Press Conference

Transcript and video: Jim Curtin’s weekly press conference

Note: Questions have been paraphrased.

Opening statement

To reflect back, we just got through the most difficult part of our season in terms of six games in 18 days. I think you saw a lot of growth on the offensive side of the ball, scoring a lot of good goals, in some ways playing some of our best, most attractive soccer. You did see, perhaps, a little regression on the defensive side. The challenge now is to find the balance and get those two to blend together down the stretch here. So, a lot to be happy about in terms of where we are on the table; we know it’s not going to be an easy thing where we just go wire to wire and there’re no blips in the course of the year a team just runs away with it. You look across the league, the teams with $20 million in the starting lineup aren’t able to do that. So, we know it’s going to be a fight. You look at the table, it’s very competitive in the West and the East.

Reflecting back on the Houston game, a difficult one, a little thin, a little undermanned. But, we probably do enough to earn a point. Things we can work on to close out the game better, obviously; losing Josh was a big factor in that one. But, at the end of the day, they made a play at the end of the game, and we got punished for it in a tough place to play. Wade Barrett has done a great job, he has them playing inspired, a lot more difficult to break down. They’re going to be a good team down the stretch so credit to the job he’s done.

In terms of us, we could’ve been sharper on the day with the ball. Not our best. But, at the same time, we think those games on the road, where it’s so hard to win in this league, [to] try to get out of there with a point would’ve been big. But, it’s over, it’s the past.

We look forward to DC, a team Benny [Olsen] has playing very well right now, tough to break down. Obviously, when you have Bill Hamid come back it adds a whole new element; it takes a special play to beat a goalkeeper of his quality. We have a pretty good one, too, so it’ll be a good game. It’ll be the team that’s better in both boxes that will come away with the victory on the day. The Eastern Conference games are big; at home we’ve been good, against the Eastern Conference we’ve been good.

Nice to have a full week of training, we haven’t had one in a while, to step back to work on some things, get back to training twice a day and getting after it. Excited for the challenge this weekend that DC United will present. I think our guys will be up for it.

On the importance of getting back to keeping clean sheets

You guys have heard it from me enough, ad nauseum: Zeroes are what win games, win championships. Defense is most important. I’m not concerned with the amount of chances we’re going to create in the run of play, in the run of 90 minutes, we have enough talent on the field that we’re going to create chances, and we’re going to get goals. It starts, though, with keeping a clean sheet and getting back to being a team that’s very difficult to break drown. Go back to the Galaxy game: If a team scores two goals like that you can kind of tip your cap and go, “Yeah, they earned it.” The goals that we’ve been giving up lately, though, I don’t want to take anything away from the opposition but they haven’t been scenarios where they weren’t preventable. So, just tighten up a little bit.

On Sebastien Le Toux’s recovery from concussion

Yeah, quicker than I thought, to be honest. Initially, in my mind, at least, I kind of ruled him out but the doctors saw him every day this week so far and he’s going through all the precautionary measures. We won’t rush it but, at the same time, he is progressing in a way that it’s at least a possibility for the weekend, which is good, it adds to our depth. And the more good attacking options I have to choose from, the better.

Did Le Toux clear the heading part of the concussion protocol?

He’s through that part, too, yeah.

On the defense

Again, it’s a team, it starts with our forwards and the pressure they put on the ball. Again, we’re not a team that can kind of pick and choose when we want to press, it has to be all ten guys together. And, when we don’t have that, you’ll have mistakes and you’ll have holes open up between the lines, and we’ve had that recently. So, again, it starts with our front three. I think early in the year they were doing a great job of really making it predictable for our midfield and for our back four to deal with things. It’s gotten a little loose right now so, again, everybody getting on the same page, cutting off passing lanes, making it predictable for the guy next to you, not just being satisfied with dealing with your man but also helping the guy next to you. And, I’m confident that we’ll get back on track, in that regard. Obviously, set pieces, too, we’ve given up goals on set pieces. Those are situations where you have all eleven guys back, we just need to do a better job — whether grabbing a hold of a guy, competing for the second ball at the top of the box, all those little things aren’t going our way right now but I’m confident, with the hard work the guys are putting in on the training field, it’ll turn around.

