, either. But, again, these are things that we can’t control. We’ll move on, and that’s that.

What do you think the team’s identity is?

Well, it’s one that’s very tough to play against defensively. The data shows that, the eyeball shows that, so you can see that on the field that we’re tough to break down, which is a great starting point, that means you’ll be in every MLS game. I think we are a team that when we get Tranquillo the ball in between the lines, and let him turn and face other teams we’re very dangerous attacking. I think we’re good on set pieces, we’ve really improved that part of our game. Tomorrow will be a big day in terms of set pieces. We do have a height advantage in this match, and we’ll have to execute on set pieces. So, we’ve shown we can win a bunch of different ways, which you need to do in this league. Our identity, though, is one where everyone attacks, and everyone defends. And we are a true team, there’s no superstar on this team. We believe that as a group, collectively, our eleven guys, all on the same page, can beat any superstar. While the names on the back of the jerseys might not be the most glamorous and sexy, we’re not afraid of anybody.

On Columbus Crew forward Ola Kamara

He’s a handful. He’s a little different than the other Kamara in that he’s not as much of a target and a holdup guy but man, is he busy: he runs, and runs, and runs. He had ten shots on goal, the last game, which is an incredible number. He could’ve had four or five goals, to be honest, when you go back and watch the tape. But, he’s a handful. He’s confident, obviously, coming off of a hat trick. He gets good service from [Justin] Meram and [Ethan] Finlay and their outside backs that Gregg Berhalter has push on forward and provide service for him, so to play striker for Columbus Crew is a very good job to have because they create so many chances going forward. And you have Higuain, as well. So, a lot to deal with. Kamara is was on our radar before but, obviously, after the breakout three goals in the game and the performance he had last game, he’s got to be a focal point for our two center backs to deal with. And Higuain is as clever as anybody underneath him in finding space. So, everyone will have to be on their game a hundred percent, focused to do their job, not just for 20 minutes here or there but for the full 90. We know that we will get chances in our own building; we always create chances, that won’t be an issue. But, most importantly, it starts with a zero, to get back to that identity: Our identity is to not concede goals.

On the sequence that led to Colorado’s goal on Saturday, was it Roland Alberg’s responsibility to cover the goalscorer, Sam Cronin?

No. We broke that one down in film yesterday. Obviously, it’s a team effort, for sure. You can see Roland does point to BC, he passes on the message to BC. BC heard it, we cleared that up, too. At that stage, you have a couple of things going on: You have Warren, who lost the ball, is in a recovery sprint to get back. He does a good job. There’s that second of indecision between Warren and Ray. I think Ray tries to do the teammate thing and deal with two things at once. So, he steps a little bit out and tries to…Actually, he steps in and leaves [Marlon] Hairston a little bit wide. Again, not wrong, because we teach them at that stage in the final third we defend inside to out so Ray’s move to come inside was to protect. There was a little indecision where Warren is probably the one who should’ve stepped out to the ball to get pressure on the ball because that’s the most critical thing. You’ll see in the tape now as it gets played wide Ray has to turn his back and spin. He goes to close him down and the big discussion for me, it’s the hardest part of a center back’s job, but we work very hard on our recovery sprints and the center backs are required to be at the six. It’s a tough one when a guy comes from a deep spot, and, yeah, could BC or Roland have tracked a little better in this instance? For sure. But, the way I coach my center backs, I put that on them to win those battles in that exact area right in front of goal. Whether it’s a deep run, whether it’s a target forward you’re dealing with, that’s on them, and we talked through that. Keegan should speak, as well, and Keegan should slide over one man, which bumps Tribbett. You leave the furthest guy because if it’s clipped to the back post we can recover in time. I’m going probably way too much into detail on this, but this is how we talked through it in the film. Richie’s step, he takes one step forward, which is literally leads to him being one inch away from clearing it; he should take one step back instead because there was no one running hard to the near post. There’s a guy there but he’s not in a dangerous spot. So, again, I probably just named 25 things that could’ve happened but, yeah, Roland acknowledged and pointed and made a note that Cronin was running. Again, it’s not often that the two No. 6s make deep runs in a game and get goals, I think it’s a unique game, in that regard. But, I’d put that one on my center backs, and that’s the crappy part of the position: you can be great for 86, 87 minutes but you fall asleep for one and a good team will take a goal. And Colorado’s a good team.

On the Union’s goal against Colorado

I think our response was good, we were aggressive. And, to be honest, I said to the guys I want our sense of urgency to be there at the start of that game, and in the 60th minute, and in the 70th — still throw numbers forward. But, we had a real commitment to get guys in the box. It starts with Warren playing a good ball, getting it from one side to the other to get to Ray. That makes their center backs move a little bit, makes their defense have a few seams and holes in it. Ray stops it and he clips it. When he initially clips it, you go, “Ah, man, not to the only guy on the field who’s six foot seven, or six foot eight,” or however big [Axel] Sjoberg is. By the way, I have to look up to him, so he’s a big boy. When it gets clipped in, you don’t think Fabian has a chance. Fabian times his jump incredibly well, gets just enough of a piece of it, and credit to BC for making a deep run. So, again, a team goal. You could see by the celebration that they had put a lot into the game and they’re unified, they’re a team that will fight for the full 90 minutes. So, it was a good response to what was a difficult goal to concede.

Update on Vincent Nogueira  

Vincent is available tomorrow. He is feeling a hundred percent, so that’s the best way I can put it. You guys can make your guesses from there, but Vincent Nogueira feels a hundred percent and was sharp in training.

6 Comments

  1. philpill says:

    Huge relief Nogs will start tomorrow, Poker Face Jim! Looking forward to seeing Jones in action. Won’t be the slightest but surprised if no other changes in starters.

    • The question is whether you think he can go 90. I’m still thinking he doesnt go the full, either comes off as an early sub or goes in early in the second half. Either way, now Columbus has to prepare for him.

  2. der Fussballzuschauer says:

    “Will The Real Philadelphia Union # 2 Please Stand Up?” – May 17 … “Union Number Two, Who Are You?” – April 21 … “Matt Jones, The Philadelphia Union’s Sad Man So Far” – March 31

  3. Jim Curtin giving Phil Hellmuth a STFU while telling the dealer to double down.
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    Phew that was a tough one Mr. Farnsworth.

  4. Love the answer to the Ola Kamara question. To me, it shows that Curtin is growing as a coach, at least when it comes to playing some media games.
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    “He gets good service from [Justin] Meram and [Ethan] Finlay and their outside backs that Gregg Berhalter has push on forward and provide service for him, so to play striker for Columbus Crew is a very good job to have because they create so many chances going forward. And you have Higuain, as well.”
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    Note that Higuain was not listed as providing service for the striker but rather is just there. Stoke that fire Coach!

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