On CJ Sapong’s return from injury and into play

Good. No one is going to come back and instantly be as sharp as they were, especially when as well as he was playing. I thought, though, he came into the game and impacted it right away with that pressure you talked about, he makes a deflection, steals the ball in their end, and draws a foul within 30 seconds of coming into the game. So, he’s excited to get going again, it’s good to see. I pushed him hard today, rode him pretty hard, and talked about today being a really important day for him in terms of gaining back some fitness. Pushed the guys very hard yesterday, as well; we’ll taper back now after this afternoon’s session. But, I think he is, you know, he looks like himself, which is good. And, again, the 90 minutes is the hardest thing to get back to, playing at that speed, because you can do things in training, you can run around the field, you can do things on the treadmill, in the pool, whatever it is, it doesn’t replicate going up against [Steve] Birnbaum and [Bobby] Boswell for 90 minutes. So, he’s going to…I’m hoping he’s able to start, his fitness has really improved over the course of the week.

Does training everyday with a goalkeeper with Andre Blake’s quality help in preparing to face a quality goalkeeper like DC’s Bill Hamid?

Yeah, for sure. Again, you want it to be as close as it can be to the games. Bill is a guy who…I mean, you don’t even have to go too far back in the tape, you can just watch just the Salt Lake game alone, what he did for them on the road there in a game where Salt Lake’s pushing to get a second goal. Bill keeps them in it, lets them hang a round a little bit, and they make a great play there on a corner kick. His one-vs-one ability to make a save, keep his team in it, is as good as anyone in the league. Andre has a lot of similar characteristics — different goalkeepers, for sure, but both have that big-save ability that can keep their team in a game when maybe they’re not playing perfect. And every team goes through stretches where you need your goalkeeper to bail you out, and Bill is certainly a guy who can do that, as is Andre.

On Deshorn Brown, who played with Reading United before being drafted by Colorado Rapids, who sold him to  Norwegian side Vålerenga, who transferred him Shenzhen in China on Wednesday

Great player. Again, speed — a combination of speed, size, a threat to get in behind, a guy that, I won’t keep it a secret, I tried to get here a few times, when I was an assistant and now as a head coach. It has to be the right timing, it has to be the right price. Obviously, China has a…let’s just call it a different market at the moment in world soccer. Great for him. I was just texting with Damani [Ralph, Brown’s agent] about it, and it’s really great for him, let’s put it that way [laughs].

So, again, there’s some things you can compete with, and some things you can’t, and the prices, and the way the market’s set now by China is…astronomical would be the word. It’s a different level, it’s not logical in some ways, but it’s good for the kid. He’s a great player — and a good kid, too — a kid that’s getting better and better, still at a young age, great speed, a threat to get in behind. So, yeah, one that’s on our radar but we’re not going to win that one. He’ll stay on our monitor but, at the same time, moving on — I wish him the best of luck.

Is it frustrating not to be able necessarily to claim a player who has spent time with PDL-affiliate Reading United?

Yeah, for sure, but, you know, even the ones, the Ray Gaddis’ of the world, Andrew Wenger, even though they’re playing here for Reading, there’s no guarantees that they’re our property. It’s something that MLS is taking a good hard look at — what’s fair, what is a homegrown — trying to re-establish these rules and regulations because it’s a little bit of a Wild West, it’s young talent being pulled away to Mexico now. And you can’t blame kids if, all the sudden, a Mexican club…A kid plays in Dallas or Houston and San Jose, Galaxy, whatever team, and all the sudden now, a team from Mexico comes over and says, “Here’s half a million dollars.” [That’s] life-changing money for a family, you can’t fault the kid. It’s something that I can tell you, even when I was in the Academy, they were actively trying to discuss mechanisms to keep a hold of these…I hate saying the word “assets” because these are children, but they are. At the end of the day, you’re developing these kids, you’re bringing them along, [so] what’s the best way for our league to keep our talent here? And, it’s a challenge.

The Reading example is one that the best reward we got out of it was to see these kids up close. Because, you can go to the Big 10 tournament, or watch a game at UCLA, and you see one game, or even on tape, and it’s not the same as seeing them, what they’re like the whole week, how they interact with the group. That was really the real benefit of having that, seeing them each and every day. And it still is a good advantage for us; we had kids in just yesterday [training] with us, and it did really well. So, maybe someone that another team’s not high on, we might have a little advantage. But the top guys are all no secret, so maybe you find a diamond in the rough here or there. Deshorn would probably be in that category, though, not a lot of people talked about him out of college a ton. He kind of blew up and continued to score goals at every level so, good for him to move on. But, yeah, it’s still an advantage, the Reading thing, but you wish those guys were yours. The country’s just not set up or ready for that just yet.

On the importance of bouncing back from the loss in Houston with a result against DC

Yeah, for sure. Again, if you count the Open Cup with the New York game, we’ve bounced back any time we’ve lost a game, we’ve come back with a good response. And, I think our group will again. As devastating as the Houston loss was, our guys have a pretty good demeanor; they know when we deserve three points and when we don’t, and I think we’ll have a good response. It is critical, though, to avoid any losing streaks, and we’ve done a decent job of that. We’ve had a great record at home, need to improve our road record. It’s challenging to go on the road. You look at all the records in the league right now and the hardest thing to do is to win on the road — and that’s all sports. So, need to improve that — we know that — and continue the good pace at home. Because, if you win all your home games, you’re going to be in the playoffs, for sure.

Are you beginning to look at the table and other team’s results?

You worry most about how your team’s playing, how your team’s performing. And, I’d say even in some of the few losses we’ve had, the Vancouver one, for instance, we still played [and] had a good performance. So, I’m most happy with that part of things. You know, again, I say it when we win, I say it when we lose, the table tells the truth, it does not lie, it gives you exactly what your team is, it tells you where you are. Right now, we’re second in the East, which is good. Not great, but it’s good. We have room for improvement, we have room for growth. You don’t start scoreboard watching quite yet; obviously, you want all the teams in the East to lose every game, for sure, I’m going to lie and hold that back. But, at the same time, we’re not quite at the stage where you’re going, “We want DC to lose this week, and New England to win…” It’s not quite at that stage. So, we continue to play well, we continue to put the work in that we’ve put in, the playoffs and that kind of thing will take care of itself.

On DC United

With [Alvaro] Saborio playing up top, and [Luciano] Acosta kind of floating underneath, you could call it a 4-3-3, you could call it a 4-4-2. Benny’s done a great job getting his guys committed all to defending. To see [Fabian] Espindola on the left and tracking back and running is something that is a credit to the coach, you know? To get Fabian, who’s an extremely talented attacker, to buy in and really work hard on the defensive end is impressive. Just watching the last game, the amount of running they all do, and how committed they are, whether it’s getting getting a block or a slide tackle — they’re together, they’re fighting for each other. They’re a good team.

Where did you think the team would be at this point of the year?

Tough to say. Listen, we wanted to have at least ten wins at home which, again, people thought was crazy. That’s the key to having a good season, right off the bat that’s 30 points. Historically, it’s somewhere around 42 to 44 gets you in so, you win a few road games and you can do the math, it adds up quickly.

So, again, did I know we were capable of this? I had strong confidence in my group. At the same time, I still don’t think we’ve reached our full potential, so I think there’s more in the group. I think we can maybe add a piece here in the window and make a push. Again, we’re not going to go out and just spend money frivolously, we have to do it with an eye on the future of the Philadelphia Union and also an impact in the second half [of the season]. So, the players, or player, that we bring in is not just going to be…It’s going to be one or the other, it’s going to be someone with the vision on the future, or someone that’s going to come in and make an impact straightaway. So, we’re not just going to bring in mediocrity, is probably the best way to put it.

But, to answer your question, again, predictions and where I thought we were going to be, it’s all just going to come off as BS, anyway, because it’s easy to sit here when your team’s doing well and say you knew it all along. I believed in the group, I believed in the players that we have. Earnie’s done a great job leading the way with building the foundation, the process has a clear vision — and we’re playing well. And I think we still can play better.

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